We are there, too, when fate brings the couple together at Pemberley, when we encounter a changed Darcy, one who is all graciousness and who will act behind the scenes to help Elizabeth's family in a crisis. And soon we are flies on the wall for that wonderful scene in which Elizabeth stands up to Lady Catherine de Burgh and signals that she would accept Darcy's proposal were it renewed.
At last Austen has cleared away every impediment and brought her lovers together. We anticipate a great love scene, but what does the author give us? A summary. Elizabeth, she tells us,
gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure, his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on this occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do.
A similar thing happens in Emma, as we travel with Emma Woodhouse through the misadventurous year in which she grows up. We are privy to Mr. Elton's tipsy proposal, we listen in on Emma's banter with Frank Churchill, and we tag along on the outing to Box Hill, where Emma's thoughtless comment hurts Miss Bates. When she finally takes responsibility for her behavior, Emma is mature enough to understand that she loves Mr. Knightley, who has been watching and waiting for this very moment. Mr. Knightley steps forward to propose, and Austen steps back. "What did she say?" Austen asks about Emma, and she answers herself, "just what she ought, of course, A lady always does."
These scenes have caused readers past and present to feel shortchanged. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, for example, said that Austen's novels were "perfect as far as they go--that's certain. Only they don't go far enough." Some readers have complained that Austen lost interest in her characters once she got her lovers together, and so she rushed her endings. A few have even speculated that because Austen never married, she would have had no idea what lovers say at times like these, and she therefore couldn't write it. (So much for insight or imagination!)
We can't know why Austen wrote as she did, but we are free to decide whether or not her endings satisfy. I happen to side with the readers who think she knew what she was doing, first, because these novels are more about coming of age than about love; second, because writing in this way emphasized the universality of the emotions described. We all know how sensibly and warmly a young man violently in love behaves. It's the same in any culture, in any period. Brava, Jane.