Rejection, betrayal, mental illness, death. In honor of stupid Valentines Day, these are my choices for the most devastating romantic reads. Read ’em and weep. Literally!
Villette. Our unreliable narrator says that she wants to leave the reader free to imagine a happy ending. But there is no happy ending for Lucy Snowe, a heartbreakingly lonely woman escaping a tragic past who, having found the love she never expected, comes face to face with the heartache she had tried so long to escape. With her eccentric colleague M Paul, Lucy spends “the three happiest years of her life”. Alas, Lucy’s happy days are severely numbered. M. Paul’s ship is destroyed by a storm on his return from the West Indies, falling victim to the “destroying angel of tempest”.
Where my soul went during that swoon I cannot tell. Whatever she saw, or wherever she travelled in her trance on that strange night, she kept her own secret; never whispering a word to Memory, and baffling Imagination by an indissoluble silence. She may have gone upward, and come in sight of her eternal home, hoping for leave to rest now, and deeming that her painful union with matter was at last dissolved. While she so deemed, an angel may have warned her away from heavenâ€™s threshold, and, guiding her weeping down, have bound her, once more, all shuddering and unwilling, to that poor frame, cold and wasted, of whose companionship she was grown more than weary. (Lucy Snowe)
Never Let Me Go. Tommy and Kath have been in love since childhood, but by the time the stars align for them to finally be together, their time is almost up. Tommy has already begun his “donations” – the organ removals that will soon end his life and eventually end Kathy’s. Tommy and Kath’s illusions, nurtured in childhood, and the opportunity for them to fully realize their love, is over as soon as it begins. After a fleeting hope that they may avoid their fate and have a real life together, Tommy and Kath are cruelly told that theirs is a false hope and that they would die as scheduled, having never really lived.
I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart. That’s how it is with us. It’s a shame, Kath, because we’ve loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can’t stay together forever. (Tommy)
Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Fate, betrayal and terrible luck doom Tess’ chances at love, or even life. Gravely beautiful, stalwart and true to the bone despite a life of perpetual betrayal, Tess has been abused by pretty much every man she has came in contact with. Angel Clare, gentle but annoyingly self-satisfied, ought to have been her savior, but abandons her on their wedding night. Years later, having endured even more indignities and hardships and having murdered her attacker/tormentor (a villainous libertine who deserved what he got) Tess reunites with the remorseful Angel. They have a few blissful days together before the police track them down (at Stonehenge no less, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the whole of 19th century literature). Tess tells Angel that she is “almost glad” because “now I shall not live for you to despise me”. The novel closes with Angel watching from a hill as the black flag signaling Tess’s execution is raised over the prison.
I wish I had never been born–there or anywhere else. Â – (Tess Durbeyfield)
Tender is the Night. In a pink hotel in the Mediterranean in the 1920’s, what begins as a love story and a seeming parlor drama, turns into something else altogether. Glamorous expatriates Dick and Nicole Diver are on holiday where they are hit head-on with all that the tragedy-that-is-love has to offer in aÂ ten-year pas de deux they act out along the border between sanity and madness.Â The novel descends into a highly complex story of infidelity, schizophrenia, alcoholic binges, depraved outings, sanatoriums, depressive episodes, rescue marriages, and a never-ending string of visits to the asylum for unrestrained mental illness. A harrowing story where everything that can go wrong does go wrong for the Divers and everyone in their midst.
As an indifference cherished, or left to atrophy, becomes an emptiness, to this extent he had learned to become empty of Nicole, serving her against his will with negations and emotional neglect.
Borrowed Time A harrowing love story and a monumental addition to the literature of grief, a historic document of the death of a generation of gay men told through one man passing. Lovable, happy, brilliant, compassionate, heroic, Rog is 44 when he is diagnosed with AIDS and is dead 19 months later. Almost unbearable in its heartbreak, we watch as aspect by aspect Rogers life is taken from him, his freedom, his law practice, his sight, as the disease poisons his blood. Nearing the end, the friends embrace that model of heroism, Socrates, whose end they study in order to “see how a man of honor faces death without any lies”.
Socrates says – but you know all this part already or at least you’re supposed to. Maybe you don’t really need it ’till you’re right at the edge of a cliff, as we were. (sic) there was nothing to figure out or understand at all. Just the clarity of it, unfiltered by vanity or bullshit or the need to kiss ass. And how tough Socrates is as he goads the pompous and self-deluded and dares them to put him to death. (Paul Monette)
Love Story. In this wrong side of the tracks story,Â Oliver Barret IV, a rich Harvard jock with deep elitist roots falls for Jenny, a wisecracking, working class Radcliffe beauty. Oliver is trying to escape the yokes of his background as Jenny Â – the optimist and quintessential romantic – tries savagely to mend them. The prose is slack, but it succors to a climactic efflorescence that is legitimately and grotesquely sad.
What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me. (Oliver Barret)