But in typical writer fashion, of course I couldn’t just enjoy the stories like a normal person–I had to be curious about how Jane Austen constructed them too. Like a builder staring up at a domed ceiling and instead of appreciating the beauty thinking, how did they do that? Yes, I have a problem, but today it’s to your benefit because I’m going to show you how to write a love triangle like Jane Austen 😉
How Jane Austen designs her love triangles struck my curiosity because usually I’m not a fan of love triangles. Usually, I find them annoying and predictable. But I was surprised to find that the love triangles in Austen’s works didn’t bother me, and I was able to enjoy them.
Why was that? What had she done differently? Of course, I couldn’t resist analyzing and breaking it down to try to find an answer, and today I’m going to share my findings with you. It turns out, Jane Austen’s love triangles have subtle differences from the typical love triangles I’ve come across in YA novels and even a lot of romance films. Before we break down those differences, let’s take a peek at a typical YA love triangle.
A Look at a Typical Modern YA Love Triangle
Most YA love triangles I have encountered look something like this:
The heroine falls in love with two guys at the same time. They are both great guys, though usually one is more edgy, distant, aloof, harder to obtain, etc. and/or has a bad boy side. The heroine agonizes over which guy she should choose as both fight for her heart. She goes back and forth between the two and just can’t make up her mind. But it doesn’t really matter which one she chooses because they’re both amazing; the real trouble is deciding which one she loves more.
Examining Jane Austen’s Love Triangles
Now, on the other hand, let’s examine the elements of the type of love triangle Jane Austen creates.
1. First, the heroine does not fall in love with both men at the same time. She has feelings for only one at a time. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett has a crush on Wickham for a while. After she learns his true character her feelings subside, and it is only then that her heart begins to turn towards Darcy.
In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne Dashwood ignores the attentions of Colonel Brandon, thinking him too old and unromantic, and falls in love with the dashing Willoughby. But she realizes what Willoughby is really like when he abandons her and breaks her heart. Eventually, Marianne gradually falls in love with Colonel Brandon.
2. Not both men are good options. In YA love triangles, both love interests are good options and for the heroine it’s just a matter of deciding who she loves more and wants to spend her life with.
But in Jane Austen’s novels, one man is the “right” choice and one man is the “wrong” choice, and it’s up to the heroine to learn their true character in order to make her decision. Basically, Austen encourages readers not to decide on a man with your heart or romantic feelings, but to judge and know his character.
In YA love triangles, often the emphasis is placed on feelings and physical attraction and little is revealed about the character of the love interest. But Austen has her heroines learn the character of the love interest so that they have a reason to like them that is deeper than a physical attraction.
3. While one man is meant to be the wrong option, both men might appear to be good options. Austen loves to show that charms and dashing good looks do not reveal a man’s true character, and are not enough to build a lasting love.
For example, in Pride and Prejudice Wickham is very charming, good-humored, and handsome. It seems like he’s a decent man and would make a good love interest–until his true character is revealed. Similarly in Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby is dashing, romantic, and charming, but his character is lacking. And in Emma, Frank Churchill is yet another charming man of shallow character.
Austen loves to create a character who appears to be a good love interest because he’s handsome, charming, romantic, etc., but it’s the man who possesses the qualities that matter such as loyalty, commitment, devotion, compassion, honor, responsibility, etc. who wins the heroine’s heart.
4. The heroine is decisive and does not waver back and forth between the love interests. The main reason I have such a hard time with modern YA love triangles is because after a while it drives me nuts when the heroine can’t decide between two men.
I hate the constant jumping back and forth between the two and I want to grab the heroine and shake her and scream just pick one already! I can put up with it for a while but if it’s dragged out for too long–or over an entire series–it begins to wear on me. I think authors feel that this increases the tension and in a way it does, but it can also make the heroine seem very fickle and like she is toying with the two guys. Make a decision and stop torturing them!
Jane Austen avoids this problem by having her heroines feel for only one man at a time, though two men might be interested in the heroine at the same time. For example, in Pride and Prejudice Mr. Darcy and Wickham are interested in Elizabeth at the same time, but she is only interested in one of them at any given time. And in Sense and Sensibility, both Colonel Brandon and Willoughby are interested in Marianne at the same time, but she only likes one of them at a time. I find this slight shift in love triangle dynamics interesting, and I wonder what these stories would have looked like had the heroines been interested in both men at once.
Even though the differences in the way Jane Austen designs her love triangles are subtle, I feel like the impact of the story they create is much deeper and emotional.
Austen’s love triangles aren’t about choosing the hottest guy, or the guy who’s the best kisser or the best in bed, or the guy you have the best chemistry with. They’re about choosing the guy with the best character, a man who will truly love and commit to you. They’re about avoiding rogues in gentleman’s clothing–or villains with the face of a Disney prince.
Personally, I find this type of love triangle more realistic and relatable, and I feel like the romance that comes from it is better as well because we get to truly know the characters–not just read lengthy descriptions of heated make-out scenes.
Which type of love triangle do you prefer? Are there any other differences between typical YA love triangles and Jane Austen’s that I missed? What do you think Jane Austen’s stories would have been like if they were done in the style of a typical YA love triangle? Leave you thoughts below!