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Shades of Jane Austen

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Okay, I will grant that the first name Elizabeth and the last name Bennett are quite common, so it's perfectly reasonable that someone might have that name. There are probably women now named Elizabeth Bennett. But I can't help wonder if the name this advertiser gives is her own, or if like Verdant Green, she's borrowing from a novel. Thoughts?

A young American lady, aged 20, of the highest respectability, wishes to form the immediate acquaintance of a gentleman, with a view to matrimony. Does and ever has led a pure and respectable life. Is fond of romance and travel; but with the man she loves her lot would be a happy one, let it be cast as it might. Is a little under medium size, dark hazel eyes and dark hair, and flatters herself that she is not bad looking. She is innocent and sincere, and advertises through pure motives. Reasons for taking this step will be given in a correspondence, which it is hoped, will be purely confidential. Address Miss Lizzie M. Bennett, Philadelphia Post office.

So for anyone who has somehow missed out on the most famous romance novel ever written, Elizabeth Bennet (who frequently goes by "Lizzie") is the main character in Jane Austen's novel from 1813, Pride and Prejudice. Now, the advertiser uses two "t's" in Bennett, whereas in the novel there is only one, so that makes me think this could just be a coincidence. But at the same time, people misspell names all the time, and up until I started writing this blog entry, I would have written Bennet with two "t's" and I've read that book, like, a thousand times. So I think it's perfectly reasonable that, if the advertiser was borrowing the pseudonym, she could have easily made the same mistake.

And it makes sense, don't you think? The book had already been published in the United States, and while it wasn't as wildly popular here as it was in England at this point, chances are a 20-year-old girl would have read it, and like every straight and vaguely romantic 20-year-old girl ever, probably had fantasies of some tall, handsome, filthy rich guy falling madly in love with her and reforming his entire personality to win her (not that I'd know anything about that...). From the way she describes herself ("fond of romance and travel," for example), I could see her imagining that she is like the character in the novel.

Anyway, I like her ad. She is clearly looking for the love of her life, and while I think comparing herself to a character in the greatest romance novel of all time might be dangerous (because if she expects to meet Mr. Darcy's real-life equivalent this way, she might be seriously disappointed), I still like her optimism. I wonder what these mysterious circumstances are that compelled her to write the ad, though. She doesn't seem to be in dire straits; she never mentions anything about money, but there's definitely something going on that she doesn't want to say and wants to keep it as much a secret as possible. So that's interesting.

In any event, I don't know what the odds are she'd find a man who lived up to her high expectations, but I hope she found her Mr. Darcy and lived happily ever after.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2010 Pam Epstein

2 comments:

A. April 14, 2010 at 11:31 AM  

Hm... maybe her family was not considered honorable anymore, like Elizabeth's family in the novel?

Since she mentions that she's "pure", "respectable" and "innocent", it could be possible that one of her close family members wasn't. Would that still have been a problem at those times?

Or maybe I just like that book too much :-)

Pam April 14, 2010 at 12:41 PM  

I thought of that too - like, my family might be off, but I swear I'm different! And yes, it definitely would have mattered still.

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