Questionable Romances in Literature

4 min read

Classic literature is filled with troublesome romances. From the famous tragedy ofRomeo and Julietto the wild and misplaced passions of more modern classics, the lovers of literature do not always get their happy ending. 


Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky,  Anna Karenina 

The love affair of Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky is well known to readers and critics alike. Cursed from the start, it is the journey of two people who defy the conventions of their society to disastrous ends. Young and disillusioned, Anna’s extramarital love for the young officer Vronsky breeds tragic consequences. The affair is not so much tainted by her guilt as by her maternal instincts for her young son. Torn between Vronksy and her son, she seeks to escape the pain of her uncertainty.



This passionately destructive love story tells of Catherine Linton and the wild Heathcliff. Childish friendship blooms into a passion born of their mutual belief that their souls are the same. The pair are simultaneously united and torn apart by a love that denies difference. Catherine’s marriage to another man for social status creates a deep tragedy as she realises she cannot be married and still love Heathcliff. Though separated by circumstance, the very essence of themselves remains bound, leading to a wild and destructive passion that feeds on obsession and is able to transcend death itself.



This novel is not about the passions of two people, but rather of one. Living in rural France and married to a doctor, Emma Bovary finds herself trapped in a closed community of narrow-minded people. Driven by boredom and desire, she begins a series of affairs to escape the banality of everyday life. Her picture of love is a romanticised ideal, a fictitious and superficial dream that cannot be achieved through the satisfaction of frivolous desires. Tormented by the impossible ideal, Emma descends into a state of self-pity, financial ruin and disgrace. 




Hester Prynne,The Scarlet Letter 

Hester Prynne is a character of stark contrasts. While beautiful, elegant and a devoted mother, she is also a sinner through adultery. Despite her gentle and caring nature, her act of passion with Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is met with lawful consequence. Sentenced to wear a scarlet ‘A’ on her dress, she is continually reminded of her sin. Yet her love for Dimmesdale is pure and she readily sacrifices her reputation. Although the novel does offer some redemption, the consequences of Hester’s misplaced desire erase the possibility of an entirely happy ending.



 Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan,  The Great Gatsby 

 The Great Gastbypresents an idealised form of love that is shattered by absurd and futile actions. Jay Gatbsy’s admiration for Daisy Buchanan stems from an entirely romanticised dream. His quest for love is doomed from the start and he is ultimately destroyed by his inability to accept the truth. Jay’s romantic dream becomes an obsession with Daisy and the person he believes her to be. Daisy’s affection is in reality shallow and superficial, but Jay’s clouded judgement blinds him to the truth until it is too late.



 Jo March and Professor Bhaer,  Little Women 

 The marriage of Jo March to the dull and unromantic Professor Bhaer has long dissatisfied fans ofLittle Women. For many readers, Jo’s strong willed defiance of societal expectation doesn’t fit with her marriage to a professor far older than herself. Alcott’s decision not to please her readers by simply marrying Jo off to her childhood friend Laurie is deliberately perverse. While Jo rejects Laurie because she isn’t in love with him, readers can’t help but wonder how she can possibly be happy with the stout Professor Bhaer for all eternity beyond the pages of Alcott’s books. 



 Lady Chatterley and Mellors,  Lady Chatterley's Lover 

 Lady Chatterley's Loveris a famously controversial novel. Banned in 1928 for its obscene nature, it tells of Lady Chatterley's passionate affair with her gamekeeper, Mellors. Not only is the affair adulterous, it also breaks the boundary between social classes. Despite the immorality of the affair, readers are continually attracted to Lady Chatterly’s frustrated attempts to balance marital duty with her inner desires. Unlike other romances on this list, there is a sense of hope for this forbidden union beyond the pages of the book. 



Lydia Bennet and Mr Wickam,  Pride and Prejudice 


 The fate of desire is once again explored inPride and Prejudice.The union of Lydia Bennet and Mr. Wickam certainly has consequences for everyone around them. Their elopement is considered scandalous, threatening personal and family reputations. Unaware of Mr. Wickam’s already damaged reputation, Lydia’s pursuit of romance can be viewed as naive. However, her actions are deliberate and suggest some responsibility.The question that therefore arises is: is Lydia partly to blame or is she simply the innocent victim of male desire? Perhaps if the couple had been legally married, they would have stayed together, though Mr. Wickam’s doubtful morals might cause some to disagree. 



Pip and Estella,  Great Expectations


As in with Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, Pip’s love for Estella inGreat Expectationsis one-sided. Estella is the source of Pip’s intense feelings but it is she who breaks his heart. Behind the scenes however, it is Miss Havisham who engineers the pair’s first encounter,

intending for Pip to fall in love and for Estella to reject him. This proxy revenge, intended to heal Miss Havisham’s own wounded heart, makes us wonder what might have happened if her intentions had been kind instead. 


Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler,  Gone With the Wind

 The relationship between the feisty Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler is equally problematic. Scarlett longs for the love of Ashley Wilks, a married man, while the daring Rhett Butler seeks to win Scarlett’s hand. Despite their eventual marriage, their union is volatile and tempestuous. It eventually fails, due in part to Scarlett’s continued love for Ashley and Rhett’s bitter pride. The pair’s marriage is filled with misunderstandings and both are unable to see hard facts until it’s too late. 



The pages of the novels on this list are filled with questionable affairs, trists with disastrous consequences and passionate love lost in grievous circumstances. While none of the characters in this list find harmony, it is possible that love and passion may have endured if the circumstances had been different.

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