Love between the book covers
It being Valentine’s Day today, the theme for Top Ten Tuesday hosted by the Broke and Bookish is naturally love. It’s an emotion which comes in many guises. Here’s a list of ten different depictions of love in fiction that I’ve enjoyed over the years. Links are to my reviews where the book is one I’ve read in the last five years.
Young love: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Adolescent/teenage love is the mainstay of a lot of young adult fiction but that’s not a genre I read. So my choice is from the pen of a man whose ability to tap into human emotions would be difficult to surpass. Romeo and Juliet is probably the most famous love story in the English literary tradition. It’s a play about intense passion where love is a violent, ecstatic, overpowering force that supersedes all other values, loyalties, and emotions.
In their first meeting we see all the wonder and yet doubts of early love:
Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say ‘Ay,’
And I will take thy word: yet if thou swear’st,
Thou mayst prove false; at lovers’ perjuries
Then say, Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo,
If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully:
Or if thou think’st I am too quickly won,
I’ll frown and be perverse an say thee nay,
So thou wilt woo:
But Shakespeare doesn’t give us a hearts and flowers, happy ever after version of love, but the kind where love overpowers all other considerations and sets the participants against the world – in the course of the play, the young lovers are driven to defy their families, friends and their ruler.
Mature love: Anthony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. Passion isn’t confined to the youngsters, nor does love get any easier with age. In Anthony and Cleopatra Shakespeare shows the two principal characters at war with each other and with themselves. Throughout the play emotion is constantly in battle with reason. In their first exchange the two argue whether their love can be put into words or does it transcend reason.
CLEOPATRA: If it be love indeed, tell me how much.
ANTONY: There’s beggary in the love that can be reckoned.
CLEOPATRA: I’ll set a bourn how far to be beloved.
ANTONY: Then must thou needs find out new heaven, new earth.
Anthony may be a military hero and an esteemed statesman but he cannot help be swept along by the force of Cleopatra’s character, even at the cost of his cherished honour and, ultimately, his life.
Jealous love: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. Greene is a master of storytelling involving tortured souls. In this moving tale of adultery and its aftermath, Maurice Bendrix, falls in love with his neighbour’s wife, Sarah. She suddenly breaks off the affair, leaving him wracked with anger and jealousy that she continues to live with her husband. The reason for her actions becomes apparent only later in the novel. It’s a superb and compelling portrait of an illicit love affair that one person cannot accept is over.
Unrequited love: Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. I challenge anyone to read this and not feel desperately sorry for Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting. They are young, newly-wedded and are on their honeymoon. But their first night together goes disastrously wrong. They try to reconcile but angry words are exchanged from which there seems no way back.
Thawrted love: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Charles Ryder, who narrates this novel, comes from a wealthy but emotionally bankrupt family. Befriended at Oxford by the wealthy Lord Sebastian Flyte, Charles is introduced to an eccentric set of friends, to Sebastian’s socialite sister Julia and their ancestral home at Brideshead Castle. Years later Julia and Charles, now both married, embark on an affair and plan to marry. But Julia suddenly realises she cannot turn her back on her strict Catholic upbringing. To marry Charles would be a sin so she abandons him. Charles, who has always struck me as a bit of a cold fish, is forced to confront his emotions.
Parental love: Silas Marner by George Eliot. You can find a multitude of books on the theme of motherly love but not as many featuring paternal love. In Eliot’s novel, the weaver Silas Marner is thrown out of his Calvinist community having been (falsely) accused of stealing their funds. He makes his new home in the village of Raveloe, becoming a recluse who devotes himself entirely to his weaving and to hoarding money. His life changes when a small child finds her way to his door in a snowstorm. Silas keeps her and raises her as his daughter. Through the strong bond he forms with the girl, he finds a place in the rural society and a new purpose in life.
Destructive love: Medea by Euripedes. A more perfect example of ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ it would be hard to find than Medea. Abandoned by her husband who fancies a younger model, she plots revenge. Does she throw all his clothes out of the window? Stalk him? Send notes to his new wife telling her what he’s really like? No, all too easy for this tempestuous woman. Poison and the dagger are her weapons of choice and she’s not afraid to use them even if it means innocent people must also die.
