Top Ten Tuesday: Star Crossed Lovers

For that Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 8: Love Freebie (come up with your own topic having to do with love)

Teenage Fran was obsessed with forbidden love. Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Abelard and Heloise, Lancelot and Guinevere… These were my people! Here are some retellings of their stories that I’ve read over the years. Some are more recent, but some are things I read a long time ago, so I don’t know how they’d hold up:

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong– This was a recent read. It was billed as a Romeo and Juliet retelling, but I’d call it more “Romeo and Juliet inspired” with a number of references throughout. It’s set amidst organized crime wars, and the presence of a monster in 1920’s Shanghai. Actually in looking back on it, thing that jumps to mind is just how apt the title is: it’s a violent book.

O Juliet by Robin Maxwell – Juliet is an 18 year old Florentine. She’s the daughter of Capello Capelletti, a businessman who has promised her in marriage to his (horrible) partner, Jacopo Strozzi. At an engagement party for her BFF  Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Juliet meets Romeo Monticecco, who came to the party hoping to smooth over the long standing feud between their two families. What I remember most about this is that Juliet is an aspiring poet, and we read some of her work. The problem is that this Juliet is writing about the same things that Shakespeare wrote in the original, and as a poet, Shakespeare is a tough act to follow!

Juliet by Anne Fortier – Julie Jacobs inherits a key to a safe deposit box in Siena, Italy. She’s thrust into a dangerous treasure hunt that involves her ancestor Giulietta. Giulietta’s love for a young man named Romeo inspired Shakespeare’s work. As she looks into the real life enmity the families of Romeo and Giulietta, she realizes that there is still “a plague on both your houses…”

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – Hey, if Pride and Prejudice can add zombies, so can Romeo and Juliet! R is a zombie. He and his friend M spend most of their time shuffling around and eating brains. But when R eats a brain, he gets a bit of that person’s memory. So when he eats the brain of zombie-killer Perry, he sees Perry’s memories of his beloved Julie. For some inexplicable reason, R doesn’t want to eat Julie. He cares for her… Here instead of feuding families we have zombies vs. humans. The Romeo and Juliet parallels sort of come and go here, but it’s not meant to be a “serious” retelling by any means. There’s a whole series, but I only read the first one. Not great, but fun.

Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie – I don’t know how well this book would hold up to a reread, but there was a time when younger me could hardly put it down. It’s Guinevere’s story (with plenty of love triangle drama with Arthur and Lancelot, which is what technically earned it a place on this list) but one thing that stands out in memory is the multi-faceted portrayal of Mordred, who is often vilified.

Prince of Dreams: A Tale of Tristan and Essylte by Nancy McKenzie – This is set about a generation after the events of Queen of Camelot. There’s actually a book, called Grail Prince, that bridges this one and that. But regardless, the alliances of Arthur’s time are fracturing. Tristan supports his uncle, Markion’s claim to throne of the High King. But when Markion sends Tristan as an agent to fetch his new bride, Essylte, they fall madly and passionately in love, risking everything they have, everything and everyone around them.

Castle D’Or – This retelling of the Tristan and Islode story is set in modern (well modern circa early 20th century…) times by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch (Q). It was finished many years later, by his daughter, Daphne DuMaurier. It’s set in Cornwall, and involves an innkeeper’s wife and a Breton onion seller. I read this one a long time ago, and don’t remember much of it.

The White Raven by Diana L. Paxon – This tells the love story of  Drustan and Esseilte (Tristan and Isolde) from the point of view of  Drustan and Esseilte’s handmaiden, Brangien (otherwise known in legend and Branwen). Brangien is Esseilte/Isolde’s cousin who takes her place on Isolde’s wedding night to King Marc’h. Of course Brangien falls in love with Marc’h, thus adding another limb to the love triangle.

