Something for everyone in that title, eh?
The Northanger Canon
Northanger Abbey is chock full of the delicious titles of gothic novels. Most referred to is The Mysteries of Udolpho (which I'm still reading. Emily's aunt, Madame Montoni, is horrid. Valancourt, our hero, however, is kind of a self-absorbed moron bordering on stalker. He is constantly showing up when Emily is alone and getting her into trouble with her aunt, or sending tons of letters and being a little pushy with his love for her. It is getting more interesting, though, now that Madame has married the nasty Montoni and they are headed for his creepy castle in Italy!), but there are nine in all, called 'The Northanger Canon.'
So here they are - perfect for long winter nights (the titles are fabulously outlandish):
1) The Mysteries of Udolpho, Ann Radcliffe
2) The Italian; Or The Confessional of the Black Penitents, Ann Radcliffe
3) The Castle of Wolfenbach, Eliza Parsons
4) Mysterious Warnings, Eliza Parsons
5) Clermont: A Tale, Regina Maria Roche
6) The Necromancer; Or, The Tale of the Black Forest: Founded on Facts, Lawrence Flammenberg
7) The Midnight Bell: A German Story Founded on Incidents in Real Life, Francis Lathom
8) The Orphan of the Rhine: A Romance, Eleanor Sleath
9) Horrid Mysteries: A Story from the German of the Marquis of Grosse, Carl Grosse
Affectionate Gratitude and Lack of Erotic Passion
Sadly, after all she's been through, and all the lessons learned, Catherine Morland does not get her man in the way we'd all like and think she deserves: "his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought."
"What is clearly missing here," writes Professor Mac Adam, in his notes at the back of the book, "is erotic passion."
In the study questions he asks, "Is there any sign that any of the characters in Northanger Abbey feels sexual desire? Can Austen's realism be considered complete without this aspect of human relationships?"
That's the issue, exactly. More important than the lack of romance, which can come off as a little superficial in a novel, is the lack of erotic passion (married to the romance).
Jane Austen herself wrote in a letter to J.S. Clarke (April 1, 1816):
"But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other."
Well, that takes care of that question, doesn't it?
Still, I can't help wondering who, of Austen's characters, has the highest probability of erotic passion in their life beyond the novel (in our imaginations). Before I give my list, here's what I was looking for between the couples:
Basically a maturity - they understand themselves - their flaws and experiences of loss make them better able to truly give themselves in a relationship. They come to the relationship as true individuals, offering themselves freely, but not trying to absorb the other or be absorbed. This would allow them a different kind of fierceness of emotion, rooted more in knowledge gained, lessons learned, certainty of death or future loss (that life gives and it takes) than youthful attraction, which is more fantasy and more about the self. Youthful attraction is all about consumption, of reveling in the imagined excess of the lover.
Here's my list:
1) Lizzy and Darcy
2) Anne and Wentworth
3) Colonel Brandon and Marianne
Honorable Mention: Maybe Emma and Knightley (there's potential)
You can make all the excuses in the world about why you avoid a certain subject as a writer, and you can cover it up with sarcasm and laughter. But, to me, the lack of romance/erotic passion just highlights an area that was either too painful or too intense for Austen. If she had resigned herself to have neither, then she wouldn't have wanted to experience either through her characters. (I'm guessing.)
To answer the study question, I think there is that one empty space in the humanity of the characters, left open because of this area not being explored, that gives them, sometimes, an allegorical feel.
I suppose that's why my other favorite writer is Henry James. He's just awful to his heroines (as Austen can be to hers, in her way (like Catherine, per the beginning of this post), but she doesn't inflict the suffering James does), but there is a great deal of sensuality thrumming underneath the interactions of characters. For all his repression or asexuality (depending on what theory you espouse), he's aware of it, he allows it, and he uses it the way he chooses. Sometimes clumsily and unrealistically, but don't we all do that in real life anyway???
I do respect, however, that Austen decided on her milieu and her style and wrote it to the max. Romance/erotic passion wasn't her thing, so she did what she did best.