Literature's Most Touching Love Triangles
My Tribute to Valentine Day
Rhett Butler & Scarlett O’ Hara & Ashley Wilkes
It was the greatest love story that never was. In 1937 Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell tells the story of young and adventurous Scarlett O’Hara during and after the Civil War. Scarlett believes she loves Ashley Wilkes, her aristocratic neighbour. She disdained the disreputable war profiteer Captain Rhett Butler although they had much in common. When Wilkes married another girl, Scarlett married one Charles Hamilton out of spite. Someone who repeatedly challenges gender roles of her time, Scarlett also embodies the general lifestyle of the Civil War South in her mixed feelings for the Southern gentleman Ashley and her attraction to the sardonic, opportunistic Rhett Butler. After much misfortune, Scarlett finally realizes she really loved Rhett, who by then had grown tired of waiting for her affection. The novel ends on an ambiguous note, with Scarlett vowing to find away to win Rhett back.
Fitzwilliam Darcy-Elizabeth Bennet-George Wickham
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the readers see the unfolding plot through the eyes of Elizabeth Bennet, the intelligent, lively and attractive daughter of the Bennet family. At her village ball, she met Fitzwilliam Darcy, who is apparently bored with the ball, and who snubs her at a public dance. Her gullibility and her tendency to judge on first impressions separated her and Mr. Darcy at first. She instead favored George Wickham who made up a story defaming Darcy. Elizabeth’s initial refusal of his proposal for marriage and Darcy’s subsequent letter that defends his wounded honour and denounces Wickham defined and changed the novel’s course. When Elizabeth finally realizes that her feelings for Darcy have come full circle, she accepts Darcy’s second proposal. Thus ended the novel, and began a thousand sequels.
Jane Eyre-Edward Rochester-St. John Rivers
“Reader, I married him.” opens the last chapter of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The novel goes through five distinct stages: her orphaned childhood, her education, her time as the governess of Thornfield Manor, where she falls in love with her employer, Edward Rochester, her time with the Rivers family, and her reunion with Rochester. After her first meeting with Rochester, she nearly married him, an ugly, moody yet Byronic gentleman before a lawyer announced that Rochester is still married to a madwoman whom he keeps imprisoned in the attic. Jane left Rochester, only to reunite with him after the mad wife set fire to Thornfield Manor (killing herself, and causing Rochester to lose a hand and eyesight). Rochester fears that she will refuse to marry a blind cripple, but Jane accepts him without hesitation.
The Karenins and Alyosha Vronsky
A married woman, Anna Karenina come to Moscow to salvage the marriage of her brother, Stiva. Upon her arrival in Moscow, a railway worker accidentally falls in front of a train and is killed. Anna interprets this as an “evil omen.” Count Alyosha Vronsky soon falls in love with Anna after he meets her at the station and later dances the mazurka with her at a ball. Although Anna initially tries to reject him, she eventually succumbs to his courting, and confesses to her husband. The difficulties in her getting a divorce from her husband, a potentially bitter custody battle and Anna’s childbirth distanced two lovers eventually. In a jealous rage, Anna threw herself under a train like the railway worker in the first part of the novel. Vronsky finally realizes his guilt at Anna’s death and faces a life made more tragic than death by his own shortcomings
Le Chevalier Des Grieux, Manon Lescaut and Synnelet
In the short novel Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost, ennobled and rich le Chevalier Des Grieux forfeits his hereditary wealth and incurs the disappointment of his father by running away with Manon. In Paris, the young lovers enjoy a blissful cohabitation, while Des Grieux struggles to satisfy Manon’s taste for luxury. Manon usually leaves him for a richer man but the two younger lovers were always reunited by their mutual affection. They finally settle down in New Orleans, where the Governor’s nephew, Synnelet sets his sights on Manon. In the duel that ensued, Des Grieux knocks the nephew unconscious, and thinking he had killed the man, the couple flee New Orleans. In the wilderness of Louisiana, Manon dies of exposure and exhaustion. Des Grieux returns to France to become a cleric after burying his beloved.
