Since my parents are celebrating their wedding anniversary this weekend I've been musing on the happily married couples in Jane Austen's novels, especially those couples that influence the hero and heroine's opinions of married life.
Yes, there are happily married couples in her books! In fact we may say that although some couples are rather unsuitably matched most are reasonably content as to not make such disastrous end as Maria Bertram and Mr. Rushworth of Mansfield Park (their marriage ends in a permanent separation).
In Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet thinks a bit despairingly of her own parents' marriage but her Uncle & Aunt Gardiner (though not married as long) are perfectly content and well matched with a very happy home where they invite their nieces to stay. It's also rather interesting that Elizabeth, in traveling with the Gardiners to Derbyshire, has daily opportunity to observe their married felicity before meeting up with her own future spouse at Pemberley. Might not the desire for a similar happy union have influenced her to think more softly about at alliance with Darcy? Perhaps.
In Sense and Sensibility married couples like Sir John & Lady Middleton, Thomas & Charlotte Palmer and John & Fanny Dashwood cannot be called particularly unhappy in their marriages but they are rather poor examples for the young people around them. Indeed, we may go so far as to say that both Colonel Brandon and Edward Ferrars are influenced to not be looking for love before meeting certain young ladies (and we later learn Edward has already resigned himself to an unhappy marriage with Lucy Steele). The heroines have had a very different influence - Elinor and Marianne's parents were married for love and inspire them to crave truly deep attachments of their own.
In Emma the heroine has been rather addicted to romance since her older sister Isabella marries John Knightley and that addiction continues with seeing Mr. & Mrs. Weston's happy union. Both couples are truly attached and influence Emma Woodhouse's mind so that she later says to Harriet: "I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! ...And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine."
In Mansfield Park, Fanny Price has few examples of married life outside of her own family. Her aunts Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris both married to please their uncle and secure respectable positions in society (that isn't to say that Sir Thomas & Lady Bertram or indeed Rev. & Mrs. Norris are not fond of each other). Fanny's own mother married for love and it didn't turn out as perfectly happy as it could have.
Mary Crawford recounts having so many examples of unhappy marriages from her aunt, sister and friends that she is disinclined to enter the married state herself. Mrs. Grant though seems perfectly happy with her daily tasks of arranging large meals and caring for her gouty husband.
In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland does not have to look next door to the slightly unequally matched Mr. & Mrs. Allen for her example, for she has grown up in the home of a perfectly content and well matched clergyman and his wife. Her parents raised a large brood of ten children and worked together to home school them similar to how Jane Austen's parents raised their seven children. It is sweet to imagine that the production of a large and happy family will probably be duplicated by Catherine and her clergyman husband Mr. Tilney at their own parsonage.
In Persuasion we find that "old" happily married couples abound and many of the older characters (such as Lady Russell and Mrs. Smith) have been widowed from happy marriages and are still devoted to their spouse's memory. For her example Anne Elliot has the elder Mr. & Mrs. Musgrove who love life and hate to be separated, also Charles & Mary Musgrove, who although they fight like dogs and cats seem contented to do so.
Anne later comes into contact with married couples that are great influences for her future husband Captain Frederick Wentworth. His friends Captain & Mrs. Harville are so truly devoted and we catch just a glimpse of this in Harville's words to Anne about the attachments of men and women. But the best example of a perfectly matched and happy couple come from Frederick's own sister and brother-in-law. Admiral and Mrs. Croft's devoted marriage inspires others such as Louisa Musgrove who says: "If I loved a man as she loves the Admiral, I would be always with him, nothing should ever separate us, and I would rather be overturned by him than driven safely by anybody else."
With such good examples of loving marriages before them it is easy to presume that Captain & Mrs. Frederick Wentworth's true love will hold strongly through the high seas of life.
Persuasion is my parent's favorite Jane Austen story and to me they closely resemble Admiral & Mrs. Croft as well as Captain Wentworth & Anne Elliot. In my own story my parents are my example of a happily married couple. They are best friends who have been truly in love and married 28 years this October!
Thank you dad and mom for maintaining your marriage with that threefold cord that can't be easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). I love you both so much! Happy Anniversary!
Do you have a favorite happily married Austen couple?
In your own life do you have married couples that inspire you?