– By Anna Livia Brady –
Jane Austen’s works have always been a cornerstone of our culture, and fortunately, with the auditions for JPCatholic’s Theatre production of Pride and Prejudice coming up, JPCatholic will get to experience her world on stage. But while the costumes, grandeur, and romance all speak for themselves, what really differentiates Austen’s works from others of that time is her attention to the era-appropriate etiquette (particularly with regards to courtship).
Ever since her day, formalities have decreased, dating has become more of a pastime than a vocation, and chivalry might as well be an SAT word we’ve forgotten about. But I propose that by re-adopting manners akin to Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth (or at least a certain version of them), we can bring back value and grace to the art of courtship.
1. Gentlemen Being Introduced to Ladies
Although first impressions are a crucial step to establishing relationships, the process of who introduces who is often overlooked. In Austen’s time, men were introduced to ladies because it was seen as an honor to meet one, especially one deemed “eligible for marriage”. He’s the one who took the first step, offered his hand, and expressed what a pleasure it was to meet her. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that happening the other way around, but it’s gentlemanly to acknowledge a lady’s presence regardless of what era you’re in.
Example: “Ben, have you met Eliza? She’s also a Screenwriting major.”
2. Gentlemen Escorting Ladies (With Permission)
From a young age, we’re taught the dangers of heading outside (“don’t take any candy from strangers!”) and to walk around with our guard up, regardless of our gender. During the Regency Era, noblewomen were extremely susceptible to pickpockets and other such risks, especially in the city. When a gentleman offers to walk and talk with a lady in public in order to protect from any potential dangers, he makes her feel safe and both parties enjoy the company. But if she wants alone time – leave it at that. Let her know the offer still stands if she ever needs it, and chances are she’ll take you up on it.
Example: “Hey, it’s really raining. Would you like me to walk back with you?” (Pro tip: always carry appropriate gear for the weather).
3. Following Through With Proposals
Now don’t panic, this doesn’t necessarily apply to marriage engagements (although backing out of that isn’t particularly smiled upon for a gentleman either)! But if a gentleman say, proposes an outing for him and a lady, he should make it his priority to not back out of it. Of course, a single excursion won’t determine his fate, but if he’s told a lady that he’d like to get to know her, he should do exactly that. Sadly, we’ve long since passed a time of commitment, and fear of lifelong liability often scares us away from following through even with our little responsibilities. It’s time we changed that!
Example: (Text message or call) “Hi Claire, I’m looking forward to seeing you at Starbucks in 30!”
4. Intentions Matching Up With Affection
During the Sense and Sensibility days, dancing more than twice with a woman meant that you were engaged to her. Nowadays, the hook-up culture pushes an agenda of shameless one-night stands without any consequences (which even from a strictly biological sense is impossible!). While a few of the regulations placed on courting couples of Austen’s world may come off as a little extreme, the idea of boundaries and clear intentions is one that proves nothing but beneficial. You should never be afraid to ask, “Where is this going?” “What does this relationship mean?” “What are your intentions?”. A gentleman will be clear and concise and not push the envelope too far until you are both ready to spend your lives together.
Example: “Forgive me for being forward, but I must confess I have feelings for you and would really like to continue to get to know you better. If you’d be open to it, I’d like to take you out to dinner this Friday night!” (hand-holding happily follows eventually if all goes well).
5. Being In the Presence of Others Whenever Possible
For those of us who’ve introduced someone to our parents, chances are a family member’s lurked around you and the other person for longer than necessary. While these moments aren’t the most romantic, there is something to be said about supervision. A young woman would never be seen without a chaperone in 1833, but these days, just being where there are people around (hopefully ones you know) helps. If you really have to be alone with this person (as in to have a private conversation), leave the door open, the lights on, and make sure people could walk by without anything being awkward.
Example: “Hey, Grace and I are going out. Want to bring Ava along and make it a double date?”
About the Author
Anna Livia Brady is a Junior at John Paul the Great Catholic University studying Communications Media with minors in Business and Theology. She loves photography, cooking, singing, and finding cheap but innovative ways to spruce up her apartment. She’ll be graduating in 2020 and hopes to stay in the San Diego area.