Later-in-Life Love in Literature

Many of literature’s memorable romances — whether happy or ill-fated — are between young or relatively young characters. Think Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Doctor Zhivago, Gone With the Wind, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, A Walk to Remember, and various other novels.

Then there are fiction’s not-as-frequent romances that begin when the couples are older, which will be the subject of today’s blog post. Those single, divorced, or widowed characters may not be as hormonally driven or as beautiful or handsome as younger lovers in literature, but their stories can be quite compelling. They’re often more mature and interesting than their youthful counterparts, and we may find ourselves seriously rooting for them as they try to surmount world-weariness and longer romantic odds for a chance at love.

In Jennifer Ryan’s excellent The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, which I finished last week, one plot thread focuses on two middle-aged people in World War II England. One is Margaret Tilling, a respected widow (she takes over as the town’s choir leader, nurses wounded soldiers, and more) whose son is away fighting. The other is Colonel Mallard, a widowed officer assigned to stay in the Tilling son’s room. Will Margaret and Mallard fall in love?

Then there’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera — in which Florentino and Fermina meet when young but, after their relationship is thwarted, Fermina ends up marrying another man. Florentino, though hardly chaste, waits for Fermina until her husband dies more than fifty years later and then tries to rekindle the romance. (The older versions of Florentino and Fermina are pictured in the photo with this blog post.)

Or how about the supporting characters Lavendar Lewis and Mr. Irving in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Avonlea (the first sequel to Anne of Green Gables)? Lewis and Irving also met while younger and reunite decades (though not a half-century) later.

Speaking of Lewises, there’s Sinclair Lewis’ novel Dodsworth. When middle-aged American auto magnate Sam Dodsworth retires, he and his wife Fran take an extended trip to Europe — during which their marriage basically dissolves and each meets other people.

In So Much for That, the (Ms.) Lionel Shriver novel that combines a hard-hitting takedown of America’s profit-driven medical system with a cast of all-too-human characters, a pair of families deal with huge health crises that result in several deaths. Shep is the middle-aged husband in one couple, Carol is the middle-aged wife in the other household, and…

David Balducci’s One Summer features a terminally ill father of three. But after the ailing Jack’s healthy wife Lizzie dies in a car accident, he miraculously survives and later meets someone.

What are some of the romances you most remember between fictional characters who fall in love when older?

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which discusses rain, redevelopment, and Republicans — is here.

46 thoughts on “Later-in-Life Love in Literature

  1. DA-VEED!
    Bienvenue de retour de la terre des baguettes, béret, fromage puant et vin. I finally got the new posts notifications on email to work. I just haven’t opened email in a long time. I need to catch up on your posts.

    I know what this post is all about buddy. You thought ,’how can I stymie Jack.’ ( pronounced Jaques in French 😀 ) and it would have work execpt I know one such book.

    While Nicholas Sparks’ lovers in the romantic novel The Notebook were separated for 14 years their rekindled love is hardly a “Later-in-Life ” love. So why do I offer it as my entry?

    I argue that as their lives near the end Noah narrates to Allie, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, the tumultuous events that almost kept them from having a rich and wonderful life together as a way to cope. Now, I’m not being facetious with a serious illnes such as Alzheimer’s disease but I think that for anyone having lost the essence of a loved on having such devotion is finding, or at least redefining, love again.

    Now how’s that for a strech 😀

    As always, please give my typos/grammaticals a loving home as they are made with love from me to all.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jack, I loved your “later-in-LAUGH” comment. 🙂 It was poignant, too.

      I haven’t read “The Notebook” (my Nicholas Sparks reading has only included “A Walk to Remember” and “Message in a Bottle”), but it sounds like “TN” fits this column’s theme in an indirect and interesting way.

      Thank you!

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  2. Love seeing the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir reference. Hope that means you enjoyed it! That was actually one of my favorite parts about it was the variety of story lines of men and women of all ages and backgrounds. It didn’t just focus on the younger ones!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, M.B.! I enjoyed the novel very much — and, as you mentioned, the variety of story lines and the partial focus on older characters were among the book’s many strengths. Small villages can contain big stories! Thanks again for recommending the novel!

      Liked by 1 person

      • So glad you liked it Dave! If you’re looking for more reading, I just finished another great HF novel called “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain that details the marriage of Hemingway and his first wife. It is a very well done book.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you for the recommendation, M.B.! I’m not a big fan of Hemingway’s fiction, but don’t dislike his work either — and he certainly lived a fascinating life. Let me think about this one. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • He did live a crazy life that guy, and it’s certainly highlighted in that novel. It mostly covers his days before he was famous although he was just as crazy haha. Totally understand if it’s not up your alley though. Lord knows there’s just too many books and not enough time in the day 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • Hemingway’s life WAS something — even, as you drolly noted, before he became famous! The World War I experiences, his early relationships, his desire not to live a conventional life, etc.