Stealing Heaven: The Love Story of Heloise and Abelard by Marion MeadeHeloise and Peter Abelard were real life lovers, who get their story dramatized in this historical novel. But if you want more of their story, you can read their real love letters.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Secondary/Minor Characters Who Deserve More Love

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

August 10: Secondary/Minor Characters Who Deserve More Love -Warning, some of these have spoilers

1. Beth in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Beth’s description is pretty much summed as “the sweet one who dies.” That’s what she’s remembered for. But I recently read March Sisters: On Love, Death and Little Women, in which four contemporary writers look back on the March sister that resonated with them most. Carmen Maria Machado writes about Beth, and how her illness and death take over anything else she may have been, both for her sisters and for readers. Beth was based on Alcott’s own sister, Lizzie, who also died young (though not quite as young as Beth). While Alcott seemed to remember Lizzie in much the way the March sisters do Beth, there’s historical evidence to suggested that Lizzie Alcott was more than simply someone who died tragically young. That makes me suspect that Beth may also have more going on than she’s given credit for.

2. Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare – Mercutio steals almost every scene that he’s in, in most productions and adaptations of this play. There’s plenty of LGBT speculation about his relationship with Romeo prior to the action of the play, but even leaving that aside, he’s so vivid and vibrant, witty and cynical, which makes his death even more tragic. He’s not a Montague or a Capulet. He’s simply caught up in their feud because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. But his death is sort of a hinge for the play. Prior to that, there was hope for a less than tragic outcome. But when he’s killed, and Romeo kills Tybalt in revenge, the seeds for the dénouement are sown.

3. Becky Thatcher in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark TwainHuckleberry Finn got his own book. But Becky was in that cave with Tom and she’s just forgotten and dismissed as the “girlfriend character.” Surely she deserves better!

4. Jane Fairfax in Emma by Jane Austen – Emma is bright, accomplished, pretty, and rich, but she feels a sense of rivalry around Jane. She senses that Jane is an equal and in some ways a superior, and therefore she considers her a threat. That’s what makes the reader initially take notice. Of course when it comes out that Jane been secretly engaged to Frank Churchill (who’s been openly flirting with Emma…) we get the sense that there’s been more going on beneath the surface of Jane. We never really learn what it is though. Joan Aiken wrote some fan fiction speculation in Jane Fairfax but that’s as close as we’ll ever get.

5. Walter Blythe in the later books of the Anne of Green Gables books by LM Montgomery– Like Anne he’s got some literary asperations, and is admired for his ability to “talk book talk” (I love that phrase!) He’s bullied in childhood, but bright and imaginative. Oh, and doomed. He was definitely my favorite of Anne’s children.

6. Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– Come on! These guys do just as much work as the main three, they get awfully close to the main action, but they’re constantly relegated to the sidelines.

7. Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen– Kitty and Lydia are the silly ones. Jane and Lizzie are the smart ones. But what is Mary? There’s been plenty of fan fiction (just a few examples here) speculating that there’s something more to her than just the middle child. I really tried to limit myself to only one Austen character (I also think Charlotte Lucas and Mrs. Bennet deserve more love) but I found I had to do two.

8. Great Uncle Matthew from Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild– He’s Sylvia’s uncle and he takes care of her following the death of her parents, but we don’t know much more than that really… He’s geologist who seems to go around the world collecting parentless babies? Surely there’s got to be more to the story than that!

9. Molly Grue from The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle – Molly dreamed all her life of seeing a unicorn. When she finally does, she’s no longer young and beautiful. She tells the unicorn off for taking so long, saying “‘Where have you been…Damn you, where have you been?… Where where you twenty years ago, ten years ago? How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?‘ With a flap of her hand she summed herself up: barren face, desert eyes, and yellowing heart. ‘I wish you had never come. Why did you come now?’ The tears began to slide down the sides of her nose.” I think that sense of missed opportunity is heartbreaking. I think that the fact that Molly reacts to it with anger first is such a human thing to do, that it makes it even more heartbreaking. She deserves more love.

