'The Courtship' and reality-TV dating: Jane Austen's been there, and has some advice
Rituals, rites, public dramas - so it is in the Regency and in reality TV
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If your March is like mine, it’s a whirlwind of work, drama, headlines, and more work. Things are hectic. And with Real Life and The News swirling around us, it might be hard to find any fun or any meaning in anything right now. Nevertheless! We’re here: March marches on and so does our Jane Austen TV month here at the Austen Connection.
And, one thing I’m tuning in to is The Courtship, on NBC Sunday nights, and streaming the next day for free on the network’s digital channel, Peacock.
Some of you may have noticed that we are Bachelorette watchers here at the Austen Connection. We also indulged, big time, in the blind-dating jilted-at-the-alter extravaganza that was Love Is Blind, thanks to the influence of a few of my Substack sisters like Rodeo Break and We Have Notes.
The journalist in me has questions about what I like to call the NDA festival of exploitation that seems to power reality TV dating dramas. My producer’s instinct tells me that anyone who signs up for these reality television shows signs their life away with NDAs, or Non Disclosure Agreements, after being tempted with large pay checks, and then is enticed by increasing amounts of money into sticking with it even as the plots thicken, the setups and the editing become more awkward and sinister, and all the contestants and viewers alike succumb to Sunk Cost Fallacy that because you’ve now invested so much time and psychic energy, we should all see this thing through. I know nothing here. It’s just a hunch.
Nevertheless, I watch them, enjoy them, sometimes practically live for the escape, the exotic settings, the manufactured drama.
Then here comes The Courtship - and it’s restoring a sense of order and balance in the reality TV dating world, not a place we would associate with order and balance, but this show happens to be playing out at an English Great House, set in the parklands of this English estate, surrounded by the cultivated English countryside. That in itself is transformative, and it’s amazing to watch the effects this setting has on the contestants.
You’ve likely heard by now about the show’s premise: It takes all of the men, the rituals, the rules of this reality-TV dating game, and sets it in a Regency setting. It’s an actual Great House, Castle Howard, like the ones we read about in Jane Austen, and it’s inhabited by an actual young bachelorette, Ms. Nicole Rémy - accompanied by her parents, her sister, and a friend, and a truckload (barouche-load?) of bachelors. Nicole Rémy will make her choices and call the shots in Bachelorette mode, Regency style.
We have much to say about this, friends. So much so that I am putting off a longer post to simply say that this show has restored my loyalty to reality TV dating, and maybe also my faith in humanity, and this is for one major reason: The Rémy family. They are amazing. Nicole is a refreshing, smart, natural protagonist to carry all of our dreams - and her parents are the parents we’d all want to take along with us for the ride.
So for this week, we’re repurposing a former post that was written back when our entire Austen Connection list was probably about 50 people. So hundreds of you have not seen this yet, and we feel we need to share it.
It’s a listicle - with seven tips from Jane Austen for bachelorettes, and was put together at a time when it was hard to imagine anyone conflating the rituals and very public courtship dramas of reality television dating with the rituals and very public courtship dramas of the Regency.
That seems to have changed. So, as we say in public radio, we’re offering a special “archive edition” today, with Jane Austen’s advice for our newest Bachelorette on the scene, The Courtship’s Ms. Nicole Rémy.
Here are our seven tips, straight from the novels, and straight from Jane:
1-Look for style vs substance.
Jane Austen’s seminal dichotomy is for you, bachelorettes and Nicole Rémy. It might be considered Jane Austen’s big thing, and it’s really about the Real vs. the Fake. The bachelorettes - in true Austen spirit - seem to know this. Mosts episodes from The Bachelorette, and now also The Courtship, involve our heroine saying, pleading, some version of: If you are not real, leave. Please show me your true self.
That’s because: Even though this is television, genuine, authentic affection is the only place to start, in Jane Austen, in The Courtship, and in life.
And when you only have a few dates, limited time, and everything is on display, just like a Jane Austen heroine you will need to quickly figure out who’s real and who’s playing the game to win.
Jane Austen’s advice? Go for the quiet, reserved, honest guy vs. the loud, fancy, proclaiming one. For Ms. Rémy, this has already meant saying good-bye to the good doctor, and hello to the guy from Missouri.
Jane Austen’s leading characters are, famously, as judgy as it gets - We’re looking at you, Darcy and Elizabeth, whose “pride” and “prejudice” is iconic, and ultimately stems from misplaced judgement.
But that judgement muscle is important to your survival - so use it.
Like Nicole Rémy, Austen’s characters are forced to make decisions about their future in very public, limited settings, and within the confines of strict rituals. Lizzy and Jane have balls and visitations; you have cocktail parties and rose ceremonies. In both cases, you need to wear your astuteness like armor.
3-Don’t talk about money, religion or politics.
Have you ever noticed that no one on these reality-dating shows ever talk about anything that matters? I’m assuming that the contestants have at least filled out some sort of questionnaire with details about their salary, money and property holdings (money and property being a big factor in Jane Austen’s novels, of course). And also declared what their politics are, and what their religious and moral deal-breakers might be. So, bachelorettes, your producers already seem to have this one down.
In Jane Austen as in The Courtship, we are drilling below those surface considerations to get to the matters of the heart.
[W]hen you only have a few dates, limited time, and everything is on display, just like a Jane Austen heroine you will need to quickly figure out who’s real and who’s playing the game to win.
So I guess the advice here is: Get the money, politics, and religion sorted, off the page and off-camera. Then see if your souls speak to each other.
Speaking of resources though, as we’ve pointed out in the Austen Connection before, Jane Austen’s novels famously calculate resources - the inner resources and character as well as the outer resources (that famous 10,000 pounds per year of Mr. Darcy’s). Both matter.
During Hometown week, look for the communion of the souls, judge the character, but also make sure you and your contestant are on the same page about the practical things. Jane would never have her characters marry for money or “without affection” - this is something that, judging from the messages of the novels, she was openly, wholeheartedly opposed to. However, like Charlotte Lucas, Austen’s women also know that they have to find love in a world that they can afford to live in, comfortably. Employer-based healthcare is also good.
It’s a matter of not just comfort, also survival. Take stock.
5-Listen to your parents and family - or not!
In The Bachelorette, it’s Hometowns week that is all about meeting the family. One of the best things about The Courtship is Nicole Rémy’s parents - who are on-hand and choosing dates for her, Regency style. But: One of the most surprising things about Jane Austen’s novels? Austen actually doesn’t put much stock in what your elders say.
Her novels supply a parade of interfering aunts, neglectful fathers and brothers, dangerously silly mothers and ludicrous neighbors. And that’s not to mention outright Cruelllas (Lady Catherine, Darcy’s domineering aunt; or Mrs. Norris, Fanny Price’s bullying aunt), dictators (the patriarchal plantation-owner Sir Thomas), and mercenaries (Sir Walter, General Tilney - both terrible fathers).
Jane Austen would encourage our bachelorettes of the world to judge astutely, and make sure your judgement is better than that of your parents and that of society - which often focuses on the wrong things (again, back to: religion, money, politics).
Basically, be astute, be realistic, and then haul off on your own and follow your heart, girl.
6 - Except for your sister.
Unlike the rest of the family in Austen, sisters rule. When all else fails, lean on your sister. The Bachelorettes are these days joined by two previous bachelorettes, Tayshia Adams and Kaitlyn Bristowe - they’ve walked in her shoes, they’ve navigated those tricky corners, and they’ve come out the other side of the maze. On The Courtship, Nicole Rémy is joined by her gorgeous sister, Danie Baker, and best friend, Tessa Cleary, both on hand and mic’d up so we hear their commentary in real time - which is hilarious.
All this provides a sort of Lizzy-Jane sisterhood where our bachelorettes can sit back and analyze her thoughts on the suitors.
It’s a Bachelorette version of Lizzy and Jane, who subtly swoon and speculate about Bingley and Darcy, in the bedroom at night while brushing out their hair.
But remember - it’s not just swooning taking place - it’s also military-like maneuvering, through dangerous currents, that’s being deployed in these conversations - with life-changing consequences, both in the Regency and on NBC.
7-Find the one who will respect, trust, and challenge you.
