Some memorable couples in literature aren’t gorgeous, charismatic, socially adept, etc. That can be a good thing, because those couples seem more realistic, often evoke warm feelings, and perhaps have a better chance of staying together because there’s more than surface attraction.
Of course, glamorous romantic duos — the opposite of what I described above — don’t always jointly lead charmed lives. Cases in point include pairings such as Scarlett and Rhett in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, Tertius and Rosamond in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, etc. Maybe we’re not as upset when things go south for those “beautiful people.”
A novel I read last week contains a great example of a relationship between two people who aren’t exactly movie-star-like. The title character in Gail Honeyman’s absorbing/sad/funny Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine was psychologically abused as a child by her horror of a mother, and has facial scars from a fire. She’s a smart woman who’s getting by as a nearly 30-year-old adult, but is lonely, depressed, and (mostly) awkward in social settings — which makes it a bit of a surprise when goodhearted coworker Raymond takes an interest in her. He’s more socially adept, but has also had some tough times in life and is a slob, a smoker, and not in great physical shape. Plus the two hold less-than-“prestigious” jobs: finance clerk (she), IT person (he). Anyway, it’s really nice to see the potential for something to work out between two people who’ve had significant struggles.
Honeyman’s novel reminded me a bit of Fredrik Backman’s compellingly quirky A Man Called Ove. One difference is that the odd Ove marries a much more outgoing, “together” person than himself — meaning this was a loving couple in which one member was kind of glam while the other wasn’t. But tragedy later strikes Sonja, which puts a big dent in her favored-by-fate life — and devastates Ove to the point where he becomes a morose recluse for quite a while.
One of the most famous fictional couples not blessed with great looks is Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester in Charlotte Bronte’s iconic novel. But of course the two have other things going for them: Jane is an intelligent, independent-minded “survivor” while Rochester is wealthy and quite charismatic in his rough-hewn way. They fall in love with each other’s minds/personalities. Unfortunately, makers of various Jane Eyre movies couldn’t help themselves — they partly ruined the story by casting actresses and actors much better-looking than Jane and Rochester are in the novel.
Another far-from-chic pair are Raskolnikov and Sofya in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov is an impoverished, angst-ridden man — and a murderer to boot — while the admirable Sofya is forced into prostitution (before meeting Raskolnikov) to support herself and her family. She’s religious, he’s in need of redemption, and…
Getting back to more recent literature, the appealing teen couple from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars are both dealing with major physical issues that make for a challenging life — and relationship. Hazel has thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs, while Augustus had a tumor that caused him to lose his right leg.
I realize I’ve just scratched the surface here. Your favorite fictional couples that fit this blog post’s theme?
My 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 2003-started, award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — about my school district’s switch to all-remote learning this fall, and local pushback against the Trump administration’s sabotage of the U.S. Postal Service — is here.