Unpopular Literary Opinions

  • 41rryji1bvl-_ac_us218_A lot of contemporary interpretations of Romeo and Juliet misunderstand the play completely.
    • If they don’t believe in love at first sight, they dismiss they entire play. OK, Macbeth opens with witches. Hamlet meets a ghost. Do you say “witches/ghosts don’t exist, so clearly this play offers nothing of value”?  Why should love, at first sight, be any different?
    • They say Romeo is fickle because he thought he was in love with another girl prior to meeting Juliet. But if you look at the poetry, Romeo’s language, once he meets Juliet, becomes more sophisticated. This indicates that it’s the real thing. So why include that other girl at all? Well, it’s Shakespeare telling us that this isn’t a childish infatuation because Romeo’s had that and it looked different.
    • They claim that Romeo and Juliet were two immature teens who didn’t really understand love or life. IRL, of course, a couple in their early teens wouldn’t understand true love. But for the sake of the play, we need to accept that this is a “perfect” love. It’s meant to be. Then we see the tragedy of what happens to a perfect love in a world filled with hate.
  • 511jzqi9ekl-_ac_us218_In Little Women Jo made the right romantic choices. She and Laurie would have been a disaster as a couple. They’re way too similar in terms of personality and they’d have clashed all the time. Jo also had a deep love for her family and defined herself in terms of her sisters. Laurie also loved her family, and saw Jo as sort of the “Lead March Sister.” In other words, the way he saw her was exactly the way she saw herself. He didn’t challenge her perceptions at all. Bhaer knew and cared for Jo independent of her family.
  • 51tt9v9vjl-_ac_us218_Wuthering Heights is not a romance. A love story, perhaps, but not a romance. And really it’s just as much a “hate story” as it is a “love story.” Even with the two characters who get a happy romantic ending, we’re ultimately left wondering if it was worth it. Lowood observes Cathy and Hareton together and grumbles “‘They are afraid of nothing…Together, they would brave Satan and all his legions.'” Then he walks back and in the churchyard sees “the three headstones on the slope next the moor: the middle one grey, and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff’s still bare.” The implication is that the price of Cathy and Hareton’s happiness is those three graves.
  • I think of John Green as a YA version of Nicholas Sparks. Which is fine if you like that, but I don’t really. I like his vlogs and persona but I feel like as a writer he doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before.
  • 51xipv5h1l-_ac_us218_I actually think that Go Set A Watchman enriched To Kill A Mockingbird and the characters. I much prefer to see Atticus Finch as a flawed human being rather than a perfect white savior. It makes sense that as a child, Scout perceives her father as a hero. And it makes sense that as an adult she’s able to see him as he is: a person with strengths and weaknesses and prejudices. It also makes sense for Atticus’ racism to come out in the way that it does. When an innocent man is accused of a crime that he didn’t commit, Atticus defends him, because a) it’s his job and b) people shouldn’t be held responsible for things that they didn’t do. But twenty years later, when civil rights are becoming a major issue, it seems believable that Atticus, who grew up in a segregated world where the power was squarely in the laps of white males, might begin to feel threatened. He fears to lose the privilege that’s been his all his life.
  • I like the Ron/Hermione pairing in Harry Potter. They’ve got the whole opposites attract thing going for them. They balance each other out. But I always felt like the Ginny/Harry pairing was just so that Harry wasn’t left romantically alone at the end of the series.51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_
  • 41rrzplmctl-_ac_us218_Rupi Kaur has yet to really impress me as a poet. I know a lot of people find her really relatable and I don’t want to diminish that. I think it’s wonderful when people have that response to something, even if I don’t share it. Especially since I can see why they relate to it. A lot of the themes that Kaur addresses in her work are universal. But I feel that, with a few exceptions, she doesn’t address them in an innovative or artful, or skillful way. My problem was that there is enough potential in the work for me to wish it was better.
  • I don’t particularly care for Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books. I know that a literary detective in a futuristic world who goes inside books sounds like it should be right up my alley. I tried the first three books in the series but they just left me cold.
  • Stephen King is underrated from a literary point of view. He’s seen as a purely commercial writer. Yes, he’s written his share of trash, but when he gets it right, he really touches on our societies secrets, fears, and shame.

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Boyfriends

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 3: Top Ten Book Boyfriends/Girlfriends (Which characters do you have crushes on?)

Ah book boyfriends. They make up the vast majority of boyfriends for me. They’ve broken my heart and put it back together again. There are some notable omissions on here. I didn’t include Heathcliff because his sociopathic tendencies are sort of a turn off for me. I also didn’t include Mr. Rochester because, while I do ship him with Jane the whole “I forgot to tell you I’m already married” thing at the wedding would have been a deal breaker for me (though I’m glad it wasn’t for Jane). There are also a few that appealed to me once but don’t so much any more. And of course a few are sort of embarrassing.

