Love-Hate Relationships in Lit

Almost everyone knows about and has experienced “love-hate” relationships. Not surprisingly, literature is also full of them — or at least full of “like-dislike” relationships.

After all, how much more dramatic can things get, romance-wise, than when a couple is not getting along and then gets along, or gets along and then doesn’t get along, or toggles frequently between those two extremes. How will it all end up? We. Must. Finish (the novel to find out).

One example is a book I read just last week: One for the Money, the first in a long-running crime series starring Stephanie Plum. Janet Ivanovich’s fun/exciting novel not only includes lots of law-breaking but a complicated relationship between novice bounty hunter Plum and cop (as well as murder suspect) Joe Morelli, who treats Plum nicely at times and rottenly at other times — with Stephanie both attracted to and repulsed by his bad-boy charisma.

(The photo atop this blog post shows Katherine Heigl as Plum and Jason O’Mara as Morelli in the 2012 movie version of One for the Money.)

In classic literature, there’s obviously Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, who don’t click at first in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But the two overcome their “pride” and “prejudice”…

Another complicated couple is Jane and Rochester in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. There’s an instant attraction between the two, but, even at first, Jane finds Rochester a bit off-putting. And things definitely get complicated when Rochester’s huge secret is revealed. Jane never hates Rochester, but has quite a bit of mixed feelings for a while.

Then there’s Philip Carey and Mildred in W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, in which the love-hate distribution is unequal. Philip is enamored with the unlikable Mildred, who shows no affection for her groveling suitor and uses him again and again. He finally grows disgusted with the relationship, and…

In Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie Crawford’s third husband is the charismatic Vergible “Tea Cake” Woods. He first treats Janie with kindness and respect, later becomes abusive, and still later saves Janie’s life.

How about Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and its sequels? Gilbert has a crush on Anne from the start, but makes the mistake of joking about her red hair. Anne, though smitten with Gilbert deep-down, rebuffs him for years after the insult.

Getting back to more recent literature, protagonist Molly Bolt has a sexual relationship in high school with Carolyn Simpson, yet Carolyn rejects the lesbian label in Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle. So there’s plenty of love-hate stuff going on there.

In Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret, Cecilia Fitzpatrick and her spouse John-Paul get along fine. Then, it becomes all love-hate after Cecilia discovers the awful secret of what John-Paul did as a youth.

And there’s Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Those two certainly have their verbal tussles — with Ron sometimes saying dumb things and the brainy Hermione sometimes acting all superior — yet there’s plenty of affection.

What are some of your favorite examples of love-hate relationships in literature?

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 — about a new liquor license, a crummy standardized test, and more — is here.

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.