Jay Gatsby and the Buchanans
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, James Gatz fell in love with Daisy Fay before the war, but he lost Daisy due to their different social standings. After the war, Gatz became a millionaire after being involved with the bootleggers. He reinvents himself changing his name to Jay Gatsby, get a mansion near where Daisy (now Mrs. Buchanan) lives, and hosts parties in the hope that she will visit. With the help of the novel’s narrator, Nick Carraway, two rekindles their love. However, a hit-and-run incident in Gatsby’s car (driven by Daisy at that moment) complicates the matters. The victim’s husband finds Gatsby floating in his pool and kills him before committing suicide nearby, thus ending Gatsby’s American Dream and Fitzgerald’s ambitious novel.
Werther, Lotte and Albert
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe is written as an epistolary novel from the point of a young artist Werther, who retreat to a small village of Wahlheim to flee from an unwanted romantic entanglement. Thus, it was especially ironic when he meets and falls in love with Charlotte (or Lotte), a beautiful young girl who is taking care of her siblings. She is engaged to a man 11 years her senior named Albert. Werther cultivates a close friendship with both of them to be near to Lotte, but his letters become more and more incoherent after Charlotte and Albert marries. Out of pity for her friend and respect for her husband, Lotte convinces Werther not to visit her. After his last visit, and memorable and torrid recitation of “Ossian”, Werther shoots himself in the head. He doesn’t expire until 12 hours later.
Humbert Humbert, Dolores Haze and Clare Quilty
Recounted by the narrator who chose to be called by his pseudonym Humbert Humbert, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the most marginalized novels of our time. Humbert lodges with a widow Charlotte Haze and later marries her just to be near to her daughter, Dolores (Lolita). When Charlotte discovers it, she is horrified; she bolts from the house but is struck and killed by a passing motorist. Humbert picks Lolita up from camp and intends to use sleeping pills on Lolita, but instead, she seduces Humbert. Driving Lolita around the country, Humbert falls genuinely in love with her. Their strange situation is further complicated by the presence of Clare Quilty, himself a pedophile and pornographer, with whom Lolita finally absconds. Humbert finally learnt that Lolita married an old, deaf war vetern after being abandoned by Quilty. Humbert confronts and murders Quilty and is arrested for murder. Lolita herslef dies during childbirth.
Tess Durbeyfield, Alex D’Urberville and Angel Clare
In Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the impoverish Durbeyfields send their daughter Tess to work with the aristocratic D’Urbervilles after learning that they are closely related. There, Tess is seduced and raped by Alec d’Urberville. In her next job as a milkmaid, she falls in love with a travelling farmer’s apprentice, Angel Clare. She tries to tell Angel her indiscretions, but the letter she sent gets lost under a rug. When Angel learns the truth, Angel leaves her to go to Brazil. Meanwhile, Tess started living with Alec D’Urberville again. However, when Angel returns, Tess confronts Alec and stabs Alec through the heart with a carving knife, killing him. Tess flees with Angel but their sojourn ends with a romantic night at Stonehenge, when the police arrest Tess and she was executed.
Lord and Lady Chatterley and Oliver Mellor
D. H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” is about Lady Constance Chatterly’s unhappy marriage to wealthy mine owner Sir Clifford Chatterly. His war wounds made him paralyzed and impotent and she begins to explore her sexual feelings else where–namely with Sir Clifford’s game keeper, Oliver Mellor’s. Although Mellors initially shuns her due to the class distance between them, they meet by chance at a hut in the forest and have sex. Many torrid meetings later, she becomes pregnant, and she seeks a divorce from Sir Clifford. He refuses to give her a divorce and this leaves Lady Chatterly and Oliver waiting only in the hope that Sir Clifford may die. When Connie returns from her vacation in Venice, she finds Mellors’ old wife has returned, causing a scandal. The novel ends the couple waiting for their respective divorces, with the hope that, in the end, they will be together.