Jane Austen and the Romance Novel

by Regina Jeffers

According to the Romance Writers of America, the main plot of a romance novel must revolve around the two people as they develop romantic love for each other and work to build a relationship together. Both the conflict and the climax of the novel should be directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship although the novel can also contain subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters’ romantic love. Furthermore, a romance novel must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” 

Wikipedia says, “The romance novel is a literary genre developed in Western culture, mainly in English-speaking countries. Novels in this genre place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people and must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. Separate from their type, a romance novel can exist within one of many subgenres, including contemporary, historical, science fiction and paranormal. One of the earliest romance novels was Samuel Richardson’s popular 1740 novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, which was revolutionary on two counts: it focused almost entirely on courtship and did so entirely from the perspective of a female protagonist. In the next century, Jane Austen expanded the genre, and her Pride and Prejudice is often considered the epitome of the genre. Austen inspired Georgette Heyer, who introduced historical romances in 1921.”

Chick Lit (according to the Metropolitan Library System in Illinois), on the other hand, explores the personal, professional, and romantic lives of young, single, working women. Quirky protagonists and humor distinguish the genre as these women look for love and deal with often less than desirable jobs. Some general characteristics of chick lit:

Written by women for women

First person-personal voice (confiding to reader)

Humor is important

Discuss life issues (love, marriage, dating, relationships, friendships, jobs, weight)

Circle of friends for support

Dead end jobs they usually hate, often with bad bosses

Unsuitable boyfriends or a lack of one

Urban-but no real sense of place

Outrageous situations

Main character drifting through life

May have overbearing/interfering mother, family

Obsessed with fashion, weight, shopping

So, does Jane Austen fit into either of these categories? Specifically, can Pride and Prejudice serve as a model for the modern romance or chick lit novel? Let us make some assumptions.

Pride and Prejudice is the story of a smart, sassy young woman.

Elizabeth Bennet has a totally impossible family, especially her mother. “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”

The book has a “relatable” heroine, a sympathetic and believable creation.

Elizabeth Bennet takes pleasure in observing the follies of others and Society’s quirks. “They were, in fact, very fine ladies; not deficient in good humor when they were pleased, nor in the power of being agreeable when they chose it; but proud and conceited.”

Yet, she is equally critical of herself and her apparent flaws. “That is very true,” replied Elizabeth, “and I could easily forgive his pride if he had not mortified mine.”

Elizabeth Bennet’s female relationships are as important, if not more important, than her relationship with Mr. Darcy. She is a loyal sister, a true friend, and a devoted daughter.

There are more pages of the book devoted to the female interactions than there are those devoted to Elizabeth’s interaction with Mr. Darcy. Think of the multiple conversations between Elizabeth and Jane, Elizabeth and Aunt Gardiner, and Elizabeth and Charlotte. Like modern women, they discuss the men they have met by analyzing every word or action in detailed post mortems. “Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person.”

Elizabeth is coming to terms with her family complications, Charlotte’s irresponsible choices, and her own prejudices, while trying to determine what she wants from life. “

She changes dramatically throughout the book. Elizabeth admits that Mr. Darcy does not change. “How despicably have I acted!” she cried. “I, who have prided myself on my discernment!”

Another modern concept is what does a girl do when her friend marries a “jerk”? Even more important is what to do when your friends marry and you remain single. “She had always felt that Charlotte’s opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own; but she could no have supposed it possible that, when called into action, she would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage.”

Elizabeth meets a charming “womanizer” in the form of Mr. Wickham, but he proves to be only “pleasing in countenance.” The man appears to be the perfect romantic hero, but perfection cannot exist. In reality, he’s a pathological liar and a scoundrel: the perpetual bad boy.

Although Mr. Darcy is the romantic hero of the Pride and Prejudice (and assuming you have no images of Colin Firth immerging from a placid lake in a wet shirt or of Matthew Macfadyen walking through the morning mist with an open shirt and lots of chest hair), you probably do not care for the man. In fact, Austen manipulates the reader before revealing Darcy’s true worth. Quite frankly, he’s a “snob.”

Elizabeth’s shifting through the men in her life is the part of Austen’s theme of “first impressions” or false impressions or flawed impressions.


Besides, Jane Austen-inspired novels, I also write Regency romances. One of those who leave a comment on this post will earn the opportunity to win one of my four published novels. The winner will choose from the following:

The Scandal of Lady Eleanor (Book 1 of the Realm Series)

The Future Earl of Linworth: James Kerrington, a key member of the British government’s secret unit, the Realm, never expected to find love again after the loss of his beloved wife. But a visit to his close friends, the Fowlers, leads to a chance meeting with Lady Eleanor Fowler. Instantly, Kerrington whole world tilts on its axis.The Debauchery of Lord Thornhill: For years, Lady Eleanor hid from Society, knowing her father’s notorious reputation for wickedness tainted her chance for romantic fulfillment. Now, with Kerrington’s advances and her father’s recent death, she is at last hopeful that her family’s dark past is behind her. But when Sir Louis Levering appears with final proof of her father’s depravity, Eleanor is drawn into a web of immorality and blackmail.

