Many people like to connect with their past. Finding old friends via Facebook, attending high school and college reunions, perhaps even falling in love again with first loves. Or, on the non-nostalgic side, wanting to tell off old foes or feel satisfaction that you’re now doing better than them.
So it’s no surprise that fiction can be compelling when characters re-meet after many years.
Charlotte Bronte depicts such a scenario in Jane Eyre when Jane sees the aunt (Mrs. Reed) who treated her so badly years before. At the time of this visit, Jane is doing a lot better and can deal with her former nemesis almost dispassionately. Later in the novel, of course, there’s also that legendary reunion of Jane and Rochester.
In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the thwarted relationship between Anne Elliott and Frederick Wentworth has a chance to be rekindled seven years later, and it warms the heart.
Five decades after a youthful relationship, Florentino has an opportunity to reunite with Fermina after her husband dies in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.
The adult protagonist of William Goldman’s Magic meets the woman he had a crush on when he was a loner boy and she a popular girl in school. Now he’s sort of famous and she’s flailing in life, and they reconnect in a seemingly successful way. But what ensues doesn’t exactly warm the heart.
Childhood relationships resumed in adulthood permeate Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. As a boy, the protagonist Theo sees a girl (Pippa) in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art just before the museum is bombed, and eventually meets and re-meets her — all while maintaining an unrequited love. Also, the adult Theo ends up in a mismatched engagement with the younger sister (Kitsey) of his boyhood friend Andy. And the adult Theo reconnects with an even closer boyhood friend — the brilliant/volatile Boris.
People in the military can develop such strong bonds during the trauma of war that they still have deep ties when seeing each other again. That’s illustrated in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night when Lord Peter Wimsey meets Padgett, the head porter at a women’s college who had served under Wimsey during World War I. Immediately, the two are talking as if just two minutes rather than two decades had passed.
The Count of Monte Cristo villains who framed the innocent Edmond Dantes into a long prison term don’t want to meet him many years later. But the avenging Dantes — aka The Count in Alexandre Dumas’ novel — is quite eager to “renew acquaintances.”
Also not happy is the reunion of the adult Bela with the mother (Gauri) who abandoned her as a girl years earlier in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland. Forgiveness is not always forthcoming, or possible.
Sometimes, it takes more than one book to effect a reunion — as is the case when the time-traveling Sam Fowler is separated from the 19th-century woman he loves (Cait) when he involuntarily returns to the 20th-century in Darryl Brock’s If I Never Get Back. The sequel Two in the Field focuses on Sam’s efforts to return to the past to find Cait.
But Dana Franklin, the African-American protagonist of Octavia Butler’s Kindred, does not enjoy being yanked back in time to keep reuniting with her white, racist, slave-holding ancestor Rufus.
Another sci-fi-ish novel, Andy Weir’s The Martian, focuses on Mark Watney’s efforts to return to his crew after he’s stranded alone on Mars. It’s an emotionally powerful plot driver, as many want-to-reunite scenarios are.
Of course, there are potential meet-agains that don’t necessarily come off. In Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, for instance, the circumstances seem ripe for the reunion of two characters who had once seemed to love each other. Widowhood has happened and they’re both in Paris, but…
Reunions don’t just apply to people. I defy anyone not to shed some tears when the cat and two dogs reunite with their humans after the animals’ lengthy/perilous wilderness trek homeward in Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey. Or when dog and person meet again after years of war in L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside.
One final thought: A subtext of many fictional or real-life reunions is the poignant passage of time — something conveyed in this beautiful song.
What are some of your favorite literary works with reunion scenarios?
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I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at email@example.com to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.