So, since I don’t have any funny Valentine’s stories and my boyfriend and I generally use Valentine’s as a an excuse to eat incredibly unhealthy food, I decided to make my Valentine’s post about the greatest lovers I have encountered in literature. This is, specifically, lovers that I have read and think are worthy of the title. Comment below if you have a few suggestions. In no specific order –
Don Juan from Lord Byron’s Don Juan:
Byron’s Don Juan starts off his legacy as one of the greatest lovers in literature at a young age. He is sixteen when an illicit affair blossoms between himself and the unsatisfied Donna Julia – a married woman some years his elder. What ensues is one of the funniest accounts of a young man’s love for love that you will encounter. This satiric poem is more entertaining (and even thought-provoking) than you can imagine. There are pirates, soldiers, some cannibalism, cross-dressing, scallywags and of course beautiful men and women. Don Juan, in contrast to his traditional namesake, is not so much the seducer as the often-seduced, but he turns out to be a sweet, up-standing rogue who might just steal your heart.
But sweeter still than this, than these, than all,
Is first and passionate Love—it stands alone,
Like Adam’s recollection of his fall;
The Tree of Knowledge has been plucked—all ‘s known—
And Life yields nothing further to recall
Worthy of this ambrosial sin, so shown,
No doubt in fable, as the unforgiven
Fire which Prometheus filched for us from Heaven.
Ammu and Velutha from Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things:
Although not as famous as some of the others on this list, Ammu and Velutha’s relationship deserves to be on any list of great literary lovers. Their story is more tragic than that of Romeo and Juliet’s, and more touching than anything The Notebook-related. The God of Small Things addresses the ‘Love Laws’ ingrained in society that determine “who should be loved. And how. And how much”. This book and its narratives of love will also, just by the way, rip out your heart and make you love it for that. It is possibly the most beautifully written book I have ever read and also quite possibly the saddest. Please read it.
“Biology designed the dance. Terror timed it. Dictated the rhythm with which their bodies answered each other. As though they already knew that for each tremor of pleasure they would pay with an equal measure of pain. As though they knew that how far they went would be measured against how far they would be taken.”
Romeo and Juliet from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:
I know you were waiting for this one. It might be cliché and I know we moderns have some reservations about their ages and the timespan within which their relationship developed, but what makes these characters belong in the pantheon of great lovers is not so much that they love, but how they express their love. There are a multitude of quotes that would make any fourteen year old swoon, and (if we can remove the stigma for a few minutes) even grown-ups might admit to being seduced by some of these lines. My particular favourite is the couple’s sonnet when they first meet. And yes, the balcony scene, once it gets going a bit.
If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray — grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.
Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.
Rochester from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre:
Perhaps because of their secluded up-bringing and some rather strange family dynamics, the Brontë sisters know and can express longing. Mr Rochester is not quite a gentleman, but Brontë gets the tortured lover down pat. I remember being a bit disturbed by his fervour, mostly because Jane seemed rather meek about her affection, but the love and, of course, the longing is there. It’s not quite a satisfying love story in the traditional sense. Jane grows up to be more sensible and practical than lovers on a Valentine’s list have any right to be, but once again, it is the expression of Rochester’s love that warrants him a place on this list.
Quote, courtesy of The Victorian Web:
“You, Jane, I must have you for my own — entirely my own. Will you be mine? Say yes, quickly.”
“Mr. Rochester, let me look at your face: turn to the moonlight.”
“Because I want to read your countenance — turn!”
“There! you will find it scarcely more legible than a crumpled, scratched page. Read on: only make haste, for I suffer.”
His face was very much agitated and very much flushed, and there were strong workings in the features, and strange gleams in the eyes.
Heathcliffe and Cathy from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights:
Jane and Rochester’s turbulent story is nothing compared to the downs and downs of Wuthering Heights. This is a love story that is disturbing, torturous and not at any point quite happy, but it is love as you long for (though hopefully there is a realistic little voice somewhere though, because this is an example of an unhealthy relationship if there ever was one) – the kind you would die and come back for. This book conveys ache as you will hopefully never experience it, and that ache is what propels Cathy and Heathcliffe into lovers legend. I do still think it is a bit sick and twisted, but oh the expression – the expression!
‘May she wake in torment!’ he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion. ‘Why, she’s a liar to the end! Where is she? Not there—not in heaven—not perished—where? Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings! And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!’
Leopold Bloom from James Joyce’s Ulysses:
Often called the greatest book ever written, Ulysses is the chronicle of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom. It is a vastly complicated and difficult book, but for all that its brilliance will absolutely hit you over the head at some point (you will be dazed and confused, and it will feel good). Because it’s such a complex work of art, people have a hard time agreeing on what it’s about, but I think I can safely say that one of the key features of this book is love. Mr Bloom is perhaps one of the most loving characters you will encounter. Sometimes meek, always funny, rather incredibly sympathetic, Mr Bloom finds love for the young Stephen Daedalus (although he irritates the hell out of me), keeps faithful to his unfaithful wife and just goes about Dublin musing on affection (among the million other things that cross the page). Mr Bloom’s love for things in general permeates this text, and you will love him for it.
– “Force, hatred, history, all that. That’s not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it’s the very opposite of that that is really life.”
– “What?” says Alf.
– “Love,” says Bloom. I mean the opposite of hatred. I must go now, says he to John Wyse.”
Jay Gatsby from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby:
It’s perhaps not quite a traditional love story, but it is a story about love and obsession and the consequences of unbridled faith (among other things). This is the kind of love I generally associate with die-hard Valentine’s Day fans (no offence intended): the heady, dream-concocted passion that turns everything into a haze of splendour. Jay Gatsby, literature’s greatest dreamer, builds his rock on the fairy’s wing of his love for Daisy. She becomes the epitome of love as it can only be dreamed (perhaps should only be dreamed). This is a complex and tragic book that should be read by everyone for a number of reasons. Luckily, schools and universities have been forcing students to read it. I support this wholeheartedly.
“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”
As I said, these are only the lovers I have read. I’d love to hear about your favourite literary lovers?