Happiness Not Guaranteed: Love in Lit

by Lisa C.

It’s February, the time of year that brings up certain expectations around the idea of romantic love. Take this post for example. I knew it was due the week of the 14th and try as I might to redirect my thoughts, I got hung up on LOVE. So why not give in and let some stories sweep us off our feet before they inevitably break our hearts?

When I think about great love stories, I think about longing looks, initially denied attraction, unstoppable passion, mutual destruction, and doom. At the end of such epic agonies, I am left bereft and wondering, what did I just subject myself to and when can I do it again?  Does this sound like you, too? Then follow me for some vicarious pain.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Classics are a great place to start your tragic journey and who does untamed, destructive passion better than Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights? Are they star-crossed lovers dealt an unfair hand by fate, reprehensible people responsible for all their own miseries, or forces of nature unable to be contained by societal conventions?  Whatever your perspective, this is a dramatic tale of obsessive love and the destruction left in its wake. Side note: My adult self says Heathcliff is not a good choice for romantic hero, but my 13 year-old self rages at the betrayal.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth features a less volatile, though still heart-rending, pairing. Lily Bart is a beautiful, society woman in New York at the turn of the twentieth century. Despite her background, she is accepted by the “right people” – old money. Her expensive tastes and desire to maintain her social standing make marriage an imperative.  She can’t quite get herself to the altar though. Enter Lawrence. Perfectly respectable, but the “right people”  he isn’t. It’s a classic love or money dilemma, complete with scandal, hypocrisy, double standards, and corruption.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

If your tastes in emotional turmoil are more modern, try An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Roy and Celestial are a passionately happy couple when we meet them. However, their love is tested when Roy is arrested for a crime he did not commit. Can their marriage survive Roy’s 12 year prison sentence? A complex exploration of the personal consequences of racial injustice. This 2018 title has received many accolades and is included in The New York Times100 Notable Books of 2018.”


Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

Sparks fly when Elio and David meet, but they both attempt to ignore their attraction.  As summer progresses, 17 year-old Elio’s infatuation for the older David intensifies and the two begin a feverish love affair. However, summers always come to an end… Set against the backdrop of the Italian Riviera, Call Me By Your Name poignantly captures the all-consuming longing and passion of first love and the enduring regret created by its loss.

Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

Now for something a little different. The Travelling Cat Chronicles is told from the perspective of a stray cat and it is actually a warmhearted, funny tale of the unconditional love between an animal and a human. What’s it doing on this list? Because it is sad, sort-of! You will experience joy and happiness, but you will know that sadness is lurking, hiding in future pages. A satisfyingly bittersweet story of love and loss and friendship.


Take a look at the full list for more gut-wrenching suggestions. Which doomed literary love affair do you think is the most tragical

Need a cure for all this heartache? Check out Happiness IS Guaranteed: Love in Lit Part 2

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4 responses to “Happiness Not Guaranteed: Love in Lit”

  1. Gina Perri says:

    What a great blog, matches my February mood exactly! I always love a good classic but never heard of some of the other titles and they sound great… I think I will start with Traveling Cat Chronicles though 🙂 thanks for helping with the Valentines Day blues!

  2. Peter says:

    Nice post, very gimlet eyed!

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