Female love: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. I had no idea what this novel was about when my mother recommended it as a novel her book club had enjoyed. I’ve never met her book club chums but I imagined them as ladies in their seventies whose reading tastes would be conservative. Once I realised that it featured a hot-blooded love affair between two women, I had to completely revise my thinking.
Obsessional love: The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch. This a great example of what can happen when you believe – mistakenly -that someone loves you. Charles Arrowby retires from his glittering theatrical career, to a house on the coast. He discovers that opne of his first girlfriends lives in the nearby village. He gets the idea that she still loves him and needs to be rescued from her unhappy marriage despite the fact she doesn’t give him any indication she is either unhappy or in love with Charles. But he is not a man to give up once he gets an idea in his head so sets about kidnapping her. It’s an ill-thought out plan that crumbles but not before damage is done.
Murderous love: Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola. Zola’s heroine is unhappily married to a sickly and selfish railway worker when she embarks on a turbulent and sordidly passionate affair with one of friends. The two lovers plot to kill the husband. But what thought was the solution to the problem, proves to be just the start of a nightmare. Haunted by the memory of the murder they suffer hallucinations of the dead man, seeing him in their bedroom every night, preventing them from touching each other and quickly driving them insane.
19 thoughts on “Love between the book covers”
Very nice, thanks!
I was thinking of doing something on all the books on my Goodreads shelves with the word ‘heart’ in the title, but then I realized they were actually almost all, and I have a lot, related to Eastern Orthodoxy, and nonfiction of course. I found this quite fascinating actually, and saying a lot about me, lol, but totally lacking of interest for most of other book bloggers, so I didn’t do anything
i saw another blogger did something similar by looking at all the books on their shelves containing the word love. I looked through my shelves and found just 2 -which maybe tells you something about me too!
BTW: Have you tried “Goodbye to Berlin” by Christopher Isherwood? From your list of favourites, I think you would enjoy it.
I see also you are now reading books in translation. Le Grand Meaulnes is a French classic – all French students study it. It’s a coming-of-age story, which has great depth (but it ain’t a beach read!)
I have the Isherwood on a wishlist but havent heard of Le Grand Meaulnes. Of course I just had to look it up – sounds like one of those books which you either love or just dont get….
Love, love, LOVE “THE END OF THE AFFAIR” by Graham Greene. Romantic, melancholic, and atmospheric.
Ian McEwan is one of my favourite authors, but “Chesil Beach” bored me to tears. I adored Atonement (It made me think of the “Go-Between) and “The Innocent”. “The Innocent” tells of a prissy young post office engineer who’s been dumped down in East/West Berlin during the Cold War to infiltrate radio messages. This is a book about falling for the wrong woman, the horror of killing a man by accident, and British officialdom at war with their American counterparts. Very funny, macabre and fascinating.
Brideshead Revisited is also one of my favourites. I’m so glad I saw your post because it’s reminded me of all these great reads that I will re-read!
Thank you. x
I’ve loved a number of the McEwan novels but his more recent work hasnt excited me – I hated Saturday and wasn’t all that enamoured by The Children Act either. Atonement was superb and I too liked The Innocent. As for Brideshead – have you seen the TV adaptation. Just brilliant (the recent film was a poor version)
I love your original take on the love theme. I’m a fan of young love and adore Romeo and Juliet. I even have a CD with the theme music of the movie they made, that’s how bad it was 🙂
Ive had a few times where the book inspired me to buy some of the music featured so glad to know I am in good company.
*going to look for said CD now*
The funny thing is so many of these books are on my TBR list – Sea, the Sea, End of an affair and Brideshead revisited. Great list. Among the ones I read. I agree with how wonderfully the parent-child love is portrayed in Silas Marner (A favourite) .
You are in for some treats with End of the Affair and Brideshead in particular …..
I did feel so, so sorry for the characters in On Chesil Beach. It was almost painful!
Me too Naomi, especially when they had the encounter of the beach and you sensed there was a way forward. But then one of them makes a comment in anger and from on there is no hope.
Fun list you came up with! Happy Valentine’s Day!
There were many options to choose from – love is such a widely used theme isn’t it
I also have Romeo and Juliet on my list 🙂
I hesitated about it but then I couldnt come up with any other book featuring young love that I had read…
Great list, Karen. I always think of the cleverly titled Enduring Love for the obsessional love theme but I’d forgotten about The Sea, the Sea.
I toyed with including Enduring Love but thought The Sea would be a little bit less well known