Yeah, Maybe Darcy isn't your dream guy...
Oh love, that heady feeling we all pursue in life even if it's so hard to find and keep. I confess, on the surface i'm a hardcore cynic but deep inside i'm a hopeless romantic. When I see someone ranting at "how there's only cheesy films on Netflix," I can't help but imagine them at home binge watching those movies or reading a romantic novel, as they hope to find love like their favorite characters do. So if you hear me ranting about how lame love is, metaphorically punch my pompous face. I believe this ranting and eye rolling is born from terrible heartbreaks, when you try to convince yourself that love is stupid, even if deep down all you want to do is be next to the person you love the most. The best medicine for those moments of nostalgia are heartwarming stories that make us dream of better things.
Some of the classics offer the best love stories out there and even if they're full of clichés we don't care because they're little jewels strewn across our history. There are many shades to love and many of the characters that live in these iconic stories are less than perfect, some are downright toxic. The relationships we sigh over or constantly watch on the screen may look pristine on the outside but once we take a closer look, the cracks begin to show. There's nothing wrong with flaws, heck, that's what makes us interesting in the first place.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
Classics become such, not because they're old, but for the outstanding way they convey universal emotions and experiences. Wuthering Heights tells the story of Heathcliff and Catherine, two children who fall madly in love with each but whose relationship is torn apart by fate. Led by a desire to rise in society, Catherine decides to marry a wealthy man, while Heathcliff is badly abused by her brother. What makes this story special is how a passionate and pure feeling like love can transform into fiery and fervent hatred. Failed loves reveal our weakest and darkest sides and this happens to many relationships. Toxic loves are a sure path to self-destruction.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
In this novel we meet Jane, an orphaned girl with a tragic past. Raised by her cruel aunt, she is shipped to a boarding school, which is run by a cruel man who lines his pockets with money while forcing his students to live in poverty. For many years she has a difficult life, but things change when she begins working for the brooding Mr. Rochester at Thornfield Manor. The more dewy eyed reader would say that this novel teaches us how love can thrive in the bleakest situations and that no matter your past, there's always hope for a better future. I am, however, far more cynical. Every person has skeletons in their closet and perhaps your potential partner will keep a few secrets from you, but just make sure they don't have actual bones tucked away. There's a limit to how many secrets you can keep and if you want to have a healthy relationship, communication and honesty are the go-to source.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
This is perhaps the most famous love story of all, surpassing even Romeo and Juliet in my opinion. Elizabeth and Darcy are honest about their limitations and flaws, so today we'll focus on the less self-aware characters in the novel. Mr. Bingley on the surface is the friendly and cute next door neighbor, but behind the smiles lies deep rooted family issues. He is easily influenced by his family and circle of friends, so much so that he puts his happiness on hold to satisfy the opinions of others. Lydia and Wickham take the prize for the most toxic relationship in Austen Land. Their relationship is built on false pretenses, Wickham is led by dark motives like envy, lust, and greed for fortune, while Lydia is gullible and thinks that marrying a man for his uniform is the best course of action. The greatest lesson to be learnt is to cling to the people who accept you warts and all, and remove expectations from the equation, they always lead to disaster. Speaking of failed expectations, this takes me to the next classic....
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860)
Great Expectations follows the life of Pip and his unrequited love for Estella. Dickens here mastered the novel of benching and ghosting, Pip is constantly sitting on the bench, waiting for Estella to give him a chance and when he thinks he finally has a chance Estella disappears. If you read Great Expectations under a modern lens you realize Pip is sort of a stalker who is constantly circling around her. This obsessiveness is toxic, especially when you know you should let go of that someone who is stringing you along and clearly isn't interested.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
Kasuo tells the story of Steven, an English butler who devotes his life to his job and is obsessed with becoming the best, just as his father was before him. After decades working for the same man, one day the manor is bought by an American who decides to keep him on. However, times have changed, and his new employer has very different views on how life and society should work, which creates a lot of confusion for Steven. While working at the house, he develops a relationship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton, and even when there's a clear chemistry between the two, at the end his job gets in the way. It’s ok to have clear, professional goals but when they get in the way of your relationships then you're bound to end up lonely if you're not careful.
Love comes in all shapes, and literature has managed to capture all its hues. These classics when seen under a modern lens behind to acquire darker tones, characters we once saw as pure and good are suddenly flawed and more human than ever. These great stories glorify the beauty and toxicity of love. A sweet and delicious poison we all wish to drink to oblivion, wouldn't you agree?
Here are other books you might like if you want to know the many faces of love: