Hearts and Sours | Newberry

Hearts and Sours

We are headed for Valentine’s Day, traditionally the most romantic holiday on our calendar. As with most other holidays, plenty of people are waiting around to peek behind the curtain, mentioning that hearts of chocolate will make you fat, diamond rings turn your fingers green, and roses have thorns. So there are several lists out there on the Interwebs of Anti-Valentine books, tales of dysfunctional romance for the ages.

I don’t like to criticize (though I’m going to) but I have some experience in the anti-romantic school of literature. I was once asked if I would care to participate in a new series of fantasy novels for pre-teen girls. In an era when it was felt only boys read science fiction and fantasy, the publisher wanted to expand its line by doing books with wizards, dragons, elves, and a couple of good-looking boys the heroine of the story would have to choose between. (They were trying to expand the traditional reading choices of girls, but you couldn’t lure them in without romance, could you? Two points for trying, two points off for hedging their bets.) We were warned to keep passion to a Middle School level, the most the heroine would be allowed was “feeling a tingle while kissing”.

My heroine, therefore, kissed one of the boys in the story and felt a tingle. Turns out he was an agent of the evil wizard, and was trying to put her away with poisoned lipstick. They returned my book, and I was not invited again. (The series lasted only about a year, anyhow. If they’d added sparkling vampires who did more than tingle, who knows?)

Anyway, I took that insight into looking over these lists of bad romance in great fiction. I question the inclusion of Ahab and Moby Dick on one list, and I’m not sure I would have included Romeo and Juliet (yes, it came out badly, but how far was this THEIR fault?) But by and large, they were decent lists. Everyone, for example, Catherine and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, a couple so thoroughly dysfunctional that when I read this book for the first time, I had to leave the lights on for the rest of the night.

But the lists I saw left out a few obvious couples, and I would like to point these out to you, in case you were looking for something to read on February fourteenth while waiting for the chocolates to go to half price.

If they’re going to include Romeo and Juliet, what about the ultimate prototypes, Jack and Jill? There’s a doomed relationship, for you. Even ignoring all the speculation about what they were REALLY going up the hill for, this dalliance wound up in catastrophe. (Yes, I know Jack got his head bandaged up, but vinegar and brown paper is NOT endorsed by the American medical Association.)

Jumping to another end of the literary spectrum, where are Sam Spade and Brigid O’Shaugnessy? One of them claims to be pretending to be dishonest and the other is honestly dishonest, so it might seem a match made in Heaven. I don’t believe the scene where Sam insists Brigid submit to a strip search has been included in the movies, but wherever this match was made, Heaven wasn’t it.

Why do the listers insist on picking out Romeo and Juliet, when there are Othello and Desdemona, to say nothing of all those accidental mismatches in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? For my money, though, the worst coordinated couple in Shakespeare is Hamlet and Ophelia. One of them pretends to be crazy and drives the other one crazy: how sweet. They should have been in therapy, or perhaps separate castles.

Space is running out or I might cite The Fisherman and His Wife, Philip Marlowe and virtually every woman he meets, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and his ballerina, Adam and Eve (especially in that version where Adam eats the apple because he doesn’t want Eve thrown out of the Garden alone), Uncle Blogsy and his donors who know enough NOT to donate books this coming weekend….

Don’t know how that one slipped in there. Happy holiday reading in any case. Enjoy the chocolate, whether it’s given Friday or you go out and buy it yourself Saturday.

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