Sponsored by Victorian TradingCo.
I Went On A Date As ‘Pride And Prejudice’s’ Elizabeth Bennet
Sponsored by Victorian Trading Co.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of no fortune (but a 401k!) must be in want of a boyfriend.
I’ve been auditioning boyfriends since Jack Dawson first told Rose DeWitt Bukater, “You jump; I jump, remember?” As a twentysomething living in New York City, I made a career out of approaching cute guys in bars, initiating conversation by asking “How’s your night?” and then making out with them somewhere between closing time and the El Rey Del Taco truck. For some reason, those relationships never came to fruition.
When I moved to Chicago, I Tindered. I Bumbled. I even Coffee Meets Bagel’d. All to no avail. Given my relatively high rate of success in procuring suitors in the Big Apple, I was confused.
Then one night, while rereading “Pride and Prejudice” for the zillionth time, I had an epiphany: Elizabeth Bennet is the OG romantic heroine. She’s the prototype for every spunky, independent, takes-no-shit female protagonist who came after her, from Bridget Jones to Kathleen Kelly (of “You’ve Got Mail,” duh). In the course of the novel, she’s the recipient of three marriage proposals — yet she’s so clearheaded about her own needs that she rejects the first two despite her precarious social position. She’s a young, single woman in the early 19th century with no inheritance, who may be left destitute if she’s still riding solo when her father kicks the bucket.
Yet she refuses to cave to the status quo. She demands — no, commands — respect and genuine affection from the one who ultimately wins her hand.
I could learn a thing from ol’ Lizzy, I thought.
So I decided to put her tactics into practice and go on a date as Elizabeth Bennet.
Finding Mr. Darcy
This is Sean.
I’ve had a low-grade crush on him for some time. Our relationship mirrors Elizabeth and Darcy’s in some uncanny ways:
- Like Elizabeth and Darcy, we were thrown together as members of the same social group — in this case, a comedy ensemble. Unlike Elizabeth and Darcy, we have never attended a ball.
- Like Elizabeth and Darcy, we sometimes bump into each other unexpectedly. A few months ago, for example, we ran into each other on a freezing Chicago street. We stood there grinning like fools and saying “We should hang out!” back and forth until we went our separate ways. I felt the spark of something between us — a spark that I suspected could burn bright if we ever gave it a chance.
- My initial opinion of him was formed by something I overheard — or rather, heard through the grapevine. This bears a striking parallel to the beginning of P&P, when Elizabeth overhears Darcy at the ball, snubbing her: “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
In the case of Sean and me, it went like this: I was at a comedy show and ended up chatting with Sean’s friend. The friend realized that Sean had already told him about me and remarked, “Yeah, Sean said there was a cute girl in his class but he doesn’t think anything’ll ever happen with her because she’s Catholic.”
Clearly his first impression of me — just like Darcy’s first impression of Elizabeth — was that I was not an eligible partner. Well, while Jane Austen wrote “Pride and Prejudice,” guess what the working title was?
And we all know what happens when two people who are basically strangers let their narrow, superficial, preconceived notions of each other guide their relationship:
THEY FALL MADLY IN LOVE.
Or at least, that’s what happens in the book.
If I dressed and acted like Elizabeth Bennet, would it happen for Sean and me?
Dispensing entirely with Regency Era social conventions, I asked Sean out. I made it sound like I wanted to get together to talk shop — specifically, comedy shop. He accepted right away.
I didn’t tell him I’d come across him on Bumble a few months before and swiped right.
Once I found Jane Austen’s Day Dress from Victorian Trading Co., I knew I was set. Even if the rest of my plan had fallen through, I still would have paraded around town wearing this romantic gown. I loved it that much.
Frock procured, I visited Chicago’s Goldplaited salon for a period-appropriate updo. Sarah swept my usually pin-straight tresses into a fancy, soft-looking style inspired by the Liz Bennet of the classic BBC adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice.”
Sarah also did my makeup, making me look like a prim British babe, even if I do say so myself. I hadn’t plucked my eyebrows, but I figure women in 1813 (the year of P&P’s publication) didn’t do that, anyway.
A gentleman comes to call
Sean offered to pick me up for our date. When I ducked into the passenger seat, he took in my dress and hair and said, “Whoa, you look nice.”
