Five Proposals of Marriage

Good morning,

Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is famous for its opening sentence: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” It should also be famous for its three proposals of marriage. They were all made to Elizabeth Bennet.

First, there is Mr Collins. Like everything Mr Collins did, it is pompous and is more a sermon than a declaration of love. As Tina Turner sang, ‘What’s love got to do with it?’ He begins, “My reasons for marrying are, first…” and so he goes on for a page or so.  It gets worse rather than better.

Then there is Darcy’s first proposal, which was disastrous, a good example of how not to do it. It received Elizabeth’s famous reply ‘You are mistaken, Mr Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared me the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.’ Accusing him of not being a gentleman was a deadly blow indeed.  But how skilfully she speaks! What a complex sentence to construct and deliver in the heat of the moment!

Next comes Darcy’s second attempt, and we have to wait till the last few pages of the novel to have it. It comes when the couple are both tongue tied and so embarrassed that they can hardly say a word to each other. Finally, Elizabeth thanks Darcy for everything he has done to help her family. She says her family would thank him too if they knew they knew what he had done. The ice is broken. He asks her to forget about her family. She was all he was thinking of. He then says, “If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.” The proposal is brief and to the point. But it is successful.   

Less famous are two other proposals which have beauty because they are from the heart. They are made by men unused to expressing themselves well or even expressing themselves much at all.

The first is little known. It is the proposal of Captain Fraser to Poppy Tyrell in the novel ‘A Master of Craft’ written by W. W. Jacobs and published in 1901.  Around the end of the19th century and the beginning of the 20th Jacobs wrote several novels and short stories about seafaring men and their adventures when in London between voyages. They are still worth reading. Begin with the collection called ‘Many Cargoes’.

For many pages Fraser has kept silent about his feelings for Poppy. With him she has been elusive and reticent.

Finally, they have been talking together hesitantly with long pauses of silence, neither having the courage to say what is really on their mind. Then Fraser decides to leave.

“I wanted to say something before I went,” said Fraser, slowly, as he paused at the street door, “and I will say it.”

Miss Tyrell, raising her eyebrows somewhat at his vehemence, waited patiently.

“I have loved you from the moment I saw you,” said Fraser, “and I shall go on loving you till I die.  Goodbye.”

He pressed her hand again, and walked down the little front garden into the street. At the gate he paused and looked round at Poppy still standing in the lighted doorway; he looked round again a few yards down the street, and again farther on.  The girl still stood there; in the momentary glimpse he had of her he fancied that her arm moved. He came back hastily, and Miss Tyrell regarded him with unmistakable surprise.

“I thought – you beckoned me,” he stammered.

“Thought I beckoned you?” repeated the girl.

“I thought so” murmured Fraser. “I beg your pardon,” and turned confusedly to go again.

“So I did,” said a low voice.

The last proposal is from a timid Dane to a pretty Italian woman who has been longing for him to muster his courage and ask her to marry him.  Jorgen Mortensen finally proposes to Giulia at the end of the Danish film ‘Italian for Beginners’.  The film was written and directed by Lone Scherfig and was first shown in 2000.

Jorgen Mortensen is shy and one of those good people who is not gifted in anything except his simple honesty. He’s one of God’s fools, who I talked about in my letter a couple of weeks ago. He meets Giulia who is working as a waitress. Jorgen attends classes of Italian for beginners. At the end of the film the whole class go to visit Venice with Giulia and there Jorgen finally makes his proposal. Here it is.

“Giulia, I know you don’t understand what I’m saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. I am 10 years older than you, and I’m not really any good at anything. I don’t have any family anymore. I’m not good at my job. I don’t have any hobbies, except for taking Italian lessons. I don’t really have an ear for languages. I can’t even say anything to you in Italian. I think I’m probably a bit boring. And I certainly don’t have as much personality as you do. And, as for sex, I’m not really comfortable with it anymore. I know that you don’t understand what I’m saying, but if I don’t say it now, I’ll never say it.

I love you, Giulia. And I’d like to be with you forever. I would like to have children with you, and I want to see you get older and become old.  I will love you every single day from when I wake up until we sleep together at night. I would like to marry you, Giulia.”

In fact, Giulia understands him much more that he thinks, and all ends well.  

In its simple way, that is powerful. Very powerful. There is no need for fine words if you speak from the heart.