Jane Austen in Stars Hollow
New Gilmore Girls episodes coming in November! I’ve been pondering what I want to happen, romantically, with Rory, bookish and studious and therefore partly relatable. (The rest of Rory’s existence–in particular eating 4,000 calories a day and gaining no weight–is completely foreign to me.)
When the series ended, Rory was unattached. All of Rory’s three former boyfriends are apparently returning for the revival, but I’m about 80% sure I want *the one* to be Jess, the troubled bad boy who, with a paperback in pocket, scowls around Stars Hollow as if it’s not the most magical place on earth and is unpleasant and rude to almost everyone in his life, including Rory.
Jess is the Henry Crawford of Gilmore Girls. Henry, as Jane Austen’s shameless bad boy, is one of the best parts of Mansfield Park. Gilmore Girls can trace much of its DNA back to Jane Austen: the warmth and wit; the focus on social mores, personal relationships, and living within their constraints; the romance. The rascals never succeed in Austen, though, which is both fitting and disappointing. I’ve always kind of wanted Fanny and Henry of Mansfield Park to end up together. So I’m rooting for Rory and Jess.
Henry Crawford is not the same strain of bad boy as Jess. The opposite of the brooding, sullen teenager with an attitude problem, Henry is confident and outgoing, charming and flirtatious. He at first only pays attention to Fanny to amuse and flatter himself. Fanny Price is known as an uptight prude: sort of justified, but I adore her. She always does what she thinks is good and right and resists pressure to follow anything but her own conscience. Henry, by contrast, is a fun and entertaining hedonist, but he has some depth. During the play they stage, “Mr. Crawford was considerably the best actor of all.” Fanny appreciates that “he had more confidence,” “more judgment,” “more talent and taste” than the others. While Fanny is wary of the inconstancy and capriciousness in his character, she is impressed by his talents, too.
At his most appealing, Henry is affectionate, perceptive, and generous. He recognizes that Fanny is uncomfortable with attention and often strikes what he believes is a balance between drawing her out and making her totally uncomfortable. He helps Fanny’s brother get a promotion in the Navy; though he confesses his self-interest, Henry’s actions help her downtrodden family. Henry tells Fanny he wants to understand her opinion of him, even though he knows it’s not likely to be good: “You think me unsteady–easily swayed by the whim of the moment–easily tempted–easily put aside. […] You are infinitely my superior in merit; all that I know.” It’s just nice to see party-boy Henry appreciate the good in party-pooper Fanny.
Undaunted by her rejections and the discomfort his attention provokes, Henry continues to pursue Fanny, until he is caught in a scandal-making affair with Fanny’s cousin. That’s the end of Henry for Fanny, which always made me a little wistful.
In Gilmore Girls, Jess and Rory do get together, but they never feel totally stable. Jess leaves Rory in one of the series’s more heartbreaking scenes. Instead of telling her that he’s leaving town, he says, “I can’t go to the prom. I couldn’t get tickets,” a cop-out and lie that is indicative of how painfully strained their relationship had become by this point.
As she’s exiting the bus they’re on, Rory says, “So, you’ll call me?”
Jess responds, “Yeah, I’ll call you.”
He never calls.
But he does come back.
When he returns to Stars Hollow in the next season, Jess is still hung up on Rory. He gazes at the back of a girl with long, brown hair, and another character notices and says, “That’s not her. She cut her hair.” Then, he can’t stop bumping into Rory around the town–and running away.
When Rory can’t take Jess’s running from her as if she’s the bad guy, she decides to run away from him. Jess chases after and, when he finally manages to stop her, blurts out, “I love you.”
A few episodes later, Jess surprises Rory at her dorm. He asks Rory to leave with him, to ditch town, to escape.
Rory has already begun rekindling her relationship with the married Dean at this point, which just intensifies my reaction: Say yes!
I want Rory to say yes to Jess, just like I want Fanny to accept Henry.
Even though, as Rory explains to her best friend, Jess is unreliable and could change his mind by the time she gets out to the car.
Even though Fanny was convinced of Henry’s changeableness and was proven right.
Even though I know the bad boys are jerks … I still want both Fanny and Rory to say yes. It would be crazy and irresponsible and spontaneous–all the things Rory and, especially, Fanny usually aren’t. It would be good for them, and fun, too.
Rory declines and Jess leaves. When later in the series Jess returns, after having achieved some stability and also modest literary success with his writing, he and Rory reform their friendship. Despite Jess’s wish to be with Rory, she sticks with her current boyfriend. And that’s the end of Jess for Rory: both of these complicated and beguiling good girl/bad boy opposite-attracts romances sadly over.
Photo: Storm brewing, August 2016