When it comes to the love interests in Jane Austen’s books, the men tend to get all the glory. Lizzie Bennet may make us laugh, but it’s Mr Darcy whose name is synonymous with “Mr Right.” Captain Wentworth makes everyone swoon when he finally realizes that Anne Elliot was right for him all along, but we don’t give Anne much credit for actually having that winning personality that caught his attention.
Maybe it’s because Austen’s novels are largely beloved by women and tell heterosexual love stories, and so the majority of readers are just more likely to fall in love with the men. Or maybe it’s because the books are told mainly from the women’s perspectives, and so the men are held up as the “goals” around which the happy ending revolves. But does nobody think that actually these girls are kind of a catch?
In their own fictional universes, the women have to cope with a fair amount of heartbreak before their fairytale endings, but I wonder if they would fare any better today. So I put them to the test: I set up OKCupid profiles for Marianne Dashwood, Lizzie Bennet, Catherine Morland, and Anne Elliot, and waited to see how the world would respond. Would they get their “Happily Ever After” in 2015?
Stats: 128 visitors, 352 likes, 38 messages
I wasn’t sure Marianne’s intensity would prove too popular in the 21st century; announcing on your dating profile a time limit for marriage might be considered a little full-on. Marianne’s idealism and passion (and, admittedly, her self-indulgence) make her the Austen heroine I most identify with — but as I filled out her ultra-demanding profile, I realized I’d do better never to admit this out loud.
“Who is your favorite spoken word poet?”
“Hey! You must be the only person who 'gets' the fact I could also never be with a girl who didn't like the same music, literature, films etc as myself. When I tell others that, they usually look at me like I have two heads. So, high five for that."
“I am not sure about love, but I will give you the best company...you will remember every moment of it.”
I was surprised to see that people didn’t seem to be too put off by her honesty; in fact, several people congratulated her for it. Of course, Marianne’s love life was doomed until she learned to scale back on some of her over-the-top views and pursue someone a little less hot-headed, so I’m not sure any of these matches would go on to be her soulmate — but they’re still better than the creeps who went straight for the sleaze. Clearly not what she asked for, dudes. Pay attention.
Stats: 71 visitors, 314 likes, 19 messages
Among women, Lizzie is the most popular of Austen’s heroines, and so I hoped that her sass and independence would appeal to the men as well. I don’t think she’d bother to spend much time filling out her profile; a few cheeky one-liners would do the trick.
“Hi :) If your brain was a room, what would it look like if someone were to visit it?”
“Would definitely bang.”
Lizzie didn’t fare as well as the naive Marianne; did her feisty independence scare the men off? If that’s true, we haven’t come very far since Jane Austen’s day. Hopefully (although unfortunately for the future of romance) it seems to be because nobody really listens to what you say online anyway. None of the messages actually engaged with Lizzie’s love for laughter; instead she was inundated with creepy come-ons (and these were just copy-and-paste jobs, which I know because a lot of them got mass-messaged to all four of my accounts).
Stats: 82 visitors, 220 likes, 16 messages
Catherine has heaps to say about gothic literature, but not much to say about herself. I think she would struggle to sell herself on a dating profile, but she would never miss a chance to rave about Gone Girl to anyone who would listen.
“I’ve never heard of The Mysteries of Udolpho, what type of book is that? A short story series?”
“I would love to escort you to a white stretch limo with your name on it while our chauffeur throws rose petals at your feet. Actually scratch that I just checked my bank balance, let’s just meet for drinks instead.”
Catherine was the least popular of the four women. Cynically, I wondered if this was because she was so open about her interests, and men are looking for more of a blank slate. Whatever the reason, an obsession for horror movies and a serious lack of self-confidence don’t seem to be the winning formula to get dates online. Well you’re all missing out, men of OkCupid, because Catherine Morland would make a fantastic girlfriend (when she’s not accusing your dad of murder, that is).
Stats: 131 visitors, 493 likes, 41 messages
Anne Elliot is, in Austen’s pretty harsh words, a “haggard” 27-year-old; she’s also incredibly kind, unselfish, and interesting to chat to. Her OkCupid page would be honest, warm and welcoming, but I wasn’t convinced she would attract a ton of attention with her low-effort profile.
“Hi :) interesting theory about the difference between men and women. Do you think women love sooner than men?”
“Your summary got my attention, that you are a very kind and caring girl, I love such people. Would you like to meet up and talk about our interests and see how we get along?”
“Interesting theory about men and women and how they love differently. Have to say it's been different in my experience though. You seem very interesting and happy to chat some time x”
“Hello, do you like helping other people?! well you could help me engaging in some conversation” (later that same day) ”You wrote anyone is worth talking to......” (later that day again) “Liar”
Anne was, by a landslide, the most popular. Her non-threatening profile attracted the most visitors, won the most likes, and prompted the most messages. The majority of these messages even engaged with what she wrote online, which I learned from this experience is rare. Even the worst response, while a little aggressive, still showed signs of having read her profile. Anne may not be the sexiest, sassiest, or sweetest — but her kindness came out on top.
I kept these profiles up for two weeks, and learned a lot about the scary world of online dating. A lot of messages were copied and pasted to all four of my profiles (come on guys, get some new material — there's even an app for that), and disappointingly few people made an effort to engage with the women themselves. All the profiles even received several messages before I had time to fill out any information at all or even post a photo, proving that online dating sites are no different to a dark bar where that drunk guy hits on the back of your head before asking your name.
However, when it came to the guys that were looking to get to know somebody, the results were uplifting. Marianne’s bold honesty may have been deemed inappropriate in Sense and Sensibility , but modern men don’t seem to mind. And while Lizzie’s sarcasm and Catherine’s enthusiasm weren’t the most popular traits, both women still fared pretty well in the dating pool. At least, none of the men rudely enquired into the suitability and wealth of their families, which is the fate they face in their fictional universes.
But the real winner was Austen’s ultimate underdog: poor Anne Elliot. Her kindness and sensitivity to others' needs left her heartbroken and alone in Persuasion , but the men of OkCupid were hooked. Her fictional family never listened to her, but her potential suitors online noticed her intelligence, and were interested in starting a conversation. And although it took her eight years to find a husband in the novel, it only took her two weeks in the world of modern dating.
Yes, that’s right — Anne Elliot won the gold card of dating, the Austenian “Happily Ever After”: the marriage proposal.