Valentine’s Day tends to make people feel sentimental and mushy. I like flowers and romance just fine, but what about the literary pairings that are just painful to read? Skip the perfect ones, let’s talk about the bad literary couples…the insufferable ones. From the comically mismatched and unfortunate to the horribly annoying and the criminally insane, this is all about the painful literary couples I can’t stomach.
Warning: general plot points included.
15. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Collins, Pride and Prejudice
“My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish. Secondly, that I am convinced it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly — which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness.”
One of the worst proposals I’ve ever heard or read. Can we all agree that this is one of the most painful failed courtships? I cringe every time I read his awkward proposal and his refusal to accept Lizzy’s refusal.
14. Kvothe and Denna, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear
“No matter where she stood, she was in the center of the room. Do not misunderstand. She was not loud, or vain. We stare at a fire because it flickers, because it glows. The light is what catches our eyes, but what makes a man lean close to a fire has nothing to do with its bright shape. What draws you to a fire is the warmth you feel when you come near. The same was true of Denna.”
I love this book series. Seriously: if you haven’t read The Name of the Wind and you have even a passing interest in fantasy, stop reading my blog and go buy it. I also love each of these two characters. But their repeated inability to realize the other is in love with them is nothing short of aggravating. Hopefully the third book resolves this will-they won’t-they nonsense before I sit them both down for a stern talking to.
13. Eowyn and Aragorn, Lord of the Rings
“Thus Aragorn for the first time in the full light of day beheld Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, and thought her fair, fair and cold, like a morning of pale spring that is not yet come to womanhood. And she was now suddenly aware of him: tall heir of kings, wise with many winters, greycloaked, hiding a power that yet she felt. For a moment still as stone she stood, then turning swiftly she was gone.”
Oh, Tolkien. Of the many things he loves to write (songs, descriptions of meals, songs) romance does not appear to be one of them. I find it increasingly aggravating that Aragorn never mentions his commitment to Arwen to Eowyn. Never! Arwen is an intensely fierce elf, Aragorn. Being betrothed to her is a pretty good excuse to turn someone down. Bless Tolkien’s hobbit loving heart for giving Eowyn good ol’ Faramir in the end.
12. Amy and Nick Dunn, Gone Girl
“I was told love should be unconditional. That’s the rule, everyone says so. But if love has no boundaries, no limits, no conditions, why should anyone try to do the right thing ever? If I know I am loved no matter what, where is the challenge? I am supposed to love Nick despite all his shortcomings. And Nick is supposed to love me despite my quirks. But clearly, neither of us does. It makes me think that everyone is very wrong, that love should have many conditions. Love should require both partners to be their very best at all times.”
Do I need to explain this one? They are both terrible people. The only reason they aren’t lower on this list is that by staying with each other they spare others their insanity.
11. Joffrey and Sansa, Song of Ice and Fire series
“Go Ahead, call me all the names you want,” Sansa said airily. “You won’t dare when I’m married to Joffrey. You’ll have to bow and call me Your Grace.” She shrieked as Arya flung the orange across the table. It caught her in the middle of the forehead with a wet squish and plopped down into her lap.”
Joffrey is an absolute monster. Sansa’s general naivete and disloyalty to her family is grating.
10. Marius and Cosette, Les Miserables
“She let her head fall back upon Marius’ knees and her eyelids closed. He thought that poor soul had gone. Eponine lay motionless; but just when Marius supposed her for ever asleep, she slowly opened her eyes in which the gloomy deepness of death appeared, and said to him with an accent the sweetness on which already seemed to come from another world: “And then, do you know, Monsieur Marius, I believe I was a little in love with you.”
My first introduction to Le Miz was singing “On My Own” for a junior high solo concert. Ever since, I have been passionately #TeamEponine.
9. Anna and Vronsky, Anna Karenina
“He looked at her as a man looks at a faded flower he has gathered, with difficulty recognizing in it the beauty for which he picked and ruined it. And in spite of this he felt that then, when his love was stronger, he could, if he had greatly wished it, have torn that love out of his heart; but now, when as at that moment it seemed to him he felt no love for her, he knew that what bound him to her could not be broken.”
I could do an entire post on the problematic relationships in Anna Karenina. I love this book, and this deeply problematic relationship is the driving force behind it. Tolstoy’s talent for writing beautiful dysfunction is unparalleled.
