The Top Literary Couples as Bad Examples

Juliet Awakes {PD-US}

Healthy Romance Makes Bad Novels, Part II

Last week, I argued that healthy, functioning romances (which we’d probably all enjoy in real life) have trouble generating the kind of conflict that drives romance novels. Logically, the next step would be for me to look at some famous literary romances and see if they were healthy or not. Here goes:

 Romeo and Juliet

First of all, they’re teenagers. Juliet is thirteen. Teenagers aren’t exactly known for being clear-headed, or having well-thought-out romances with each other. Besides that, the two of them get married after knowing each other for a day. A day, and they’re supposed to be desperately in love with each other. Let’s examine their conversation before they tie the knot:

– a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet

– Oh no, you’re a Capulet/Montague!

– Parting is such a sweet sorrow

Does Juliet know Romeo’s strategy for dealing with a crisis is to bawl his eyes out in the friar’s cell? Or run through her cousin with a sword? Wouldn’t you kind of want to know how your husband acts in a tough spot before you marry him?

She doesn’t know him well enough to realize he’ll lose his head if he thinks she’s actually dead, and agrees to a plan where absolutely everything can (and does) go wrong. Which is why the story ends in tragedy.

 Wuthering Heights

Yeah, I’m kicking a book when it’s down here, because NO ONE’s going to argue Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship is healthy. But their destructive conflict certainly drives the plot. On one hand, Catherine marries another man because to marry the one she loves would be ‘degrading.’ In other words, pride trumps treating another person well. Of course, Catherine claims she’s marrying for money in order to better Heathcliff’s life, not bothering to think maybe it’d be downright humiliating to be rescued by the husband of the girl you love. On the other, Heathcliff marries another woman to spite her, holds a grudge, and gets revenge any way he can. In other words, he doesn’t exactly follow the “keep no record of wrongs” part of loving… Well, that’s enough about that.

 Gone With the Wind

Scarlett O’Hara is selfish and pretty blind (it takes her till Chapter 63 of a sixty-three chapter book for her to realize she loves Rhett, and she’d been married to him since Chapter 47!) Of course, Rhett never tells her he loves her until he’s quit loving her… that lack of communication again. The central problem is that she is so self-absorbed that if he’d told her, she would have cast him away like an old rag. But in spite of it all, he’s the old who sees her as she really is – “hard and greedy and unscrupulous, like me.” This dysfunctional romance is truly a result of two self-centered people loving each other.


So that’s that for three of the most famous literary romances I can think of. Any other novels you want to throw out there?

By the way, yes, I did run out of quotes to post this Wednesday.


Filed under Gone With the Wind, Romeo and Juliet, True Romance, Wuthering Heights

12 responses to “The Top Literary Couples as Bad Examples

  1. Pingback: Healthy Romance Makes Bad Novels | Stories and Stuff

  2. Alexia

    I loved Romeo and Juliet and Wuthering Heights, I still haven’t read Gone With the Wind but I’m sure I’ll like it too… I think the main reason those books are considered masterpieces is because it speaks to people somehow, even if in real life you would rather marry the nice guy. Maybe it’s more about passion than love, and a lot of readers are looking for that kind of passion in books because they don’t experience it in real life.

    Oh, no, I like the quotes of the week !


    • Don’t worry, if I find more quotes I’ll still put them up! I just didn’t want to put up something dumb because I couldn’t find any.

      Yes, obviously they’re classics for a reason, so there must be something in them that people can relate to. I was just trying to point out that a lot of literary relationships we look up to wouldn’t be very healthy in real life (in fact, they don’t last in fiction either). So if you were trying to write about normal people, what would you write about? I think part of being a writer is that you have to exaggerate some of what is found in real life. But how can you portray good things (like a nice romance between two people) without being boring?

      I think you’d probably like ‘Gone With the Wind.’ It’s pretty long, so I found it dragged a bit in spots, but it’s interesting overall.


      • Alexia

        Okay, so the other day I tried to answer but it didn’t work. Hope it does this time !

        But see, I think there’s a lot of drama in real life too. I mean, maybe nothing Wuthering Heights-like, but still, if you think about it, unhealthy relationships happen to “normal people” like you said. And I’m not even talking about me. I mean, I don’t know about your friends and family, but when I look at mine I can hardly find some healthy relationship in there. Even my grand-parents are divorced. Maybe we’d have to define what is an healthy relationship first…

        I’ve actually thought of a book that could fit the description, maybe. It’s called “Ensemble c’est tout” (How weird, tells me it’s been translated ! The english title is “Hunting and Gathering” by Anna Gavalda). It doesn’t start out as exactly healthy : the characters you meet at the beginning of the book are broken, desperately lonely but eventually find each other. It’s a nice book, maybe a little too full of good intentions for my taste but I have a feeling you’ll like it. If the translator didn’t screw it up, I mean. It has this “fairytale” touch that is hard to explain, but at the same time the characters are familiar, you could meet them in the street.

        Yes, I actually have it somewhere but you know, so many books…


      • “Normal people” was a bad phrase to use. No one is exactly “normal.”
        Yes, there is a trail of broken relationships and drama in my family, friends, people I know, etc., too. I don’t think I stated what I meant very clearly – there’s tons of drama in real life too, some of which people would never believe if you tried to make it a plot in a book. There’s many, many ways we can use flawed people’s stupid faults to create conflict in stories. But what if we want to portray something good, instead of something “unhealthy”?

        Why would I want to see a healthy relationship in a novel? Part of it is the escape from reality thing (see the post on Tolkien). We can see all kinds of misery people cause each other in the world around us – why not dream outside of the prison walls of reality and think of something better? The other is that people need to see good, functioning relationships in order to learn how to have such relationships themselves. It’s so easy (even for me) to be cynical about love, think there’s no way relationships will work or last, or know how to handle disagreements well. But happy relationships do happen!

        But no one’s going to read these kinds of novels if the “healthy couple” is portrayed as perfect and boring. Something needs to drive the plot, yet the way the conflict is handled will look different than Wuthering Heights… (Wuthering Heights seems to be our stand-by example 🙂 )


  3. Tiana

    Haha! I love love love this article!

    I think what happens is that the struggle for love is seen as more interesting than a healthy couple working through an external struggle…but I would love to see that book! (I’m thinking a book that came close was Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.)

    Then again, who can really relate to healthy relationships? Flawed we get.

    Oh, as far as a novel approach to couples you could check out Angela Hunt. In my humble opinion her writing is very authentic and inspired. Then again, her books don’t necessarily focus on love but you get close with the novel The Pearl.


    • Thanks for the book recommendation! I will have to add it to my list.
      Hmm, I like what you say about a healthy couple working through an external struggle… I wrote a previous post on external/internal driven conflict, and I concluded it can be hard to come up with plausible external conflicts. But a truly believable external struggle would be a good backdrop for a healthy relationship. (I did read ‘Redeeming Love’ and mostly enjoyed it).
      So glad you stopped by!


  4. Alexia

    Well, Wuthering Heights is pretty messed-up. At least Romeo and Juliet were nice to each other – even if they had really stupid ideas, but what can you expect from two teenagers in heat ?

    I think you’re right, but I don’t have a clue on how to portray an healthy, yet realistic and not boring, relationship. You should write it and I’ll read it, how about that (yes, it is that simple, absolutely^^) ?


    • Sorry if I take a bit of time to respond… I’m in the middle of midterms and paper-writing right now. Tons of fun. Anyway, I do really enjoy some of the ideas in Romeo and Juliet, but I just can’t figure out how they love each other enough to die for each other so quickly. Artistic license, I guess.
      I hope someday I succeed in writing one, and I’ll certainly let you read it.


  5. Alexia

    Oh it’s okay ! Good luck with your exams =)

    Or maybe Shakespeare tried to tell his readers that love isn’t good for you. We’ll never know !


  6. Pingback: When a Hurricane of Clichés Equals a Great Movie | Stories and Stuff

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