“Marry me. Marry me, my wonderful, darling friend.” ~ Jane Austen
Growing up with fairy tales gives many of us unrealistic expectations of love. And while we may still dream about our very own Prince Charming whisking us away for our happily ever after, we know that proposals are not always as romantic as they’re made out to be…
Mr Collins & Lizzy Bennett
We all know that Lizzy is a sensible (albeit obstinate and headstrong) girl, but this doesn’t mean that she will settle for anyone less than worthy. Seeing her parents’ flawed marriage has convinced her that “only the deepest love will induce me into matrimony”. So when Mr Collins takes it upon himself to propose marriage, it is all she can do not to laugh:
…as I am, to inherit this estate after the death of your honoured father … I could not satisfy myself without resolving to chuse a wife from among his daughters… This has been my motive, my fair cousin, and I flatter myself it will not sink me in your esteem. And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection… On that head, therefore, I shall be uniformly silent; and you may assure yourself that no ungenerous reproach shall ever pass my lips when we are married.”Pride & Prejudice ~ Jane Austen
Unsurprisingly, Lizzy rejects his proposal – multiple times as he does not immediately accept the matter – but it is not the last proposal that she will receive (or reject), as another unwelcome suitor asks her to be his wife…
Jane Eyre & Mr Rochester
Jane has led a difficult life, but when she arrives at Thornfield to teach Adele, she finally feels that she has found her home. She is wary of her feelings for her employer Mr Rochester, and when he proposes she doubts his affection:
But, Jane, I summon you as my wife: it is you only I intend to marry.” I was silent: I thought he mocked me. “Come, Jane — come hither.” “Your bride stands between us.” He rose, and with a stride reached me. “My bride is here,” he said, again drawing me to him, “because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me? Still I did not answer, and still I writhed myself from his grasp: for I was still incredulous. “Do you doubt me, Jane?” “Entirely.”Jane Eyre ~ Charlotte Brontë
Eventually she accepts his proposal, but although the day dawns on their wedding, it is not to be for Mr Rochester has a secret lurking in the attic… Jane too will receive additional proposals, and endure further suffering, but eventually she will get her happy ending.
Rhett Butler & Scarlett O’Hara
Although Gone with the Wind is extremely readable, its protagonists Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler are both complex characters, impulsive and unlikeable.
Yet despite what life throws at them, they are continuously flung together and by the time they are both unattached, it seems inevitable that they will end up together.
Rhett’s proposal when it comes, is far from romantic and is as a result of lust, rather than love.
“Hush,” he said. “I am asking you to marry me. Would you be convinced if I knelt down?” She said “Oh” breathlessly and sat down hard on the sofa.Gone with the Wind ~ Margaret Mitchell
But Scarlett had only ever loved Ashley (rightly or wrongly) and did not want to marry again. She explains she doesn’t love him and he proclaims he does not love her either… However, after Rhett kisses her passionately, she comes around! Their marriage is not a happy one and it is only when Ashley dies, that Scarlett realises she does love Rhett – but is it too late?
Cecily Cardew & Algernon Moncrieff
Who doesn’t love mistaken identity, mixed with imagination and love? One of my favourite plays, I was lucky enough to be cast as Cecily in 2018. Naive and a tendency to daydream, she is determined to marry someone by the name of Ernest. When she meets Algernon (who is posing as Jack’s elder brother Ernest), she reveals how her imagination has run away with her.
I don’t care for anybody in the whole world but you. I love you, Cecily. You will marry me, won’t you?The Importance of Being Earnest ~ Oscar Wilde
You silly boy! Of course. Why, we have been engaged for the last three months.
Cecily explains that their engagement has not been without trial, and she was forced to break it off (because it would not have been serious otherwise), but Algy accepts this and rushes off to be christened. However, their engagement is once again at risk of being broken off when Jack finds out and when Cecily discovers that Ernest is really Algy she is far from pleased!
Jo March & Laurie
Jo and Laurie are one of the couples that seemed destined to be together. They have so much in common and bring out the best in each other. Despite life pulling them apart, they remain close and Laurie retains his love for this outspoken tomboy.
I’ve loved you ever since I’ve known you, Jo, couldn’t help it, you’ve been so good to me. I’ve tried to show it, but you wouldn’t let me. Now I’m going to make you hear, and give me an answer, for I can’t go on so any longer.Little Women ~ Louisa May Alcott
Readers were aghast that Alcott chose to marry Laurie to Amy, rather than Jo. This match still seems bizarre, and I’m still cross that Jo declines his proposal, marries the professor and stops writing!
Which are your favourite literary proposals?
Did you have a fairytale romance, or did you have to let someone down gently?