My favourite literary couple when I was a teenager was...surprise, surprise, Romeo and Juliet. That powerful, insane, head-rush crush lasted for about a year, until I discovered Heathcliff and Catherine, Scarlett and Rhett, Abelard and Heloise.
It seems like the key ingredient that makes for the most memorable literary couples - the ones with the touching, haunting stories that will leave you with tear-soaked pillows and a sigh in your heart - is a tale of impossible love. The fictional world is full of star-crossed lovers, and though some of them come to happy endings ("reader, I married him") - it's not often so.
Below are a list of my favourite literary couples, some likely, others less so. Spoilers ahead!
Ammu & Velutha - The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
She loved by night the man her children loved by day, and what a high price Ammu would come to pay for that love. Velutha is an "untouchable", which means that their love is not just impossible, but forbidden by centuries-old social strictures. It's a tragic tale but also one filled with beauty, especially when the lovers, knowing they have no future together, try to find comfort and meaning in the "small things" of the title.
Ennis del Mar & Jack Twist - Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx
"I wish I knew how to quit you" may be one of the truest lines in literature. It's the lament of the broken-hearted everywhere, as voiced by Jack, one of the gay lovers in this beautiful short story which was made famous by the movie starring the tragically short-lived Heath Ledger. You can't help but think, if only, if only, if only...the hallmark of a great love-that-could-have-been story.
Jimmy & Oryx - Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
I can't help but feel great pity for poor Snowman (Jimmy), trapped in a post-apocalyptic world after watching his one true love get snuffed in front of his eyes. Jimmy is essentially rather unlikeable, his one redeeming feature being his love for Oryx, who Atwood deliberately keeps as a poorly-sketched character, implying that Snowman projected a lot of imaginary qualities onto her. It's still sweet though, in that puppy dog, first love, pitying kind of way.
Buttercup & Wesley - The Princess Bride, William Goldman
This is again, another story that's more popular in movie form (idea for the next blog post?), but I love Buttercup and Wesley as a couple mostly because they are equals in all the ways that count. It's one of those rare love stories with a happy ending, but the adventures that take them there makes the book worth reading. "As you wish!"
Chiyo & The Chairman - Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
The bittersweet ending of this tale of forbidden love, set in pre and post-WWII Japan, doesn't take away from the fact that Chiyo and The Chairman were meant to be. Most of the book is filled with longing looks and incidents that conspire to keep them apart, plus there's a whole "will they, won't they" dynamic that will leave readers on tenterhooks.
Anne & Gilbert - Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
All young flame-haired temptresses should be required to read this series of children's books, which actually has quite a dark ending. But Anne and Gilbert are one of my favourite literary couples because they show the power of the slow burn when it comes to romance. What is it they always say? Love is friendship set on fire, how very true!