Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Favorite Star-Crossed Lovers

Two things come to mind when you hear the phrase: star-crossed lovers. OK, well two things, once you get rid of the obvious: ROMEO AND JULIET. I think of this term in two ways:
  • The lovers were never meant to live happily ever after, à la Romeo and Juliet: they will both die tragically or one will die tragically, leaving the other tragically alone, or they are separated tragically by events outside of their control. The evil universe conspires to tragically rend the lovers from each others' arms.
  • Two lovers defy all the odds against them to either live happily ever after... or not. They have different backgrounds, but surmount the obstacles to be together. They are from rival families, they are from different faiths, cultures, or cliques; they are different colors, races, or classes.
I'm not sure whether one definition of these is more accurate than the other, but they co-mingle nicely in my brain. The story is an old one and has appealed to the romantic in the human heart for millennia. From ancient myths to Outlander and Twilight, star-crossed lovers are always in vogue. Being a gushy romantic, myself, these are some of my favorites:

1. Five Sm
ooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn. My mom urged me to read this for about 12 years. But I didn't read it--for whatever fickle reason--until about three years ago. This is yet another example of why moms are always right... because this is one of my all-time favorite books ever. Ever. This is the fictional story of David and Sara, a black boy and a white girl who meet at an Ohio college in the 1960s and fall in love. This isn't for the faint of heart. It's a big long book with weighty issues and goes heavily into historical details of the Civil Rights Movement. To me, it gets a little long on all the dense Civil Rights facts, but they serve to show how truly dangerous David and Sara's star-crossed love is... and it's only dangerous because of the hatred and prejudice of stupid people. This is the ultimate heart-breaking love story.

2. One Day by David Nicholls. Really popular when it was published in the summer of 2010 and recently made into a movie with Anne Hathaway. (Which, BTW, did not do justice to this yummy book.) The story advances only on one day every year (hence the title. Duh.) in the lives of Emma and Dexter, two friends who meet on July 15 at their graduation from university in Scotland. We follow them through bad careers and bad relationships until ultimately their paths lead them back together again. The ending of this book affected me so much that I stayed up half the night, silently crying into my pillow, trying not to disturb Nathan and alternately wanting to wake him and tell him how much I love him. If this doesn't show that I have a problem, I don't know what does. David Nicholls was inspired by the writing of Thomas Hardy, which makes me want to devour everything Hardy ever wrote and also leads to the next book...

3. Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Tess is a poor working-class girl in late 19th century England who is blessed/cursed with great beauty. Which, of course, attracts the attention of a villain who sullies Tess' character beyond redemption. When she meets Angel Clare, a good guy who falls in love with her, she is afraid to reveal the secret that may prove the destruction of their love. I've always been a sucker for tragedies and this truly is one. I felt so bad for poor Tess' plight that she was in my mind for days after I finished the novel. The BBC made a beautiful miniseries of this a few years ago with Gemma Arterton, which was written (not-coincidentally) by David Nicholls. (I can't wait to read more Hardy... Far From the Madding Crowd and Jude the Obscure.)

4. Queen by Alex Haley. Better than Roots, in my humble opinion.

5. The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly. The ultimate good-girl/bad-boy romance. Sid Malone is a London gangster in the late 19th/early 20th century dealing in opium, prostitution, and smuggling. India Selwyn-Jones is a do-gooder, a female pioneer in the medical field, who plans to go into the slums of London and revolutionize the inhabitants with medical care and nutrition. Sid and India are inexplicably drawn to each other and bring out the best in each other. He teaches her to live and love and she makes him long for an honorable life. But can their love survive Sid's enemies, India's cruel fiance, distance, years, heartbreak, and a drowning in the Thames? A delicious, riveting, wonderful, book. One of the best and most emotionally engaging books I've ever read.

6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Falling in love with a married man is definitely an obstacle to your own relationship with him. Jane is a poor governess, alone in the world; Rochester is an older established man of means. Yet they love each other passionately and are only prevented from making their own vows by the eleventh-hour reveal of the woman in the attic: Rochester's crazy wife, Bertha. I have always loved Rochester for his humility, his intelligence and his sense of honor. So he lapsed a little bit when he was about to walk down the aisle with Jane when he was otherwise engaged, but I can forgive him that (as does Jane) based on his later actions. The fire after Jane leaves him would provide a less honorable man with the perfect means to get rid of his crazy wife, freeing him to pursue his true love. But instead, Rochester risks his own life to save Bertha at the cost of his own sight. Bertha dies anyway and Jane comes back to him. Happy-ever-after.
I have for the first time found what I can truly love--I have found you... a fervent, solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wraps my existence about you--and kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm in love with this post! So many books I haven't read...Though I will totally back up Jayne Eyre (one of my all time favorites! I think I've read it like 6 times...come down to florida so we can watch the movie together, k?)

The Winter Rose is, I suppose, Star Crossed Lovers. But more because Donnelly likes to separate her couple for so long rather than an actual social/political reason for the two being apart. Plus, I think you always knew they were going to end up together. Where as with Jane Eyre it was really a last minute game changer that brings them together.