Pride and Prejudice Focus features; The Appeal of the Old-Fashioned Romance

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Photo: Focus Features

One thing we at The Silver Petticoat Review love and endorse in all forms of media from literature to film and television is old-fashioned romance. But what do we mean when we talk about “old-fashioned romance?” While it may seem as if the days of chivalry have passed (I don’t believe it has just yet), that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate old-fashioned storytelling in the romance department.

The old-fashioned stories of love, courtship, and marriage deal with themes we still deal with today, but it feels as different as a fantasy and that is refreshing in days of such dark cynicism and sharp realism that permeates all our forms of media.

I love a good love story like those in a Jane Austen novel or film adaptation when a look or the touch of a hand means so much more than ‘making out’ or a couple sleeping together (as if that is somehow the ultimate destination of all onscreen relationships). When I talk about old-fashioned romance, however, I don’t mean validating the days of sexism where women were considered inferior to men. No, no, of course not! I just think where romance is concerned, sometimes slowing down can be a good thing in the stories we tell. Male characters with manners aren’t so bad either…

RELATED Classic Romantic Moment: Mr. Thornton and Margaret Hale

Think of the 2004 BBC mini-series North and South starring Richard Armitage (one of the most romantic period dramas ever). In a story that seems part Austen and part Dickens (indeed Charles Dickens was the editor of the original novel); the mini-series presents a love story based on the differences between England’s North and South. While Margaret Hale becomes prejudiced against Mr. Thornton (a factory owner in the North) and despises his seemingly rude behavior to his employees (completely misunderstanding him), he cannot help but fall in love with her at the same time and her passionate nature. Visually, the chemistry between the two is so palpable that we don’t NEED a love scene when instead we have Mr. Thornton’s intense, smoldering stares at Margaret.

Margaret Hale in North and South. Photo: BBC

Margaret Hale in North and South.
Photo: BBC

Mr. Thornton stares at Margaret from a distance. Photo: BBC

Mr. Thornton stares at Margaret from a distance.
Photo: BBC

OR touches of the hands in more than one instance.

Mr. Thornton grabs her hand at the end of the mini-series. Photo: BBC

Mr. Thornton grabs her hand at the end of the mini-series.
Photo: BBC

It is all about the eyes and passions hidden within them. The story is about how they come together just as Darcy and Elizabeth do in Pride and Prejudice. It is about two souls connecting and falling in love as well as overcoming misguided prejudices and indeed changing how they both view the world. The focus of the story is on social themes; it isn’t about whether or not they are going to sleep together.

In today’s world, romance seems more about looks and physical appearance or even hooking up online due to all the modern technologies rather than deep connections. Texting, Facebook, and online dating have taken over many of our stories (especially the romantic comedies) which make sense considering that is how the world is changing. Nevertheless, do we REALLY want to watch and read stories in a time that tells us romance is dead? In a world where movies want us to root for lazy bums that smoke pot as the ‘romantic’ destination? (Vince Vaughn and Seth Rogen movies for instance)? As if that is reality either…

Photo: Miramax

Photo: Miramax

Take Leopold from Miramax’s Kate & Leopold who represents that old-fashioned chivalrous ideal from his romantic letter writing, horse riding, to his intellectual conversations.

Kate and Leopold Photo: Miramax Films

Kate and Leopold
Photo: Miramax Films

Maybe I just desire a break from reality and that is why entering the Regency period of Austen or the Victorian one of Gaskell calls to me and also why a romantic comedy like Kate & Leopold worked so well as a good reminder of classic romance. The old-fashioned stories of love, courtship, and marriage deal with themes we still deal with today, but it feels as different as a fantasy and that is refreshing in days of such dark cynicism and sharp realism that permeates all our forms of media. Perhaps that is part of the issue with complaints against romantic comedies for instance. Honestly, sometimes they are purposely a subtype of fantasy and not meant to exactly be realistic. James Bond isn’t realistic, so why do romantic comedies or romances need to be?

This old-fashioned romantic fantasy ideal is why characters like Edward Cullen appealed to such a large audience (don’t shoot the messenger). While the story takes place in modern day, Edward came from an earlier time where men were gentlemen. He could have the manners of an Austen Romantic hero but at the same time the darker qualities and Byronic characteristics (more Bronte in essence) that embody a vampire. That would be appealing to many women who enjoy period dramas (though Edward has lessened in popularity somewhat because it is no longer ‘trendy’). In essence, Bella falling for Edward represents why so many of us love Mr. Darcy and also why many women love the vampires in literature, film, and television.

