‘Love Island teaches you more than Jane Austen’

Unhappy ending: Kendall and Niall were the first to leave this year’s season of Love Island.

Surely not? The TV show is smashing records. Some scorn it as low-grade trash. But others say its stories of relationships, courtship and rejection have more wisdom than the classics.

Love Island has returned to British TV screens and millions have chosen to spend their summer evenings in the company “unfathomably ripped young men and scantily clad young women”.

It was the most talked-about show last summer, and this year the hype is even bigger. The show is watched by over 50% of 16 to 34-year-olds.

But why is it so popular?

Yes, you have the blue skies, the holiday vibe and the parade of attractive 20-somethings. But its core appeal is that it is based on the timeless idea of the love story.

Novelist Helen Warner has even gone as far as to compare it to a Jane Austen novel. They are “essentially the same thing; popular entertainment with the sole premise of following a number of couples on their path to finding love,” she says.

Here are some similarities:

First impressions are often wrong. Love Island begins with each woman choosing a man to couple up with, based on a split-second first impression. In most cases they do not stay together and are dumped at the first re-coupling.

“In Austen’s novels, first impressions are often equally wide of the mark, demonstrated most famously by Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, who initially thinks George Wickham is a charming sort while Mr Darcy is an arrogant snake, both of which turn out to be disastrously wrong,” Warner says.

Then there is the gossiping. Like Love Island, Austen’s characters are confined to a “society” where there is little to do apart from gossip.

The islanders enter the villa at different times, and newcomers often mean trouble. This year Adam decided to couple up with Kendall, before quickly moving onto Rosie, leading to Kendall being dumped from the island. Frank Churchill in Emma and Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park perform similar roles in Austen’s novels.

And there are the varying fortunes of love. Like all of Austen’s heroines, many of the most successful islanders endure heartbreak on their road to true love, but it all pays off in the end.

Are they really that similar?

Trash TV

Yes they are, say some. Not only is the situation very similar, but the characters are too. The women are notable for their spirit and their liveliness, both hallmarks of Austen’s heroines, while the men run the gamut from quiet and conscientious to loud and abrasive. Stories like this remain similar through the ages.

What rubbish, reply others. Love Island is just scripted trash. While Austen’s novels ooze the decorum of the early 19th century, Love Island bulges with sex, promiscuity and foul language. One encourages vanity, the other modesty. A key theme in Austen’s work is “tranquility”; what could be less tranquil than ITV’s grubby nonsense?

You Decide

  1. Can Love Island reasonably be compared with Jane Austen’s stories?
  2. Why do you think Love Island is so popular?


  1. In one minute, list as many love stories as you can. They can be from television, novels, films, poetry, etc.
  2. Write 500 words about a scene from Love Island in the style of Jane Austen.

Some People Say...

“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.”

Charlotte Lucas, in Pride and Prejudice

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The 2018 season of Love Island is 10 days’ old and it is proving more popular than ever. The premise of the show is simple: the season starts with 11 young, single men and women are sent to a villa in Mallorca and encouraged to couple up with each other. Almost all the relationships are heterosexual. There are dozens of cameras watching the islanders’ every move and they are asked to compete in challenges and games.
What do we not know?
Who will win this year. Dani Dyer, (daughter of actor Danny Dyer) is the favourite to be the last woman standing, followed by Georgia and Laura. Jack, who is currently coupled up with Dani, is the favourite to be top man, followed by Wes and Josh.

Word Watch

16 to 34-year-olds
This is a demographic that TV networks often find hard to engage with due to competition from Netflix and YouTube. ITV Hub has claimed that it regularly reaches 56% of people in this age group.
Jane Austen
Austen (1775-1817) only wrote six books — Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. Her books all focus on young women in the landed gentry of England. She published anonymously and never married.
In last year’s Love Island both Camilla and Olivia ended up in successful relationships after being rejected earlier in the season.
Their spirit and their liveliness
This contrasts strongly with the older generation in Austen’s novels, who are often deeply flawed and range from nice-but-useless to overprotective to prejudiced and rude.
Admittedly this tranquility often comes after long periods of disorder and doubt.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.