Ok, so not exactly “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” (aka the last part of Mr. Darcy’s marriage proposal). But I’ll take it.
In the novel, Mr. Darcy’s estate, Pemberley, is the most memorable place. It’s here that Elizabeth begins to understand that Darcy has a softer side. If you grew up in the suburbs, you know there’s that one house that’s bigger than every other, and it’s common knowledge that So-And-So, the cardiac surgeon, owns it. That’s Pemberley for Austen’s characters; it looms large in their imaginations.
What looms large in Chicagoans’ imaginations is baseball. And hot dogs. So Sean and I went to Sammy’s Red Hots.
The guy at the cash register seemed bemused by my get-up and let us have everything for free. Being Elizabeth Bennet, I graciously accepted this compliment and did not press him to let us pay.
I also acted graciously when I met a fellow patron named Frank. When I asked Frank if he liked my dress, he said, “It doesn’t really matter what it looks like, because at the end of the day, it’ll be off!”
Elizabeth definitely wouldn’t have let this casual misogyny slide. I’m 100% certain she would have eviscerated him with some eloquent retort, like, oh I don’t know, maybe “In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed…But I cannot — I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly.” (This savage burn is brought to you by Elizabeth’s rejection of Darcy Marriage Proposal №1.)
But I digress. I got my cheese dog and Sean got his chili dog and we both tried to be chill, dawg.
The ball (er, I mean, DATE)
Look, I’ll just lay it out for you. Sean is, as you can see, real cute. He’s funny and nice and shy in a way that appeals to me (I’m like, a Barbra Streisand-level extrovert).
After that long-ago day when Sean’s friend told me what he’d said about me being Catholic, and therefore undateable, I forgot about it. After all, how many times had I done the exact same thing — made a snap judgment about someone based on one interaction?
But I also gave up all hope of us getting together. There was no sense in developing a crush on someone who wouldn’t return my affections.
That was two years ago, though, and during that time, I’d learned things about Sean that made him more and more attractive. Just as Lizzy pulled back the layers to reveal Darcy’s true nature — loyal, loving, a steadfast brother and friend — our time together revealed more of Sean to me.
I discovered he was really talented onstage, inhabiting different characters with ease. He also sings, plays the piano and writes his own music. He once wrote music for me based on my singing a few lyrics I’d written. He just sat down at the piano and matched his playing to my crooning, pausing to transcribe the notes. As someone for whom sheet music is as foreign as Mandarin, I was pretty impressed. And also, music on demand: That’s pretty damn sexy.
I also couldn’t help noticing that Sean had a most pert and adorable tush.
And now here we were, sitting at Sammy’s with cheese sauce (me) and chili (him) dripping down our faces. I was trying to channel Elizabeth Bennet — and in a way, I think, I succeeded. Throughout the entire novel, E.B. is reserved and composed — as a young woman of her time is expected to be. In fact, she goes out of her way to conform to the standards of behavior upheld by her peers, even while the members of her family make themselves objects of ridicule (*cough* LYDIA *cough*).
And so, betraying no emotion, I asked Sean about his new musical gigs. We talked about work and money, which led naturally into a discussion of our professional goals. It was all very on the level.
But since we were now on an official date, I couldn’t let a chance at true love pass me by.
So, in the car, after we’d finished eating and wiped our faces clean, I made like Elizabeth and swallowed my pride. I said casually, “I swiped right on you on Bumble. Just to see what you’d do.”
Did my Mr. Darcy turn to me to proclaim his undying affection? Did he reach across the seat of his Nissan Altima, grasp my hand and declare, “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation…I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun”?
Unfortunately, no. Sean laughed and said that he was on dating apps for about a week before deleting them all. There was no mention of a second date. We hugged good-bye — something Elizabeth and Darcy would never have done! — and I got out of the Altima.
Look, in a perfect world, we’d never have to face the reality that someone we think is cute may think we’re cute, too, but doesn’t want to date us. That old “he’s just not that into you” adage sometimes proves true.
So what do we do? Take a page out of Elizabeth Bennet’s playbook, of course. Remember the awful way Darcy snubs her at the very beginning of the novel? This, verbatim, is how she reacts:
Mr. Darcy walked off; and Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings towards him. She told the story however with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in any thing ridiculous.