Right after we got engaged, my now-husband and I traveled to India with my mother. We met some of her Indian coworkers, and their eighteen-year-old daughters, who were planning careers in science and engineering. Still, these young women expected to choose husbands from among men vetted for them by parents and match-makers, and then have happy marriages. They told me that their parents had done well for them so far, and they expected their choice of mates would be good as well.
For most of recorded history, marriages between young people have been arranged by parents and elders, though fiction often portrays first love and sexual attraction that throws arranged marriages into chaos. In my historical fiction about Viking Age Norway, I have created a mix of arranged and chosen marriages, with the chance of their success having much more to do with the personality and choices of those in the marriage than how it begins.
I’m glad not to have had an arranged marriage for myself, but having been married for twelve years now, I think that some of the skills needed to make an arranged marriage work are also helpful in a chosen marriage. In fiction, I love portrayals of long, complex, but still contented marriages, like Coach and Tammy in Friday Night Lights, or some of the examples below. Arranged marriages in fiction can be as romantic as any other kind when affection develops between the couple, and they come to value and support each other. Here are five of my favorite fictional arranged, or semi-arranged marriages:
5. Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility
This might be stretching the definition of arranged marriage, but it fits in many ways. Colonel Brandon is presented both by the narrative and by Marianne Dashwood’s friends as the safe choice for her, the man of means and maturity whom everyone would like her to wed. Marianne instead falls for the dashing Willougby, who far more embodies the romantic hero she desires. In a different author’s hands, Brandon would have been the character that Marianne has to escape to enter a true love marriage with Willoughby.
But Willoughby is a cad, and Marianne far too credulous, overwhelmed by an idea of literary romance that does not work out as well in real life. Brandon turns out to be the right match for her, a calm presence who offsets Marianne’s excitability while valuing her romantic temperament.
Some people find this relationship creepy, and that reading can be supported by the text. But in the world of the novel, where marriage was vital for women’s survival, Brandon seems a good choice. I may be relying too much on the excellent casting of Alan Rickman as Brandon in Ang Lee’s adaptation, but at least in the movie version, I adore this relationship. I think they would change one another for the better.
4. Yash and Nandini from Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham…
Some of the best romantic comedies and dramas of the last thirty years have been Bollywood movies. One of these is Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham… a family drama starring some of Bollywood’s most famous actors. The story revolves around a young man, Rahul, who leaves his adopted family when his father Yash doesn’t approve of his choice of wife. Yash, the patriarch, and Rahul’s mother Nandini are played by Amitabh Bachchan and his real-life wife Jaya Bachchan.
The plot revolves around the reconciliation of Rahul back to his family, in which the Bachchans portray a mature relationship that can survive disagreement and even great hurt. Nandini wants Rahul back in her family and is angry that Yash has rejected him, but at the same time, she loves her husband and stands by him. Nandini’s warmth and unswerving love for her son help Yash to reconcile with him over the death of Yash’s mother. This shows one of the most wonderful things about long-term relationships, which is holding up a mirror to one another, a loving mirror that helps us to improve our faults.
3. Hector and Andromache from The Illiad
Contrasting with the bickering of the Greeks and Trojans over Helen is the lovely relationship between Hector and his wife Andromache. By the time we meet her, Andromache’s family has all been killed, which heightens her tragedy when Hector dies, and later when Troy is sacked. She is entirely without family and protectors, with no home to return to. She begs Hector to stay with her and avoid his prophesied death:
Hector, you are my everything now: my father,
my mother, my brother—and my beloved husband.
Have pity on me. Stay with me here on the tower.
Don’t make your child an orphan, your wife a widow.
To which he responds that though he laments what her fate would be if he dies, but then they have a lovely moment with their son Astynax:
Then Hector reached out to take his son, but the child
shrank back, screaming, into his nurse’s arms,
scared by the flashing bronze and the terrible horsehair
crest that kept shaking at him from the peak of the helmet.
At this, his father and mother both burst out laughing;
and right away Hector took off his helmet and laid it,
glittering, on the ground. And he picked up the child,
dandled him in his arms and stroked him and kissed him (Source)
This portrayal makes their tragedy all the more poignant, and that is probably why it’s in the poem, but no matter what, they are a loving, happy family, a bit of fragile joy in the midst of war, an arranged marriage that became a loving one.
2. Tevye and Goldie in A Fiddler on the Roof
Is it weird that I think “Do You Love Me?” is a romantic song? Tevye is the patriarch of the family in Fiddler, and faces a new world where his daughters want to marry men they love, not men chosen for them. Watching this happen, Tevye asks his wife Golde, “Do you love me?”
Tevye: The first time I met you
Was on our wedding day
I was scared
Golde: I was shy
Tevye: I was nervous
Golde: So was I
Tevye: But my father and my mother
Said we’d learn to love each other
And now I’m asking, Golde
Do you love me?
They go back and forth for a bit, with Golde singing about all the ways she’s been there for him and with him, while calling his question foolish, but ends with her turning slightly introspective:
Golde: Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that’s not love, what is?
Tevye: Then you love me
Golde: I suppose I do
Tevye: And I suppose I love you too
What is love? I believe love is an action, not simply a feeling, and for a long marriage to work, love has to be more than words. Early, passionate love is exciting, but the love between Tevye and Golde, formed of working side by side for twenty-five years, is both practical and romantic.
1. Joanna and Llewelyn from Here Be Dragons
I saved the best for last. If you like historical fiction and you haven’t read Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman, don’t read any further in this article—go out and buy it! You won’t be disappointed.
Joanna is the out-of-wedlock daughter of King John, who reigned England from 1199-1216. She is wed at age fifteen for political purposes to the Welsh king Llewelyn. He ignores her and treats her as a child during the early parts of their marriage until she forces him to take her seriously as a woman and political force. Their relationship has ups and downs, including both of them committing adultery, and they have towering fights, but find their way back to one another.
With so many forces acting against their relationship, including Joanna’s alienation in Wales, both of their infidelities, the competing demands on Joanna’s loyalty, their relationship is a marvelous creation that I am always rooting for, no matter how many times I read the book. It shows a marriage that grows from a beginning of nothing, to a partnership between two strong-willed people who can hurt each other very deeply, and still value each other and their marriage enough to work through it and come back together.
I’d love to hear about your favorite long-term relationships in fiction. Comment below!
An exhilarating Viking saga filled with the rich history, romantic adventure and political intrigue that have made Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, as well as Phillippa Gregory’s historical fiction and Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology popular bestsellers.
Six years after The Half-Drowned King, Ragnvald Eysteinsson is now king of Sogn, but fighting battles for King Harald keeps him away from home, as he confronts treachery and navigates a political landscape that grows more dangerous the higher he rises.
Ragnvald’s sister Svanhild has found the freedom and adventure she craves at the side of the rebel explorer Solvi Hunthiofsson, though not without a cost. She longs for a home where her quiet son can grow strong, and a place where she can put down roots, even as Solvi’s ambition draws him back to Norway’s battles again and keeps her divided from her brother.
As a growing rebellion unites King Harald’s enemies, Ragnvald suspects that some Norse nobles are not loyal to Harald’s dream of a unified Norway. He sets a plan in motion to defeat all of his enemies, and bring his sister back to his side, while Svanhild finds herself with no easy decisions, and no choices that will leave her truly free. Their actions will hold irrevocable repercussions for the fates of those they love and for Norway itself.
The Sea Queen returns to the fjords and halls of Viking-Age Scandinavia, a world of violence and prophecy, where honor is challenged by shifting alliances, and vengeance is always a threat to peace.
About Linnea Hartsuyker
Linnea Hartsuyker can trace her ancestry back to Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway, and a major character in THE HALF-DROWNED KING and THE SEA QUEEN. She grew up in the middle of the woods outside Ithaca, New York, and studied Engineering at Cornell University. After a decade of working at internet startups, and writing in her spare time, she attended NYU and received an MFA in Creative Writing. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband. She also co-hosts a podcast about literature and history called That Book was BONKERS.