All six of Jane Austen’s novels end with weddings. On the final page of Northanger Abbey, readers are informed that “Henry and Catherine were married, the bells rang, and everybody smiled.” Sense and Sensibility concludes with a twofer: Elinor and Edward are married “in Barton church early in the autumn,” and Marianne is “placed in a new home” with Colonel Brandon. Pride and Prejudice’s Mrs. Bennet gets “rid of her two most deserving daughters” on the same day. Mansfield Park ends with Fanny and Edmund married, and their happiness “as secure as earthly happiness can be.” In Emma, the titular character and Mr. Knightley are wed with “no taste for finery or parade,” but with “perfect happiness” in their union. Anne Elliot, “tenderness itself,” is married to Captain Wentworth in the last chapter of Persuasion, with only the prospect of war casting a shadow over her contentment.
The wide-ranging influence of Austen’s marriage plots is hard to quantify. Nor is it entirely her fault. When Carrie marries Mr. Big at the end of Sex and the City, not with a bang but a City Hall whimper, the “happily-ever-after” conclusion is as much a nod to the conventions of fairy tales (the shoe fits) as it is to Austen’s satirical romances. And yet there are few other authors who’ve so reliably concluded stories about women with accounts of their marriages. Austen’s weddings mark a natural endpoint, offering finite resolution (marriage in 19th-century England was almost entirely irreversible) and domestic and financial security for her heroines. They also set a standard for romantic comedies that’s been impossibly pervasive: Women’s stories end, definitively, with marriage.