On Your Knee, Son

by | Nov 04, 2014

Proposals aren’t what they used to be…

According to the latest Census there were nearly 200,000 fewer marriages in the UK than in 1991. The number of married people fell to 20.4 million. In 2012, The Office of National Statistics reported a slight rise of 3.7 per cent among people marrying in England and Wales: but they thought that was because fewer of us could afford ceremonies in exotic locations. It could be that more people are cohabiting. Or it could be that the whole business of proposing has become too terrifying.
Why? Because the social media explosion has led to an epidemic of brilliant, crazy and outlandish proposals. Here are the kinds of stunts potential suitors are expected to live up to:

1. Taking a full page advert in the local paper
2.Getting an entire Tube carriage to sing ‘Lovely Day’
3. Lighting up a city office building with a heart
4.Taking girlfriend to cinema then showing a ‘will you marry me’ trailer
5.Getting Tom Cruise to pop the question for you.

All very clever I’m sure, but what’s wrong with the good old fashioned method?
You know the sort of thing. The sheepish cough. The high-pitched voice. The grass-stained knee.

As much as we admire the skydivers, flashmobbers and building-lighter-uppers, don’t you hanker after the elegant, perfectly-worded, stiff upper-lipped declarations from days of yore?

There are of course,  caddish proposals and there are lovely ones. Here is a caddish one, from the unscrupulous Mr Elliot in Jane Austin’s Persuasion. He is a cousin of his intended victim, Anne, hence this slithery approach:

“The name of Anne Elliot…has long had an interesting sound to me. Very long has it possessed a charm over my fancy; and if I dared, I would breathe my wishes that the name might never change.”

In Gone with the Wind, Rhett was a little more direct with his quarry:

“I’m going away tomorrow for a long time and I fear that if I wait till I return you’ll have married someone else with a little money. So I thought, why not me and my money? Really, Scarlett, I can’t go all my life waiting to catch you between husbands”.

Sometimes you get a bland proposal. But if you do that in an Oscar Wilde play, especially The Importance of Being Earnest, there is a very good chance your intended will come back with a pearler.


Jack Worthing: “You are quite perfect Miss Fairfax”.

Gwendolyn Fairfax: “Oh, I hope I am not that. It would leave no room for developments, and I intend to develop in many directions”.

And our favourite?

In P G Wodehouse’s sublime novel Leave It to Psmith, the eponymous character proposes to Eve Halliday. The slight drawback is that she thinks he is a Canadian poet called Ralston McTodd who has run away from her best friend. Despite that handicap, they go for a moonlit walk. Psmith, gesturing at the stars with “a kindly yet not patronising wave of his hand” gets down to business.

Eve is not impressed.

“And you expect me to take you seriously?”

“Assuredly not. I look upon the present disclosure purely as a sighting shot. Muse on me from time to time. Reflect that I may be an acquired taste. You probably did not like olives the first time you tasted them. Now you probably do. Give me the same chance you would an olive.”

Give me the same chance you would an olive. It doesn’t get much more romantic than that.


As we discovered at the beginning however, matrimony is not quite the force it was in the days when every novel and movie was obliged by law to end with a betrothal.
So who’s to blame? Hugh Grant, that’s who.

To end, here is his anti-proposal from Four Weddings and a Funeral:

“Do you think… after we’ve spent some time together… you might agree NOT to marry me? And do you think… not being married to me is something you’d consider doing for the rest of your life?”

That came out in 1994. Marriage has been in decline ever since

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