The story that started it all...
Ever since I read Jane Austen's quintessential tale of Regency courtship Pride and Prejudice during my teenage years I have been fairly obsessed with classic love stories. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy started a habit that has continued well into adulthood -- nor does it show any signs of abating in the future. In honour of Valentine's Day, I would like to share a list of the beloved couples that comprise my favourite narratives. These appear in no particular order, because I didn't think I could bear the stress of ranking them in addition to narrowing the list down to one (long) post...
Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe
From the moment he called her carrots I was hooked! When he told her, on what seemed to be his deathbed, that 'there would never be anyone for me but you' I was a goner. A favourite of mine from my days in high school, I'm still quite taken with Anne's overactive imagination.
Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy
I'm generally not a fan of Jane Austen sequels, modernizations and what not, but I have to make an exception for Helen Fielding's Bridget Jone's Diary. I relate to Bridget because she's an older single woman who is reminded of her marital status on an annoyingly regular basis, and she constantly puts her foot in her mouth. I often say the most thoughtless things, only I can't attribute it to inebriation like Bridget does. If Ms. Jones managed to snag herself a Darcy, then there's hope for the rest of us awkward single girls, right?
Helen Huntingdon and Gilbert Markham
The inclusion of this pair from Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall may spark controversy. I know many who maintain that Gilbert is a bit dumb and Helen, therefore, deserves better. But I love that Gilbert can see Helen is outspoken, independent and far more intelligent than he is -- yet he's not intimidated by it. That's rather forward thinking on Anne's part. When Helen and Gilbert undergo a separation midway through the novel, I was so moved I cried to the point where I could no longer see the page.
Margaret Hale and John Thornton
Oh, the tension! The tension between these two in Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South is so palpable you could cut it with a knife, proverbially speaking. Watching Margaret and Mr. Thornton overcome preconceptions and misunderstandings (much like Darcy and Elizabeth) as they slowly come together is a complete joy! Thornton gets bonus points for carrying around a flower from Margaret's childhood home. I know some were disappointed when the book didn't have the epic kiss the adaptation portrays. If you look closely at the final pages of the novel, it's there. What else could Gaskell have meant by 'some time of delicious silence'? I ask you!
Margeurite St. Just and Sir Percival Blakeney, Baronet
They seek him here, they seek him there. I certainly did seek him everywhere, rabidly consuming the novel, the film and the musical. Set against the dramatic events of the French Revolution, I almost wished I was a French aristocrat at risk of losing her head -- just so I could have the privilege of being rescued by the enigmatic Sir Percy. Instead, I named my dog after him.
Beatrice and Benedick
The witty banter of this dynamic duo has officially made Much Ado About Nothing my favourite Shakespeare play. This is quite a distinction, because anyone who's anyone knows that choosing a favourite Shakespeare play is virtually impossible. In addition to the comical, playful insults they pass back and forth at lightning speed, these two also have their sweet moments. Refer, for instance, to the line in which Benedick first confesses his love for Beatrice: 'I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is that not strange?'
Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth
As much as I adore my beloved P&P, there's something about the quiet maturity of Persuasion that makes Jane Austen's final novel utterly enchanting. I love the way Anne blossoms before the reader's eyes, the poignant discussion of constancy in relationships, how Wentworth notices and appreciates our heroine in a way no other character does and the theme of getting a second chance at love. Captain Wentworth, for the record, writes what is possibly the best letter in literary history. 'You pierce my soul.' How can that be beaten? If by chance you are unacquainted with this wondrous epistle, do yourself a favour and read it now. You may want to read it sitting down though.
I myself some women have been known to swoon.
Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester
Again, this can be seen a controversial choice. I'm sorry Heathcliff fans, but Rochester is the clear winner for me. As I have remarked before, Rochester would not kill my dog. Percy wouldn't fare so well as the hands of Heathcliff. But seriously, this novel kills me. I reread the good bits
all the time once in a blue moon. The passion, the celestial telegrams, Rochester's attempted seduction, their eventual reunion, the brilliant simplicity of 'Reader, I married him.' I. Can't. Get. Enough. I don't even mind that he has a wife hidden in the attic. Observe the following passage where Rochester is speaking to Jane (p. 291 of the Penguin edition):
I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you -- especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.
How can that not win a reader over? I ask you!
And while this last selection isn't a literary couple, I had to give a little shout out to...
The Ladies of Cranford
I love that Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford validates the lives of Spinsters, particularly since nineteenth-century society consistently exhibited a propensity to write these women off. Masked behind an amusing veneer of Victorian propriety, these ladies are unbelievably kind and loving. Watching them take care of one another (even at great personal cost) moves me to tears. That's love.