The Blagger's Guide To... Marriage Proposals

Oh! Let us be married, too long we have tarried’

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The Independent Culture

* As a service to bookish women who are planning to propose on 29 February, the Blagger planned to offer a history of the most successful literary proposals of all time. Sorry, ladies, but the precedents are not good. In fact, we struggled to find any precedents at all.

* True, Rosalind persuades Orlando to marry her in As You Like It, but she is dressed as a bloke and he already wants to marry her. Olivia proposes to Sebastian in Twelfth Night. But she thinks that he is Cesario, who is really Viola, so in fact she is proposing to a woman.

* Bathsheba proposes to Boldwood in Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd by writing "marry me" in sealing wax, but she was only joking. Unfortunately, he is smitten, even when she marries Sergeant Troy, who has already knocked-up her servant, Fanny.

* The women in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest practically propose to their men, but cleverly make them think it's all their idea. "I adore you," says Gwendolen to Jack/Ernest. "But you haven't proposed to me yet. Nothing has been said at all about marriage. The subject has not even been touched on." Jack: "Well ... may I propose to you now?" Gwendolen: "I think it would be an admirable opportunity. And to spare you any possible disappointment, Mr Worthing, I think it only fair to tell you quite frankly before-hand that I am fully determined to accept you."

* But perhaps the most frank and straightforward woman-man proposal comes in Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat", when Pussy says to the Owl: "You elegant fowl, How charmingly sweet you sing! Oh! Let us be married, too long we have tarried. But what shall we do for a ring?" However, why do we assume that the Pussycat is a girl? Because Owl calls her "beautiful"? Whatever, let's leave the essay on gender politics in nonsense verse for another day.

* On the other hand, no matter how badly the women do it, they have to be better than the men. "I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool," says Max de Winter to the poor nameless girl in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Later, the novelist Maeve Binchy opined that the sequel should begin: "Last night I dreamed I went to see my solicitor and began the whole business of getting shot of Max."

* In Chekov's A Marriage Proposal, Ivan Vassiliyitch Lomov and Natalia Stepanovitch Chubukov are desperate to become engaged but can't seem to ask for falling out about hunting dogs. It doesn't help that he keeps collapsing and having palpitations – hardly an auspicious start to a marriage.

* Mr Rochester's proposal to Jane Eyre is blunt and to the point: "Poor and obscure as you are ... please accept me as your husband! I must have you for my own."

* But surely it is the so-called most romantic novel ever written that comes with the most clumsy proposal ever made. "In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you," Mr Darcy tells Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. His actual proposal, which so offends Elizabeth, is not given – except to say that "his sense of her inferiority – of its being a degradation ... was very unlikely to recommend his suit". The screen adaptations of the book handle the proposal differently, but none is very accomplished. Still, all's well that ends well, eh?