For Better or For Worse: A Revival of Jane Austen’s Concept of Good Marriages (Analysis/Review)

Source: For Better or For Worse – Currently available on Tapas

By: Peggy Sue Wood | @pswediting

I may not show it often, but I’m actually a huge sucker for a good romance.

Personally, I enjoy Jane Austen’s approach to good marriages and finding love, which I find to be rarely emulated in fiction today. Austen typically wrote about the places she knew and the realistic realities faced by people, especially women, at the time. This means that the traditional background and daily life of her characters are set and emulate Georgian Era (English) society at the turn of the 19th century (late 17000s/early 1800s)–typically with female leads who are facing the very real expectations of the time to marry, raise families, and deal with social, financial, and personal issues. Pride and Prejudice is probably the most notable of her works (certainly a popular one) and does well to represent Austen’s general rule for what makes a good couple or good match. That is, typically, one where each person can learn something from the other and grow.

From a more modern perspective, we tend to think of love as needing to be unconditional–a total acceptance of who we are from our prospective partners, but Austen would probably find that unreasonable. 

In her stories, the right person in friendship and in love needs to be able to help us overcome our failings and we need to be able to do something similar for them. These failings may include maturity, honesty, kindness, lack of patience, or any other number of things.

Those that overcome in her stories are rewarded as they have developed well into more rounded, kinder, and mentally healthier people and their reward is often a partner who has similarly developed. To quote The School of Life from YouTube (one of my favorite channels, and one that has reviewed Austen and this idea), “That’s why the novel feels so beautifully constructed, and it illustrates a basic truth: marriage depends on maturity and education” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIYiThAyY8s).

As such, I was pleasantly surprised to see a rival of it in the love story between Cedric and Dylan from For Better or For Worse.

For Better or For Worse, thus far, has perfectly set up this kind of romance between Cedric and Dylan. You can see this specifically in Chapter 4 as Dylan admits she may have thought wrong of Cedric’s personality and in Chapter 5 when Dylan and Cedric discuss why he needs to marry a Langston instead of another family. Cedric also shows room for growth as he stops seeing Emily or Dylan as a tool to please his grandfather and instead sees them as people. Moreover as he begins developing feelings for Dylan in a serious way, looking beyond her family and looks to find a vibrant and caring person. Chapter 6 & 7 allow us to see how honor plays into the social part of their world and from that we get a really good look at societal pressures the two central characters (and others) are under.  

Source: Chapter 5, For Better or For Worse
Source: Chapter 5, For Better or For Worse

As we get into the 40s range of chapters, we’re seeing more and more how society is based on a power struggle between families of varied rank, financial security (or insecurity), and such. In their setting, which seems to be inspired by late 1800s/early 1900s fashion and design, we can tell that social standing, blood relations or history, and even financial situations are vital to the operations of societal thought. 

In many ways, reading feels like a revival of that Georgian setting with a few present-fashion inspirations. But, even more than that, it feels like a revival of the kind of romantic stories Austen wrote. One in which the realities of the world do play a part in who you love and how you and others either grow or stagnate from the pressures around you. 

If I were to apply terms specifically to the characters of this story, I would say that Dylan suffers, lightly, from prejudice. She regularly judges from appearance and rumor, though is slowly beginning to correct that mindset, while Cedric is rather prideful. He accuses Dylan of suffering from pride for not wanting him to marry her younger sister (ignoring her pleas and offers to look at other families). He reflects his own pride onto her, essentially, causing that mistake. Only when she stomps on his toes and explains privately how much she cares for her sister does this pridefulness break and he realizes his mistake. It’s a shift and, over time, he starts to realize that not all women are like his mother, who is also very prideful. 

We’re not led to feel contempt for these character or for these flaws in their personalities, similar to how Austen shows flaws in her own characters. Rather, we’re made to give a small chuckle while also feeling pity for their situation, lack of insight into other character’s thoughts, or feel like they need guidance and reform. 

This ties back to those social conventions that keep appearing, the necessity to hold to certain manners and the perceived impressions of people before one has even met them. To use examples from Austen’s works, I again quote The School of Life from their review of Austen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIYiThAyY8s): 

“Social conventions and manners make it easy to ignore this. Swept away by Emma’s excessive praise, Harriet turns down an offer of marriage from a farmer because she thinks now that he’s not good enough. Though, in fact, he is good-hearted and quietly prosperous. Then the vicar turns out to be horrified at Emma’s idea and Harriet has her heart broken. The underlying point is serious, Emma is unwittingly but cruelly snobbish. She’s devoted to the wrong kind of hierarchy. The farmer is essentially a better person than the vicar, but social conventions and manners make it easy to ignore this. Jane Austen is careful to give this fault to Emma, who is in many ways an enchanting character. In other words, Jane Austen doesn’t mock snobbery as the behavior of ghastly and contemptible people. Instead, she regards the snob with pity, as someone who’s in need of instruction, guidance, and reform. As we all are, in our own way.” 

I enjoy For Better or For Worse, because these are the kinds flaws in character that makes sense. The social restrictions, too, add that element of realism to the romance just as we, today, are bound to our own social conventions in a relationship (though ours are different from the regency period of Austen’s days). It’s nice to see a revival of these romantic ideas in a genre that often approaches romance in a much more fantastical manner by placing it in the midst of nationalized political strife landing on the shoulders of love-lorn princes or princesses and duke’s daughters or sons with magical warfare or reincarnated revenge plots. 

Anyway, if you haven’t given the series a chance, I highly recommend it! It’s available of Tapas right now with over 50 chapters. 

My Review: 10/10

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