In Jane Austen, your life partner will make you or break you. An intelligent, thoughtful partner with strong character and integrity, will encourage the same in yourself. Not only that - but you need to be able to communicate your strengths and your weaknesses to each other, and listen to each other, and that will make you the person worthy of being married to.
One way to quickly know someone is not faking love for the gamesmanship of it, is if they call you out on something - they are taking a risk here, to make you and your relationship stronger.
Look for the partner who is respectful, kind, loving and trusting - but who also has the courage to let you know when you are a danger to yourself or others.
In Jane Austen: this is the famous Knightley challenge to Emma, when she openly, famously insults a vulnerable spinster: “Badly done!”
And then, when challenged: Listen to each other, and find the way through.
Any bachelorette or bachelor needs to look for the person who will be capable of challenging them to be better, and communicating these things effectively. Jane said!
Lizzy and Jane have balls and visitations; you have cocktail parties and rose ceremonies. In both cases, you need to wear your astuteness like armor.
And now, guys - a bonus tip for you, also from Aunt Jane: Hold on to your hats, and put a lid on your jealousy.
In the Regency, women have only, as Henry Tilney of Northanger Abbey puts it, the “right of refusal.” He’s alluding to the fact that Regency men are called to all the action in courtship, while the women can merely wait and either accept or refuse what comes their way.
In reality television, and in the insane world of The Bachelorette or The Courtship, this gets turned upside down - and a lot of the drama and craziness comes from the fact that she is dating all these guys at once. And not only that, they’re all rooming together.
Who would sign up for this? Surely not Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley or Captain Wentworth.
But take another cue from Mr. Knightley, Austen’s handsome, older and judgiest leading man. When Knightley is forced to observe exactly the kind of scene that so many of the bachelorette contestants get in a stew over - watching a calculating, manipulative guy compete for the affections of our heroine, in this case it’s the frivolous, fake Frank Churchill, flirting with Emma. What does he do? He stands by - -calmly, though certainly skeptical and seething.
While Knightley, as we’ve said, is judgmental and sometimes critical of Emma, ultimately he waits.
Did you catch that, Bachelor Nation? The Austen leading man always knows he can only be with the person, ultimately, who sees the right way and chooses him. Even if that means losing the game.
Ultimately, Nicole Rémy, Elizabeth Bennet, and every bachelor or bachelorette in the universe has to do just that: Make up your own mind.
So the best you can do is to judge carefully, communicate honestly, and act kindly - and then look to your sisters for help along the way.
What do you think, friends?
Are you watching The Courtship? Have any thoughts so far - we’re only in Week 2, there is so much more to come. But please share your Courtship Bracket with us. Which of Austen’s leading men would win this season on The Courtship or The Bachelorette?
What about Austen heroines? Lizzy would likely get a kick out of the experience - but I shudder to think what would become of our dear Fanny Price. (Although: in true Austen-heroine style, she’d do better than we’d give her credit for.)
And here’s our favorite question of all and we’d love an answer to this: Are you out there dating, friends? Are you a bachelor or bachelorette who draws on the wisdom of Jane Austen? How has reading Jane influenced your dating life, if at all? Do tell!
You can comment below, or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community and Links
This Saturday, March 19, is a full-day conference hosted by JASNA NY and Metropolitan Region, on “Jane Austen’s Scandalous Era,” featuring Dr. Janine Barchas and other speakers on some great topics, such as “Gothic Scandal in the Periodical Press” with Dr. Elizabeth Veisz and “The Georgians: A True Age of Sexual Discovery” with Author Amanda Foreman. I’m signed up! Tickets are only $20, and you can find out more and register here. Maybe we’ll see you there!
Substack is really good at getting writers together - two writers who are influencing my TV watching right now are Rodeo Break and We Have Notes. Here’s to smart women talking about what they’re watching, reading, and listening to. Can’t get enough.
Usually my day-job journalism does not intersect with my Jane Austen journalism, but today - this very day! - our little NPR-affiliate is launching a wonderful podcast you might love. Here’s a link to “Cover Story with Stephanie Shonekan,” where my University of Missouri colleague, a brilliant musicologist and friend, invites a guest each week into the studio to debate about “who covered it better,” and they do a deep dive into the history, and meaning, and the story - behind a classic song and its “covers.” You can podcast it here and wherever you get your podcasts.
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