Classic Remarks is a meme hosted by Krysta and Brianna at Pages Unbound. Each week, they pose a question about classic works of literature in order for readers to engage in a continuing conversation about elements of classic literature, the literary ‘canon’, and the timelessness of story. If you’re interested in participating, you can find the schedule here.
So I don’t read romance novels as a general rule. I don’t dislike romance, I just don’t gravitate toward it. I also don’t mind it when there are romantic relationships in books, I just don’t like it when, say, a fantasy novel is hijacked by a romance that pops up and completely takes over. Irritating, that. No one likes fantasy “love triangles”!
But I do have a couple of favorite literary romances. A couple. Let’s not get out of hand, shall we? I’m not a lovey-dovey kind of person. That’s part of why I don’t read romances.
So in no particular order, here are my favorite romantic literary couples. Both of them.
Also, spoilers for the books in question. Because we didn’t think they would get together in the end…?
- Lizzie and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Why? Because of course. Lizzie is the snarky, free-spirited young woman we all want to be, and Mr. Darcy is the wealthy, handsome, socially awkward dork we all wish we could be insulted by at a country ball. And we all hope he’d make a poorly-timed marriage proposal that also serves as yet another insult- to the whole family, this time!
Well done, Mr. Darcy.
But then, after continued misunderstandings, we all wish we could receive that passionate letter that makes us sit up and realize that we’ve completely misunderstood the guy we thought was a complete jerk. It turns out that he’s a brilliant human being, he’s just, you know, awkward and introverted. And because he’s been completely in love with you this whole time, he’s willing to do some incredible things for your family without expecting anything from you in return.
Because Mr. Darcy is a fantastic human being after all.
And while Lizzie had plenty of prejudices she needed to get over, she got over them. She was willing to open her eyes and realize that the guy she initially thought was all that and a bag of chips was a dirtbag after all, and that the fellow who she thought was a prideful jerk turned out to be a brilliant human being. Pride and Prejudice is all about two flawed people who learn to overcome their flaws so they can find the very best person for them. That’s part of why it’s so beloved.
- Beren and Lúthien, from The Silmarillion and Beren and Lúthien by J.R.R. Tolkien
So you’re a beautiful Elf maiden (like, the most beautiful one who has ever lived and who ever will live), and you’re out dancing in the forest because why not? It’s a beautiful day and it’s safe because your badass mother (the queen) has laid a protection spell over your father’s entire kingdom. So dancing in the forest it is.
So you’re out dancing in the forest and things are great, when suddenly this scraggly-looking guy appears out of the shrubbery and starts yelling “Nightingale!” at you. So obviously, you run away.
But scraggly guy keeps looking for you, and you’re intrigued because he shouldn’t have been able to appear in the forest thanks to Mom’s magic spell, and under the dirt and twigs he’s actually kind of handsome, so you you let him catch up to you and you start to get to know him and you fall head over heels for him, and he’s already in love with you, so everything’s great, right? Wedding’s next week. Right?
Nope. Because when you take this handsome but scraggly guy (he’s cleaned up since then. The twigs, at least are out of his hair) to meet your dad the king, your dad– an Elven king who is madly prejudiced against humans (and your scraggly boyfriend happens to be a human)– doesn’t take it well. He’s promised not to kill your boyfriend, but he’s not about to let your boyfriend marry you. Not before he completes an impossible task, anyway. So he names an impossible task that your boyfriend has to complete before he can marry you: retrieve one of the Silmarils, an incredible gemstone, from the crown of the ultimate dark lord and bring it back to the hidden Elven kingdom. And then you guys can get married.
So your boyfriend up and says something like, “Dude, you’re going to sell your daughter’s hand in marriage for a sparkly gem? That’s low. That’s real low. But I’m going to do it anyway.” So off he goes, and he has adventures and meanwhile your dad locks you in a super high treehouse. Just in case your boyfriend actually succeeds. But it’s not like you’re a damsel in distress. No, you’re smarter than that. And you have magic. So you magic a way out of the treehouse and head out into the wilds after your boyfriend, and once you find him you have to rescue him because the dork got himself captured.
Of course he did.
So you rescue him and proceed to have more terrifying adventures, and you do things like actually succeed in the impossible quest and after all that, your boyfriend gets himself killed.
So you head to the realm of the lord of the dead and you plead with the freaking LORD OF THE DEAD and sing a song so beautiful he decides to let your boyfriend go. From, you know. Death.
So you go back to the world and you live together for a while, and though it’s not really a happily ever after, at least there is an after. From, you know. Death. And you’re together.
So that’s why Beren and Lúthien make up one of my favorite literary romantic couples ever because they were so devoted to each other that they were willing to do the impossible things and willing to die for each other– or plead with the lord of the death to let their beloved come home again.
Bonus points: Tolkien saw his wife, Edith, as his Lúthien, and the meeting between Beren and Lúthien– when she was dancing in the forest– comes from a day when they were young and in love and walking through the woods. Edith danced in a grove of trees, and that scene lives on in one of the great tales of Tolkien’s legendarium. Super romantic, huh?
Also, after Edith’s death, Tolkien had ‘Lúthien’ inscribed on her gravestone. And he left orders for ‘Beren’ to be inscribed on his gravestone. So. Beren and Lúthien. J.R.R. and Edith.