Love and marriage

A central Austen theme

WeddingJane Austen's novels follow a predictable outworking of the theme of love. Love, courtship and marriage between hero and heroine are at the core of her novels. In making love central and necessary to her protagonists' marriage, Jane Austen was reflecting and advocating a change that was just beginning to occur in society around her. Historically, marriage had frequently been seen primarily as a contract to secure the interests of family status and finance, particularly amongst the circles of local gentry and professional / landed gentlemen on whom her novels are so often focussed. The Romanticism of the later seventeenth century challenged such a view, foregrounding passion and sensibility rather than finance.

Austen steers a middle way between the two outlooks. In Persuasion, Austen depicts a reciprocal love that is sufficiently strong, deep and grounded to sustain a happy marriage, as opposed to:

  • Infatuation (such as Louisa has for Captain Wentworth and Anne's mother had for Sir Walter)
  • Love that was one-sided because of the material interests of one party (such as Mr. Elliot had toward his wife, or Mrs. Clay's pursuit of Sir Walter).

Equality in marriage

Austen does not disregard the significance of social and financial status within marriage. She makes it clear that her most successful couples, such as the Crofts, are well-matched in terms of social status. The example of Mrs Clay illustrates Austen's opinion that it was unwise for a couple to be unmatched socially, portrayed via Anne's disapproval of Mrs. Clay as a suitable partner for her father.

None of Jane Austen's heroines marries with money as an object, and only one (Elizabeth Bennet) gets significantly wealthier when she marries. At the same time, it is clear that, like Mrs. Croft, Jane Austen considers an insufficient income for a prospective couple ‘very unsafe and unwise'.

Happiness in marriage

In Persuasion, the couples who, to varying degrees, demonstrate Austen's qualifications for the kind of love that is required for a happy marriage are:

  • The grown and matured Anne and Captain Wentworth
  • Admiral and Mrs. Croft
  • Captain and Mrs. Harville
  • Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove

Of these, it is the Crofts who are the ultimate role models and best illustrate Jane Austen's criteria for matrimonial bliss:

  • The Crofts share some important characteristics:
    • They are both open-hearted and unpretentious
    • They enjoy being around other people, but are also content to be alone together
    • They are hardworking and adventurous
    • They are devoted and constant in their love for one another
  • Admiral and Mrs. Croft also have different strengths that are complementary. There is a sense of equality that comes from each allowing the other to exercise his/her strengths even if they don't fall within typical gender lines:
    • Mrs. Croft is better at steering the gig and her assistance in driving becomes a metaphor for how their marriage works (Ch. 10)
    • Mrs. Croft has a better head for business and finances (Ch. 3)
  • They enjoy similar pursuits such as gig-riding, travelling and discovering new places
  • They would rather be together than apart
  • They did not have a long courtship because Admiral Croft saw no reason to wait. (The certainty of their affection counterpoints Anne's earlier lack of confidence regarding Wentworth's original proposal.)
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.