              Novels based on an author’s life (or part of an author’s life) can be REALLY interesting. One that I enjoyed relatively recently was Colm Toibin’s “The Master,” about Henry James.

              Yes, M.B., not enough time to get to even a small percentage of one’s to-read list… 😦

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave, I’m not sure about this relationship as I can’t find my copy of “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver, and the sun is shining so brightly that there’s a glare on my laptop screen. However, I do think there was a wonderful relationship (eventually) between the elderly Garnett and Nannie, who after bickering over pesticides he used for his precious chestnut trees, they developed a mutual affection for one another. I’m not sure if was romantic love, but the former is quite OK for me! Can you help me out here? Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “The Bridges Of Madison County ” by Robert James Waller takes place in 4 days,reminiscing on an affair by a middle aged photographer and a married woman whose husband and children are away at a state fair. I had seen the highly rated,sentimental film,well acted by Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. The book is also well received. I’ve put on my list to take out of library for light summer romantic reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Michele! An excellent addition to this topic! I’ve read the book and seen the movie, and both were pretty absorbing in their way. And if the incredibly talented Meryl Streep has ever done even a mediocre acting job in a movie, I haven’t seen it…

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  5. Dave, I could be remembering this wrong, but I feel that Jane Eyre wasn’t super young when she fell in love with Mr Rochester. Of course, it took a while for that relationship to fully form, but I always felt that they were quite settled in themselves when Jane finally married him. Sort of like Thomas Hardy’s Bathsheba in “Far From the Madding Crowd”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sue! If I’m remembering right, Jane was in her late teens and Rochester in his late 30s (?) when they first met. Maybe 2-3 years after that for the marriage? Not sure. A relationship more in the category of a fairly large age gap between one member of the couple and the other — a topic I think I once wrote a blog post about. Will look… 🙂

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  6. Dave, this doesn’t exactly fit your post, but after reading the column you linked to in last week’s blog abut Louise Penny, she is much on my mind right now. Part of the appeal of her novels is that the main character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, and his lovely wife, Reine-Marie, are still very much in love as a mature couple with two grown children. When my sister first recommended the mystery series to me, she jokingly said that the character of Gamache was the only man she’d consider leaving her husband for. 🙂
    I’m looking forward to reading her latest book, so I’m caught up for her new release in November. I’m still having trouble settling down to reading fiction, but once I’ve moved in completely, that should help a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kat Lib! Sounds like a great idea for another, related blog post — fictional couples with long, happy marriages. Among many other examples, in addition to Armand Gamache and Reine-Marie, would be Anne and Gilbert of the later “Anne of Green Gables” sequels.

      Something to look forward to — reading more fiction when you’re settled in after your frenzy of moving!

      Like

      • Frenzy is exactly right, Dave. I can’t believe I have so much stuff, especially books, DVDs and CDs. I’m going to get my hammer in hand and at least hang most of my paintings/ prints today. I’ve done some for now, but I’ve got so many, I’m not sure if I have enough room on my walls! Much of it is my mom’s — both paintings she did herself or that she collected through the years, as well as my new collection of Andrew Wyeth prints. Sorry to keep talking about my move, but it’s been all-consuming for me over the past few weeks (months?).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Moving is indeed all-consuming. Moving out, moving in…

          Good luck with the the painting and print hangings today! And very nice that your mother did some painting herself.

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  7. The Mitford series by Jan Karon involves the budding romance of an aging Episcopal priest, Father Tim, and his neighbor, Cynthia Cavanagh, an attractive, mature, children’s book author. They eventually marry and their love story continues throughout the books. It is a wonderfully fun and uplifting series filled with interesting characters.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I once wrote a piece about “moral fiction” in which I used one book you mentioned here, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” as an excellent example of that genre. Briefly, I think of moral fiction as storytelling that in some way promotes a moral view of the cosmos. I’ll have to try to dig up that piece for you, Dave.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Bill! I’d like to read that “moral fiction” piece, if you can find it.

      The “Love in the Time of Cholera” novel’s Florentino is an interesting character — moral in the sense that he remains loyal for decades to Fermina as the only woman he truly loves, yet hardly moral in some of his non-Fermina romantic relationships and other actions.

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      • Thanks! Autocorrect (or “Autocreateanerror”) can be VERY annoying.

        A shame when a sequel, or any book, is unfinished when an author dies. And someone else doing the finishing often doesn’t work that well. Novels are just too individualistic a writing form.

        Like

        • I read “Cold Sassy Tree” years ago, but I did love it. The name of one of the main characters jumped out at me, because Blakeslee, PA, is just down from the road from me here in the Poconos. The only things I know that are there are a Wawa (gas & food) and a Wine & Spirits store. I’m sure there must be more, but I’ve not had the time to go exploring quite yet.

          Liked by 1 person

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