Return of the Realm: To free Eleanor from Levering’s diabolical clutches, Kerrington brings together his former Realm comrades. Before they can save her, they must confront their own secret pasts and tangle with Shaheed Mir, a longtime nemesis who is exacting revenge against members of the Realm for stealing a mysterious emerald from his homeland.

A Touch of Velvet (Book 2 of the Realm Series)

After years away, members of the Realm return home to claim the titles and the lives they abandoned, each holding on to the fleeting dream of finally knowing love. For now, all any of them can hope is the resolution of their previous difficulties before Shaheed Mir, their old enemy, finds them and exacts his revenge. Mir seeks a mysterious emerald, and he believes one of the Realm has it.

No one finds his soul mate when she is twelve and he seventeen, but Brantley Fowler, the Duke of Thornhill, always thought he had found his. The memory of Velvet Aldridge’s face was the only thing that had kept him alive all those years he remained estranged from his family. Now, he has returned to Kent to claim his title and the woman he loves, but first he must obliterate the memory of his infamous father from the books, while staving off numerous attacks from Mir’s associates.

Velvet Aldridge always believed in “happily ever after.” Yet, when Brantley Fowler returns home, he has a daughter and his wife’s memory to accompany him. He promised her eight years prior that he would return to make her his wife, but the new Duke of Thornhill only offers her a Season and a dowry. How can she make him love her? Make him her “knight in shining armor”? Regency England has never been hotter or more dangerous.

A Touch of Cashémere (Book 3 of the Realm Series)

Marcus Wellston never expected to inherit his father’s title. After all, he is the youngest of three sons. However, his oldest brother Trevor has a developmental problem, and his second brother has lost his life in an accident, so Marcus has returned to Tweed Hall and the earldom. He had left Northumberland years prior to escape the guilt in his sister’s death. He could not save Maggie, and Wellston has spent years in atonement with the Realm, a covert governmental group. Now, all he wants is a biddable wife with a pleasant personality. Neither of those describes Cashémere Aldridge.

Cashémere Aldridge thought her opinions were absolutes and her world perfectly ordered, but when her eldest sister Velvet is kidnapped, Cashé becomes a part of the intrigue. She quickly discovers nothing she knew before is sacred. Leading her through these changes is a man who considers her a “spoiled child” – a man of whose approval she desperately needs. Mix in an irate Baloch warlord, who seeks a missing emerald, and the Realm has its hands full.

The First Wives’ Club (Book 1 in First Wives’ Trilogy)

Nathaniel Epperly, the Earl of Eggleston, has married the woman his father chose, but the marriage has been everything but comfortable. Nathaniel’s wife, Lady Charlotte, came to the marriage bed with experience. She provides Eggleston his heir, but within a fortnight, she deserts father and son for Baron Remington Craddock. In the eyes of the ton, Lady Charlotte has cuckolded Epperly.

Rosellen Warren longs for love and adventure. Unfortunately, she’s likely to find neither; she’s a true diamond in the rough. Yet, when she meets Epperly’s grandmother, the Countess Henrietta creates a “story” for the girl, claiming if Rosellen is presented to the ton as a war widow with a small dowry, that the girl will find a suitable match.

Baron Remington Craddock remains a thorn in Eggleston’s side, but when Craddock makes Mrs. Warren a pawn in his crazy game of control, Eggleston offers the lady his protection. However, Nathaniel has never before faced a man who holds no strength of title, but who still wields great power, and he finds himself always a step behind the enigmatic baron. When someone frames Nathaniel for Lady Charlotte’s murder, Eggleston must quickly learn the baron’s secrets or face a death sentence.

To read excerpts from each of my books or to place an order, please visit www.rjeffers.com

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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6 Responses to Jane Austen and the Romance Novel

  1. lila says:

    i’ve long noticed that my favorite 19th century love stories (and favorite all time love stories) don’t always fall square within the romance conventions… Austen, Bronte Sisters, etc. I found your chick lit analysis fun to think about regarding Elizabeth.

    • Gosh, I would not even considering purporting that Austen wrote chick lit, but that concept has permeated the modern culture. It’s my idea that when men call romance movies “chick flicks,” it trickles down to the literature also.

  2. Janice says:

    I have just finished reading Darcy’s Passions and really liked it! My mind saw Colin Firth at times and also Matthew MacFayden. Years ago, when I was in school, I read Pride and Prejudice. It was the first Jane Austen novel I read and I never forgot it. I have reread it several times since then. Movies are good but books contain so much more that each time I read one it is like visiting an old friend.

    • Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), I often saw Colin in my head as I wrote. More often, I saw Matthew. I’ve been a Matthew fan since 1992 when I saw him in Wuthering Heights and later in Warriors. I love Colin – actually met him once. In the 1995 version, I enjoy the second half of the series more so than the first half. Andrew Davies did a magnificent job of turning Darcy into a “sex symbol” with the Colin Firth adaptation.

  3. Sophia Rose says:

    I’ve had a shadowy idea of what is considered Chick Lit. I appreciate your precise explanation of it. I was always told that I read Chick Lit and watch chick films, but by this definition, I really don’t.

    Thanks for the great explanation and tie-in to Jane Austen who doesn’t seem to fall into the category either in many ways (not that she is easy to peg that’s why she’s fun to read and analyze).

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