Part of the reason, I prefer the vampire series Moonlight to True Blood is because of the old-fashioned quality to the series. Mick remained a gentleman that opened doors and the build of the romance between him and Beth felt more authentic because every touch was intensified between the two.

Right before Mick hugs Beth, the camera zooms in on Mick's hands to emphasize what a big deal it is for Mick to even touch her. Photo: CBS

Right before Mick hugs Beth, the camera zooms in on Mick’s hands to emphasize what a big deal it is for Mick to even touch her.
Photo: CBS

Mick's intense look while hugging Beth. Photo: CBS

Mick’s intense look while hugging Beth.
Photo: CBS

While the sexual chemistry WAS there, that wasn’t what their relationship was solely based on. Again, it was about the soul connection rather than when two good looking characters were going to hook up. Their love story didn’t feel shallow. It felt like it was about true love.

Doctor-and-Rose--test

The Doctor and Rose in Doctor Who. Photo: BBC

I can say the same about Mulder and Scully from The X-Files and the Doctor and Rose from Doctor Who. Mulder and Scully didn’t even have their first ‘real’ kiss until season 7 and I loved that! More focus on hugs, a hand touch, several saves on both their ends and the endless gazing from Mulder at Scully made for great television and I think that is why they will always be remembered as one of the best TV couples of all time. With the Doctor and Rose, their love story focused on how she made this war-torn alien better. In many ways, Rose healed him. They came together because of that and because it was more about two souls connecting than anything else. They could be best friends and in love because of it.

So what then are the elements of a good old-fashioned romance? Let me make a short checklist:

OLD-FASHIONED ROMANCE CHECKLIST

poldark 6

Aidan Turner riding a horse in Poldark. Swoon! Photo: BBC

  • Focus on soul connection rather than just shallow attraction
  • Smoldering Stares (See Amber’s list of the best Here )
  • Swoon Worthy romantic moments between the two (could be saving each other for instance in non-damsel in distress fashion (i.e. the female is not a whimpering fool though she and he can both be saved by the other)
  • A touch of the hand is powerful
  • The male hero ‘usually’ (definite exceptions) have old-fashioned manners of some kind (though he can still seem rude or arrogant: think of Darcy for instance or just plain villainous like Heathcliff who returns like a devil in well-mannered disguise)
  • Male hero is not a lazy bum
  • This is not about modern dating (though some of those can still be good)
  • The story is more than just about romance

There must be strong themes in the midst of a good, old-fashioned romance, something more to drive all the elements of the story.

Ah! The last one…You mean Jane Austen novels aren’t ALL about romance? Of course, they aren’t. They are also about irony, wit, and commentary on the time in which she lived (though not to the extreme like Dickens and other harsher novels). The story isn’t just about Darcy and Elizabeth getting together. The same can definitely be said about Jane Eyre. While I believe most readers want Jane to be with Mr. Rochester in the end, this story is also about redemption and faith. Rochester needed to be redeemed from his choices, while Jane had to overcome her own weaknesses (such as worshiping Rochester more than God). It is only after the two both go through trials and Rochester literally walks through fire that they can have their happy ending. There must be strong themes in the midst of a good, old-fashioned romance, something more to drive all the elements of the story.

All these elements are what (for me) make an old-fashioned romance in literature, film and television. Does that mean I don’t enjoy other kinds of love stories? No. I love romance but I still happen to love the old-fashioned ones the most! There is just something more magical to me about the touch of the hand or a romantic leading man. Hopefully, these stories will continue to entertain us with new stories or even just by returning to the classics. But mostly, I hope more writers recognize why some of the love stories of the past are the ones that stay with us the longest: sometimes focusing on more than the next kiss or time the couple sleeps together (i.e. Vincent and Catherine in the modern day Beauty and the Beast have unfortunately made this mistake) will make the story more powerful in the long run. Sometimes, instant gratification in a story prevents the love story from becoming epic. We need more Darcy and Elizabeths and Mulder and Scullies! We need more old-fashioned romance.

(This article was updated in 2016.)

Do you agree with me? Did I miss any important elements of an old-fashioned romance? Sound off below…

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