Literary Love Through the Decades

Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Catherine and Heathcliff — some literary couples are ageless.  Here are a few notable literary lovers from the last nine decades.

Constance + Oliver, 1928: Way back in the twenties, D.H. Lawrence tested the boundaries of literary sexual description with Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  An uncensored version of the book was denied publication in Lawrence’s home country of England until 1960, after Penguin won an obscenity trial in which experts testified that the book had literary merit.  The story of an illicit affair that crossed class lines—a married aristocratic woman and a lowly gamekeeper—has become a staple of serial romances.

Scarlett + Rhett, 1939: I have to confess: I’ve never read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind; the movie has been so ubiquitous throughout my life that I felt that reading the book would be busy work.  Plus, the whole noble South/trusty-slave-folk thing bothers me.  But it’s a great love story, so, frankly, my dear—well, you know the rest.

Maria + Robert, 1940: Ernest Hemingway’s book For Whom the Bell Tolls deals primarily with the horrors of war, set among Spanish guerillas fighting fascism.  American Robert Jordan comes to their aid and, in the process, meets and falls in love with Maria.  After the two first make love, Jordan asks Maria the question that has become a romantic cliché, “Did thee feel the earth move?”

Sarah + Maurice (+Henry, + God), 1951: Another novel set in wartime, Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair brings illicit romance to the forefront, while the bombing of the London blitz rages all around.  Things don’t turn out well for the lovers, but intense feelings of romantic love, Catholic faith, and animal jealousy pervade the book and the two movie versions of it.

Jenny + Oliver, 1970: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  That is the line by which everyone remembers Erich Segal’s Love Story, written in 1969—the bestselling book of 1970—another tragic tale of love between the upper and lower classes.  And this book, like Gone with the Wind, was an immensely popular book overshadowed by the movie version.

Jade + David, 1979: Young desire is what Scott Spencer’s novel Endless Love is all about.  Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl, in her book Book Lust, calls it “a hymn to overheated teenage love.”  In this case, as the t-shirt says, “Don’t judge a book by its movie.”  While the Brooke Shields flick was widely panned, the book is much better regarded.

Fermia + Florentino, 1985: Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is another tale of love across class boundaries.  Florentino loves well-bred Fermia, but her father disapproves and she marries another man. Florentino pines for his lost love for decades, until Fermia’s husband dies, when he resumes the courtship.  It’s a novel about patience and determination, as well as love’s fickleness. 

Tita + Pedro, 1992: Mexican author Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate became a number-one bestseller in the U.S. in 1992, thanks to its mix of Mexican recipes and its sensual threads of unrequited romantic love and the power of food. 

Clare + Henry, 2003: It’s difficult enough holding on to a relationship in three dimensions, but when a guy is popping in and out of time, it just gets darn near impossible.  In The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger deftly and poignantly employs the device of time travel, and succeeds where she could’ve so easily failed.   

Which literary lovebirds have captivated you?

— Steve, aka The Buy Guy

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