51z5jz2frjl-_ac_us218_1. Peter Pan from Peter Pan by JM Barrie- Yes I was a little kid when this crush ruled. I loved Peter Pan in all his incarnations. Like him, I never saw the appeal of adulthood. He had this whole world for himself, with a tribe of friends around all the time. He had enough danger to keep things exciting, a devoted fairy friend and the ability to fly. What’s not to love as a kid? But even when I was very young I sensed some sadness from him. While the idea of eternal childhood, free of adult supervision appealed to me, I was also somewhat aware that it wasn’t quite right. There comes a time when all kids- even those who can fly, need structure, family and stability. Peter didn’t have that. Even the eternal childhood that I envied had something “off” about it. Because childhood is only one part of life. To stay in it, is to deny the rest of what life has to offer. Children are very future oriented and Peter Pan lived in a perpetual present. Of course this gave him a bit of a tragic element, which only made me love him more.

There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a little boy who was staring in at the window. He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.

511prxozevl-_ac_us218_2. Jeremy Dragon from Here’s to You Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume- Jeremy’s actual last name is Kravtiz but a jacket makes him known as Jeremy Dragon to the title character and her friends. And “Dragon” sort of suits him better. A dragon is a mysterious, dangerous, fantasy. As is the cutest guy in middle school, for Rachel Robinson, a gifted and talented “good girl”. As a result she doesn’t really consider him as a real life option. She does have a crush on an older man however. But when that reveals itself to be a dead end, it turns out that Jeremy is interested in Rachel. I don’t know why this character, and this element of the story resonated with me so much. It was probably a bit of a wish fulfillment fantasy. I saw bits of myself in the goody goody Rachel. So her shock that Jeremy might see her as something other than awkward was similar to my own. I don’t know if that means that the story line was well developed, or just that it did its job in making pre-teen Fran swoon.

“Just when you think life is over, you find out it’s not. Just when you think you’re never going to fall for someone else, it happens without any warning! I hope this doesn’t means I’m… jumping from Obstacle to the next. I don’t think it does. I don’t think it means anything except life is full of surprises and they’re not necessarily bad.”

51kc21bqngl-_ac_us218_3. Gilbert Blythe from the Anne series by LM Montgomery- When Gilbert first meets Anne Shirley in school, he teases her about her red hair, calling her carrots. In return she breaks a slate over his head. Great romances often have rough beginnings! Over the years, Gilbert apologizes and he and Anne become friends. Gilbert wants more, but Anne dreams of a knight in shining armor. It’s not until some later that she comes to realize that her knight in shining armor might just be her kind, supportive friend. And that her romance with him might be better than anything she could have dreamed up! Gilbert sees Anne both as the girl she was and the woman she becomes and he loves both: the awkward and the graceful.

Gilbert stretched himself out on the ferns beside the Bubble and looked approvingly at Anne. If Gilbert had been asked to describe his ideal woman the description would have answered point for point to Anne, even to those seven tiny freckles whose obnoxious presence still continued to vex her soul. Gilbert was as yet little more than a boy; but a boy has his dreams as have others, and in Gilbert’s future there was always a girl with big, limpid gray eyes, and a face as fine and delicate as a flower.

-From Anne of Avonlea (Book 2 of the Anne series)

41rryji1bvl-_ac_us218_4. Romeo Montague from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare was my literary crush when I was about twelve or thirteen. I eventually outgrew this one. But I always felt that those who accused Romeo of being fickle were misreading the text- I still do. Romeo’s initial infatuation with Rosaline isn’t supposed to tell us his love for Juliet isn’t true. Just the opposite. It’s supposed to tell us that this isn’t a boyish infatuation; he’s already had that. When he meets Juliet his language changes significantly, and he begins speaking in elegant poetry. That indicates that love has brought him to greater sophistication. As for love at first sight, no I don’t really believe in it (I do think people can fall in love quickly but perhaps not that quickly!). But I don’t believe in ghosts or witches either and their presence doesn’t keep my from believing the characters in Hamlet or Macbeth! Plus, who wouldn’t want to be the woman who inspires a man to speak like this?

O! she doth teach the torches to burn bright
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.

