The Princess scribbled “Pip” with a blue felt tip on a scrap of paper, and then drew a big blue heart around it. “He’s soooooo cute” she squealed, and threw herself face down on the bed. “Why are there no boys like Pip in real life?”

She is reading Great Expectations. Pip, from the genius pen of master Dickens, has naturally eclipsed the dull, cocky, aggressive, annoying, loud, bullish, and otherwise wholly unremarkable boys from school. Much like watching porn is said to destroy young men’s expectations of sex and give them an unrealistic view of it, reading has destroyed the Princess’s chances of “meeting someone worthwhile”. At the tender age of twelve, she has already realised that while she herself is the heroine of her own story, every bit a demigod, there can be no hero.

It is a bitter path all us female readers tread. Oh Jane Austen, you effectively ruined our romantic prospects forever, with your adorable, sensitive, handsome, intelligent, loving heros, Darcy and Mr Knightly, and oh my god Wentworth. Who in real life could possibly hold a candle to that?

And this runs rife even in children’s literature. If Ron Weasly and Hermione hadn’t already set an impossible standard for romantic love by the age of ten, Percy Jackson was ready to show us how a real boy should behave by eleven. And along comes twelve and the onset of YA books, and gone, gone, gone. Romance in real life is flushed down the toilet. Great expectations, indeed.

Great Expectations, 2011,


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