(previously posted on 2/9/10)
When researching for this blog, the lists I found when searching for “great love stories in literature” appalled me. 85% of the lists were filled with couples whom I would say were decidedly in lust or infatuated with each other. When I think of true love, I think of the C.S. Lewis quote, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” Most of the couples our society appears to consider part of the greatest love stories in history most definitely do NOT fit into this definition.
In response to this, I’ve devised two lists. The first will be comprised of the couples that society thinks of as part of the great love stories. The second will be comprised of the forgotten souls that are actually part of the great love stories.
Society’s List and why I think they leave something to be desired:
- Romeo and Juliet from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare- sigh! The couple that everyone immediately thinks of when you say “love story.” Even as an 8th grader, reading this for the first time, I knew that they were most definitely not in love. Romeo starts off the play in love with Rosalind, pining over her. Then less than 12 hours later, he claims to be in love with Juliet. He only really seems to care about himself. The same goes for Juliet. She knows the guy for less than a day and agrees to marry him. That’s not love. That’s infatuation. What’s more its juvenile infatuation. Then they go and completely ruin their lives for each other. Literally. The one improvement West Side Story made on this tale was that Maria at least had the guts to keep going after Tony got killed. Got killed, not committed suicide like Romeo the Idiot. Juliet then proves an even bigger idiot than Romeo by killing herself. What’s the point? Romeo is just horny, narcissistic, and fickle. Juliet is whiney, willful, and wimpy. The End.
- Catherine and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte- I’m sorry, but anyone who thinks Wuthering Heights is a love story has either never really read the book or been smoking something. If anything, it is the opposite of a love story. It’s a hate story. Heathcliff is a manipulative, abusive, cruel bastard who makes everyone around him miserable. There are literally no redemptive qualities in him. He spends the entire story scheming to get what he wants and abusing the people he’s supposed to care for. And Catherine. Good grief. She’s a whiney, willful (hmm…sensing a pattern here), and self-centered brat. She goes around throwing fits when she doesn’t get what she wants and playing people against each other to get what she thinks is the best deal for herself. I’m sorry, but that is most definitely NOT a love story.
- Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell- Rhett and Scarlett have a very similar relationship to Cathy and Heathcliff, except they at least have some good qualities. Rhett appears to at least care for Scarlett in some way and tries to do what he feels is best for her, even if he’s too selfish to succeed at times. And Scarlett is too wrapped up in thinking that she loves Ashley to really love any of her husbands, but Rhett especially. Really, Scarlett is too wrapped up in Scarlett. She is one of the most self-indulgent creatures I’ve ever come across. And in the end, she pays the price.
- Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte- I don’t have as much a problem with these two as I do with the others. To a certain extent, it’s at least obvious that they have some sort of affection for each other. But you add in his secret, mad wife being kept in the attic and her weirdly controlling cousin and you get a few flaws in the make up. And then there’s the whole bit about him having to lose his sight and the use of his arm in a fire in order for him to be “redeemed” enough for them to be together. I’m sorry, but all in all, they’re just a bit too dysfunctional to be considered a “great couple.”
- Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald- Gatsby and Daisy really are carbon copies of Cathy and Heathcliff, but I felt they still needed to be brought up. Like Rhett, Gatsby at least seems to care for Daisy somewhere deep down inside. He just doesn’t know how to go about it. But it is really difficult to see why he likes her. She’s bratty, self-absorbed, and manipulative. She plays with people for amusement and only wants what she wants. She doesn’t care about Gatsby at all.
Now for My List. The real love stories.
- Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot from Persuasion by Jane Austen- Now this is how a love story is supposed to go (and I’m not just saying that because I’m basing my own novel off of it). They’re separated by circumstances eight years before the start of the novel. She’s persuaded to reject him because he’s not what her family wants for her. Then he comes back and over time they realize they’re both still in love with each other. But it’s not an instant “I love you”, “I love you, too” type thing. It’s gradual. First he trusts her and depends on her. Then she turns to him over someone else. And eventually, they admit they’re feelings in a mature, thought out manner and accept whatever fate brings them.
- Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- Ok, so I’m a bit of a Jane Austen addict. But the woman knew how to tell a good love story. Again, it’s not an instant love thing. The affection grows gradually over time. She realizes that he’s not such a bad guy. He helps her family. She accepts his proposal. It’s the little gestures, rather than the big ones that make a difference in this story. They reveal that Darcy is a kind, compassionate man underneath his frosty exterior. And they show that Elizabeth does have a softer side that she hides underneath her wit and brains. In the end, they reach a natural climax to their story and get married because they love each other.
- Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare- These two are an odd couple and I wasn’t sure if I should include them on the list, but they’re two of my favorites. They fight back and forth for the entire play, but somehow end up in love anyways. I think that’s probably what made me put them on this list. There’s such passion in their relationship. You can just imagine them still bickering when they’re 82, but the bickering won’t matter because they truly care what happens to each other. He’s willing to fight and possibly kill his best friend for her, for heaven’s sake. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
- Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from The Anne of Green Gables Series by L.M. Montgomery- I know most people wouldn’t even think to include Anne and Gilbert on a list like this, but I’ve loved their relationship since I was a little girl. They were friends first, then slowly they fell in love because of their friendship. They depended on each other as they grew up and that constancy led to a marriage that lasted more than 50 years. Sure, they bickered and picked at each other, but in the end, they were always there for each other.
- Margaret Hale and John Thornton from North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell- Again, not a couple you would normally find on a list like this, but I can’t help it. They’re one of my favorites. The whole novel is full of little indications of how they feel for each other, but they’re both too stubborn to come out and admit it until the very end, when they’ve both grown enough to be able to fully appreciate they’re feelings for each other.
To me, these last five couples are what love has the potential to be if we care more about the other person than we do ourselves. The jaded part of me thinks that society elevates the other couples because they’re selfish and self-indulgent and don’t try to really love.
So, readers, what do you think of my lists? Who would you have put on your list?