Despite writing one of the most romantic novels in the English language, Jane Austen wrote of very unromantic marriages. She held love and romance in the highest regard, but in fact most of the marriages in Pride and Prejudice were not romantic at all.
Some of her marriages depict a transactional partnership, void of affection and emotion — here is what I get out of the relationship, here is what you get. Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas exemplify this relationship. There isn’t a lack of respect, but there is a marked lack of affection. Neither party is necessarily discontent — they are just missing out on a deeper emotional connection in marriage.
She also writes of marriages with immediate bursts of affection — physical passion — but devoid of deeper feelings and respect. Lydia and Mr. Wickham are obvious in this example, and I would say that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are also in this category. Mrs. Bennet was said to have been very pretty as a young woman, and the Bennet’s did have five children in about eight years. But both relationships break down to a distance and tolerance after the scorching heat of passion dims.
The relationships that Austen writes of most flatteringly are those with a healthy balance of respect, admiration and affection. This category includes Mr. Bingley and Jane, and especially Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. They truly enjoy each others company and conversation, they value the other person’s opinion and point of view, and they have a balanced attraction rooted in esteem and respect.
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, though, are held up as the pinnacle of the marital relationship. They have the respect, admiration and affection of the Bingleys and the Gardiners, with a healthy passion that built over time and trials. They are equals in intelligence, wit, compassion, humor and love. Remember, Jane only smiles but Lizzy laughs.
So maybe Jane Austen was a bit of a romantic after all…