Jane Austen would applaud a turn of events that moves from fiction to reality. A short story by RANI JHALA
Last year I turned thirty. I was unmarried and worse, had no prospect of marriage looming in the near future. I was not picky nor did I ever think that I was better than any of the men I had met. I just wanted a special man, my own Mr Right.
From the moment I read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I knew what that Mr Right would be like. But with that moment, I had set myself up for a decade of disappointments. The boys I met at school did not have ‘that quiet elegance’; the teenagers I met at University, treated me as an ‘equal’, and not as an object to worship. And the men that I came across through work, simply never turned up saying, “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
And so I led the life of a single woman, happy with my romance books, busy with my job and enjoying my time with family and friends. That was until, one by one, they each got married and made it their prime occupation to find me a husband.
They each knew of a man who was just right for me. And everyone made the same comparison, “He is just like your Mr Darcy”. They were never anything like ‘my’ Mr Darcy!
For over five years I gave in to their pleas and met the men they introduced me to, but ultimately I had had enough. Enough of the eagerness in their voices, the anticipation in their looks and the sheer disappointment in their voices, as they said, “Oh well, back to the drawing board.”
The only person who never got flustered was my brother. And it was he who came up with the brilliant plan to dupe the matchmakers in my life. He booked me onto a tour aptly called ‘Twenty days in Jane Austen’s footsteps’. And on my return I was to create this fictitious long-distance relationship that was to stretch over the next five years and give me some much-needed breathing space.
My trip to England was amazing. I got to see the little table Jane Austen sat at as she created her wonderful stories. I touched the doorway through which she had once walked and looked at the sky from exactly the place she would have stood. I read the letters she had written and looked at the volumes of her books that now graced the bookshelf.
And for the first time I saw the reality behind each of those wonderfully woven stories. The power of a woman to be able to create a perfect man in her imagination, and of her inability to find such a man in her own life! Yes, she knew love but marriage and motherhood remained at bay.
During the last days of the trip, I pondered on my own life. Would I have been happy with any of the men I had been introduced to in the past? Was I foolish to believe that somewhere there was someone just for me, or was I stupidly embracing a life of loneliness and pain?
I got my answer when we attended a series of plays in London. As I sat and watched an actor perform the role of Mr Darcy, another of Captain Wentworth and a third of Mr Knightley, the truth finally hit me. Jane Austen’s men were embodiments of decency and chivalry. They were honest, caring and just. They were protective and strong, yet each came with the usual human failings of jealousy, anger, pride and arrogance. But what set them truly apart was that they loved their heroines beyond anything and everything.
I realised then that I did not want Mr Darcy or Captain Wentworth. I wanted someone to come into my life and make me the reason for his existence. And I was determined not to settle for less. And until that man waltzed into my life, my brother’s little game sounded ideal.
At the end of the tour, I stayed with his girlfriend’s family in London. Her younger sister was to be my partner in crime. We became good friends almost from the time we were introduced, but it was the quiet man in the background that gave me a sense of deja vu.
The original plan did not involve the existence of a real love interest. I was to write the letters and she was to email them back to me, but somewhere along the progression of this plan, things changed. She suggested that we use her cousin as the model for the photographs and to make things realistic, he would send the letter. It was also agreed that he would call me once a week, because that was what fiancés do.
And so we spent the next week making our fantasy real. We toured the city and took photographs. We researched the best love letters and copied lines from there, and we spoke honestly about our personal dilemmas. I learnt from him that men too, face the same social pressures.
Did we fall madly in love? Absolutely not, but he and I did become very good friends. As I bid him goodbye I even felt that maybe I was leaving behind someone who, given the chance, could have meant more.
Back at home, I established my fictitious romance. I told everyone of this wonderful man that I had met and showed everyone the photographs. To make it even more authentic, I wore a diamond ring on my engagement finger. All asked the one question, “When’s the wedding?” I gave them the same reply, “We’ll decide the date after his visit at the end of this year.”
I had bought myself a year of peace, or so I had thought. In the months that followed, a new game began. He would phone and I would take the call outside, pretending to need privacy. I would carelessly leave his email open, ensuring that everyone was aware of it. I constantly dropped photos from my handbag. I even brought bridal magazines and went through this whole charade of trying to pick the perfect wedding outfit. It actually was quite a lot of fun, and I looked forward to his emails noting that as time went by, our carefully drafted letters were being replaced with ones written by him personally. I didn’t complain, because his letters were far better than the ones we had drafted together.
Everything was running to perfection, until one day, I stopped receiving his phone calls. His emails ceased as well, and mine did not get a reply.
It took me a month of silence before I realised that I was missing more than a friend. I asked my brother if he had any idea of what had happened. His only reply was, “Don’t worry sis, we will find someone else to write the letters.”
“Well you better, Valentine’s Day is next week. I need my ‘fiancé’ to send me roses or no-one will believe he exists anymore!” I replied in anger, but in my heart I knew what was really wrong.
The day before Valentine’s Day, and with no replacement found, I ordered a dozen long-stemmed red roses and a huge box of chocolates and addressed them to myself.
When the doorbell rang on the morning of February 14, I knew my order had arrived. Calmly I opened the door, but instead of my twelve long stems, the man held a massive bouquet of a hundred beautiful blooms and instead of the local florist, there stood my ‘fiancé’.
And how could I say ‘no’ to what he asked next, when he began with the words, “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire …………”