In their analysis of the theme of love, which airs on October 9th, the Great American Read explores many manifestations of it, and not always the romantic kind. It ponders love between family members, love between friends, and even the love that exists between people and animals.
And in the process, it asks us exactly what kind of a love story we, the viewers, prefer.
This is especially true in the episode’s examination of literary depictions romantic love. One of the central themes in the episode is exactly what appeals to us most as readers–sentimental, sweet, tender depictions of romance (aka traditional love stories) or the tragic/unrequited kind.
Discussions of famous literary romances are always interesting to me because, quite frankly, many of the ones that are more famous never really strike me as romantic stories. I didn’t include these on the bracket, but when folks go on and on about how much Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre or Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights swept them off their feet, I’m always taken aback. Don’t get me wrong–I really love both of these classic novels. But I don’t think of either one as a romantic story.
It always surprises me when Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is cited as a favorite love story, as well. Scarlett O’Hara is a fascinating character in her own right, and the novel explores her romances and marriages with several very different men during and after the American Civil War. To me, however, the novel is far more a chronicle of losing love and romances disintegrating than anything else.
The exception to the rule is one that, I am sure, will win many votes. Jane Austen is widely considered the queen of classic romances, and I really do enjoy her work. Pride and Prejudice, her most popular work, is probably about as captivating of a love story as you can get. But there’s still definitely a dark undercurrent lurking underneath. . . .
What’s your favorite literary love story? Which fictional character would you marry in a heartbeat? Which classic romance leaves you scratching your head in bewilderment? Tell us in the comments!