Marriages in great literature are usually quite tumultuous.
Just look at any Shakespeare tragedy or a novel by a Bronte sister or Graham Greene and there is absolutely no one to emulate in marriage. Who wants to be like the Macbeths in their murderous ways or Mr. Rochester with a crazy wife in the attic? Many great books have great insight into marriage, but few have happily married couples.
I have searched high and low in some of my favorite books to find a few marriages that we can look to as models, not just couples who get married at the end of a great book, but happily married people in great books.
The couples in these books embody the unity in marriage, the indissolubility of marriage, and openness to having children. They also all have a great mutual respect and deference for each other.
1) Mr. and Mrs. Edward Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice is centered around the fortunes of Elizabeth Bennet, the second of five girls. One of the books main themes is examining reasons for people’s choice of spouse. Elizabeth’s parents Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are clearly not entirely happy in their marriage but put up with each other, and her friend Charlotte Lucas marries someone she could never love just to be settled.
In a book that is all about virtue in marriages, the only married couple worth emulating is Elizabeth Bennet’s Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. They have great social and moral virtues, making them pleasant company and good and happy people. They have a large number of children, and care for them well in London. They also have a great mutual respect for each other, and are able to mentor and guide Elizabeth who is also seeking to live virtuously and marry a man that she can love and respect.
2) Dr. and Mrs. Cecil and Margaret Dimble in That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
That Hideous Strength is the third book of C.S. Lewis’ space triology, and is centered on the couple of Mark and Jane Studdock and their involvement on opposite sides of combating forces: the evil N.I.C.E. and those working for good under “the Director”.
Jane is befriended by a couple on the side of good: Dr. and Mrs. Dimble. This is a couple that is childless, but longed to have children. In their sorrow, they take in and show interest for Dr. Dimble’s students, Jane being one of them. They have a strong unity as a couple, acting together, and sharing opinions. In their interactions it is clear that they have great respect for each other. And the unity and desire for children in their marriage is clearly paralleled with Jane and Mark’s disunity and avoidance of children in their marriage.
3) Konstantin “Kostya” Dmitrievich Lëvin and Princess Ekaterina “Kitty” Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya in Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
If you know anything about Anna Karenina you may wonder how the book got on this list, but despite the extramarital affairs in the book, there is one couple who successfully finds happiness in marriage.
Kitty and Levin are a couple who gets married during the book, and it follows the early years of their marriage as they struggle with the normal difficulties of early married life and work to overcome them to grow in unity, virtue, and have their first child. Their marriage is a model of what the other marriages in the novel should have been, and shows how it is possible to be faithful through temptations and hardships.
4) Arthur and Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter, orphaned as a baby, never had a loving family until he met the Weasleys, and their home becomes a second home for Harry as they take him into their hearts. In a tale all about wizards, magic, and evil forces seeking to overcome the good, the Weasley family is a beacon of good.
Arthur and Molly are the happily married parents of a large family. They make sacrifices to give their children what they need and send them to a good school. The children may not always have the newest or nicest things, but they know the value of family life and have the comfort of loving and happy parents. Through the loss of a child and the fighting of evil, the Weasleys stay unified and loving toward each other and their children.
5) Tom Bombadil and Goldberry from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
In The Lord of the Rings there are actually very few married couples, but several widowers. But right at the beginning of this epic trilogy, when the hobbits Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry escape from the Black Riders into the Old Forest they are rescued by Tom Bombadil who takes them to his home to rest.
While it is never stated whether or not Tom and Goldberry have children (they are so old, they may have had them thousands of years previously), their marriage does bear great fruit in their care of the Old Forest and their hospitality. They have a perfect unity in their marriage. They host the hobbits in their home in a unified and welcoming manner. Tom is always concerned about Goldberry before all else, as he runs errands to get her lilies and makes sure he is home before the day is up.
6) Charles and Caroline Ingalls in the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Based on the real parents of Laura Ingalls Wilder, this couple almost seems too good to be real. In Wilder’s autobiography, Pioneer Girl, the editor notes the ways that she exaggerated or changed her parents slightly for the books. But that does not take away from the faithful and supportive marriage they had. Caroline tirelessly and without complaint cared for the home and the children no matter how little they had, while Charles lead the family to Oklahoma from Wisconsin, up north to Minnesota, and finally to the Dakota territory.
They faced poverty, famine, and great material loss (and in real life the loss of a child), and through it all supported and loved each other. And once in the Dakota territory, Charles finally gave up his need to go West and let his wife have her wish of settling down and her children being educated. Their marriage was one of continual mutual love and support, focused on each other but also the bringing up of their children to be virtuous and well educated.
7) Caleb and Susan Garth in Middlemarch by George Elliot
Middlemarch is a brilliant novel with many themes including the choices in marriage of the various characters, their reasons for marrying, and the basis for happiness in marriage. In the novel the happiest marriage is that of Caleb and Susan Garth.
They raise a large family to be honest and hardworking, and in the novel find themselves in financial difficulty when they seek to help a young friend, Fred Vincy, who is also in love with their daughter Mary. Mary seeing the unified and happy example of her parents will not marry the man she loves until she is certain of his ability to be virtuous and support her and her family.
8) Mat and Margaret Feltner in A Place on Earth by Wendall Berry
A Place on Earth begins with Mat and Margaret learning that their son Virgil married to the pregnant Hannah is missing in action during World War II. In the story you see how the couple grapples with the loss of their son, and how they love and care for Hannah and her baby.
They are a devoted, hardworking, and unified couple, who have grown to middle age together, understand each other, and grow stronger through hardship. Also worth emulating is Hannah in her devotion to her husband and her letting go of him. A further look at marriage is in the book about Hannah’s life, Hannah Coulter.
9) Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dicken
Charles Dickens has a wide variety of memorable characters in his novels, and there is often a happy couple in each of his novels. In A Tale of Two Cities, Lucie and Charles are the model of a happy, devoted marriage. They are loving and caring through hardship and loss. Their virtue in marriage is almost too good to be true, as Lucie exhibits near heroic virtue in all things.
The strongest test of their marriages comes when Charles is held in prison in Paris during the unrest surrounding the French Revolution. He is on trial and set to be eventually executed. His wife in her devotion to him, follows him to Paris and remains to support him through his trial. All the while he holds onto his love for her and his child. Such commitment in marriage is certainly worth emulating.