It is constantly amazing that in a time of sexual chaos, when Paris Hilton and Madonna are queen of the headlines that Jane Austen is still popular. What do these quaint dramas have to do with the daily lives of our “modern” women? Is it that bugaboo “escapism”? Is Austen merely a more literate variety of Harlequin romance novels?

After all, aren’t modern women supposed to be sexual beings, open to sleeping around, preferring independent careers to being tied down in a marriage? Isn’t the modern woman supposed to be “superwoman” who balances a loving husband, a career and 1.8 obedient children? Aren’t women supposed to be able to be completely interchangeable with men, not like we older feminist taught, bringing our feminine talents into our jobs, but actually being required to be second class men, cold, unemotional, not caring, and especially not pregnant or worried about our children?

Maybe the reason that romance novels are so popular among women is that they are an escape from the ho hum life of chores and often a non romantic husband, or more commonly no man at all who can be relied on to sweep them off their feet and care for them. They are the female equivalent to “X Men”, these romances have little or nothing to do with the everyday life. We don’t fly off to Paris to shop, we don’t have three hours to spend talking with friends at long lunches, and (in the more modern novels) we don’t run multinational corporations while we are still under age 30.

Indeed, although Kay Hymowitz’s analysis of why we hate the decadence of Paris Hilton is true, another reason we are so fascinated at her is that she is the poster child for a thousand Harlequin romances, and manages to live both the lifestyle and ridicule it at the same time.

But why is Jane Austen so popular?

Perhaps it is because the themes of love and courtship transcend her society, and are timeless. We see the movie Emma released the same year as it’s modern “remake” “Clueless”. Bollywood released Pride and Prejudice as a song filled “Bride and Prejudice”, while the sparring of “Harry meets Sally” has many echoes of Darcy meets Elizabeth Bennett.

There is a quiet subtlety of Ms. Austen that we can identify with. The dirty little secret is that for most women, marriage and family is still the center of their lives. Despite societal elites telling us we are supposed to be “liberated”, in our hearts most of us know that if one fails to get a decent human being as a husband and father for our children, our lives will be full of sorrow.

We mothers still are like Mrs. Bennett, worrying that our children will find the wrong spouse, or no spouse at all and never settle down.

Like Anne Elliott, we know women who have turned down marriage for “wise” reasons–because of our job or because he is not financially secure– but get a second chance at love.

We all know the Mariennes who love rogues who desert them, and the Elinores who love a man in other commitments but who have enough integrity not to insist he destroy that commitment.

We know Emmas, who chase from romance to romance only to find that our destiny is to marry our best friend.

And many of us identify with Elizabeth Bennett, who sees the gold hidden in Darcy’s soul and refuses to play the games of deceit and flattery of those around her, and wins him nevertheless.

The dance of courtship changes, but the heart’s needs do not.

Paris Hilton may be in the headlines, but even Paris, one prays, will grow up and find stability in the type of loving relationship that make the world go round.
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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician who lives in the rural Philippines with her husband, six dogs, three cats, and a large extended family. Her blog is
Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket”.

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