51xphws9jdl-_ac_us218_5. Jamie Fraser from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon- A lot of people who list Jamie as a literary crush argue that he’s perfect. I’m including him here because he’s far from it. He’s got flaws, and not just the kind that the writer threw in because someone told her that characters can’t be perfect. His flaws are as much a part of who he is as his strengths, and sometimes they’re one and the same. His stubbornness makes him act like a jerk at times; but it also makes him as devoted as one can possibly be to his loved ones. At times his views of women come off as old fashioned, which is also good: an 18th century hero who talks like he just finished reading Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinham wouldn’t ring true. But whatever he might say and whatever mistakes he makes, he’s still the 18th century guy who saw a crazy lady running around in her underwear, spewing foul language, and skillfully providing healthcare and fell hard.

When the day shall come, that we do part,” he said softly, and turned to look at me, “if my last words are not ‘I love you’—ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.”

-From The Fiery Cross (Book 5 of the Outlander series)

51omzinvtpl-_ac_us218_6. Alexander Belov Barrington from The Bronze Horseman series by Paullina Simons though I might break up with him after something he pulled in The Summer Garden… I overlook it here only because that whole part of the book seemed very out of character to me. In the first two books (and through most of the third) Alexander is the brave, stubborn, devoted man who brings you ice cream. That’s the dream isn’t it?  Well Alexander has a temper, and sometimes sees things as black and white, when they’re not. But that’s balanced by a strong sense of right and wrong, and a willingness to sometimes do the wrong thing for the right reasons, and vice versa.

“Tatiana…you and I had only one moment…” said Alexander. “A single moment in time, in your time and mine…one instant, when another life could have still been possible.” He kissed her lips. “Do you know what I’m talking about?”
When Tatiana looked up from her ice cream, she saw a soldier staring at her from across the street.
“I know that moment,” whispered Tatiana.”

41gwjpjhljl-_ac_us218_7. Gabriel Oak from Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy- Gabriel Oak is a farmer. He works his land, and he works hard. He’s reliable and has common sense. He proposes to Bathsheba Everdine early in this novel and is refused. He remains her loyal friend throughout. Even when she is acting impulsive or unwise, Gabriel never wavers in his devotion. When Bathsheba eventually realizes what she gave up when she turned down Oak’s proposal, he doesn’t gloat. He doesn’t tell her to get lost. He is simply happy because the woman he loves wants him. The life that he wants with her is simple:

And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you.

51zpob-ijil-_ac_us218_

 

8. Sir Francis Crawford of Lymond from the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett- Though his spot on the list might be temporary. In the first two books he earned his place on here, but I haven’t read the rest of the series yet. He might break my heart. Lymond is  a difficult character to describe because it’s hard to get to know him. He’s handsome. He’s incredibly smart. He speaks a number of languages and is extremely well read. He’s generally good at fighting and intrigues. But we spend most of the books seeing him from other people’s points of view. That makes him intriguing as a literary crush! But as I said, I’m only two books into the series. I might learn something I don’t like!

Considering Lymond, flat now on the bed in wordless communion with the ceiling, Richard spoke. “My dear, you are only a boy. You have all your life still before you.”

On the tortoise-shell bed, his brother did not move. But there was no irony for once in his voice when he answered. “Oh, yes, I know. The popular question is, For what?”

-From Queens Play (Book 2 of the Lymond chronicles)

419ewleob1l-_ac_us218_9. Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- the only Austen hero to make my list (I like a few others two but there were reasons they didn’t make it on the list) seems like someone you could potentially be happy with. We get to know him first through his faults; pride (and prejudice!), stuffiness, a tendency to be judgmental. But when we get to know the other side to his personality- loyalty, a fundamental sense of decency, honesty, we get a fuller picture of whole person.

In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.

51nbhw4ql8l-_ac_us218_10. Carl Brown from Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith- In 1927 Carl and Annie fall in love and get married. Most books would end there, but that’s where this one starts. Carl is a second year law student. Annie left school at the age of 14 to work and support her family. Right away the couple face financial difficulties. Carl’s work and his studies keep him busy. Annie is very intelligent and an avid reader, but isn’t well educated, and feels awkward and a bit uncomfortable in a university setting. Even when he doesn’t always understand where Annie is coming from, Carl always loves her. When things get difficult her doesn’t regret his decision to marry her. He never wavers in the certainty that this is who he is supposed to spend his life with.