8. Harry and Cho, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
“‘Look,’ he said desperately, leaning in so that nobody else could overhear, let’s not talk about Cedric right now…let’s talk about something else…”
But this, apparently, was quite the wrong thing to say.
‘I thought,’ she said, tears spattering down on to the table, ‘I thought you’d u – u – understand! I need to talk about it! Surely you n – need to talk about it t – too! I mean, you saw it happen, d – didn’t you?’
Everything was going nightmarishly wrong; Roger Davies’s girlfriend had even unglued herself to look round at Cho crying.
‘Well – I have talked about it,’ Harry said in a whisper, ‘to Ron and Hermione, but – ‘
‘Oh, you’ll talk to Hermione Granger!’ she said shrilly, her face now shining with tears. Several more kissing couples broke apart to stare. ‘But you won’t talk to me! P – perhaps it would be best if we just . . . just p – paid and you went and met up with Hermione G – Granger, like you obviously want to!’
Harry stared at her, utterly bewildered, as she seized a frilly napkin and dabbed at her shining face with it.
‘Cho?’ he said weakly, wishing Roger would seize his girlfriend and start kissing her again to stop her goggling at him and Cho.”
Can a date at a place called Madam Puddifoot’s ever go well? But everything about this relationship from beginning to end is so painfully awkward. Poor Harry. I sympathize with Cho and all, but this is so brutal. As if Harry didn’t have enough on his plate in year five.
7. Hamlet and Ophelia, Hamlet
Hamlet: I did love you once.
Ophelia: Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.
Hamlet: You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not.
Ophelia: I was the more deceived.
Whether it’s Mel Gibson and Helen Bonham Carter, Kate Winslet and Kenneth Branagh, or Simba and Nala, I never stop feeling such pity for Ophelia. What a tragic mess.
6. Bella and Edward, The Twilight Saga
“His cold touch on my skin never failed to make my heart thud erratically.”
Is anyone still claiming this relationship is the epitome of romance? Too much lip biting and sparkling for my tastes. Plus the cold touch and abusive relationship stuff really puts a damper on romance for me.
5. Henry and Clare, The Time Traveler’s Wife
I can’t even find a quote that doesn’t make me angry. I was livid when I read this book. At one point, he goes back in time after a fight with his wife to sleep with her as an 18 year old. I believe he is in his 40’s at the time. I find this both incredibly creepy and vastly inappropriate. It isn’t cheating on his wife, technically, but it made me so uncomfortable that it ruined the entire book for me.
4. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, Jane Eyre
“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”
The mad wife in the attic thing is a small, pesky detail that keeps me from swooning over Mr. Rochester.
3. Teddy and Amy, Little Women
“You’ve got me, anyhow. I’m not good for much, I know; but I’ll stand by you, Jo, all the days of my life; upon my word I will.”
I’m wrecked by this every single time I read it. I’ve never forgiven Amy for burning Jo’s manuscript or for her bratty episode with the limes. Then she marries Teddy? Were there no other acceptable rich bachelors she could throw herself at? At least Beth wasn’t alive to witness this atrocity.
2. Dagny Taggart and Francisco d’ Anconia, Hank Rearden, and John Galt, Atlas Shrugged
“Will you wait for me?” She asked gaily. He answered, without smiling, “Always.”
Dagny and Francisco? Loved it. Hank and Dagny vs Dagny and Francisco? I was on board. Nothing like a good love triangle. But when John Galt popped up as yet another love interest, I threw this massive tomb across the room and told a friend the book had jumped the shark. I know this book is not about these romances. I know that I am utterly missing the point of the whole thing. But this mess of relationships that everyone felt okay with was too much for me to handle.
1. Catherine and Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights
“My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. ..My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”
Utter. Nonsense. The intensity of the constant vengeance as they manipulate each other’s emotions and ruin the lives of every person unfortunate enough to cross their paths is agonizing. Even death isn’t enough—Cathy’s ghost harasses Heathcliff after she’s died. A relationship where the height of romance is decaying bodies mingling in side-by-side graves is 100% not my cup of tea. Also, hints of incest.
There you have it — 15 literary pairs that make me a bit crazy. Who would you include on next year’s list?