This week's word is vexatious which has left me thinking quite a bit about vexatious, annoying, and dysfunctional literary couples. While we all love a love story with a happy ending, preferably a la Pride and Prejudice where the spunky heroine ends up with the wealthy and infatuated Mr. Darcy, there are plenty of examples of difficult book duos who, for the sanity of everyone around them, probably should stay far, far apart from each other.
Can you think of any terrible bookish couples? Read on to see who we think are the 6 worst literary couples from classic literature:
1. Cathy and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights
Don’t get me wrong, Wuthering Heights is without a doubt one of my favourite classic books. So much so, that it was the first poster we created and put up in the Proseposters shop! Emily Brontë gifted literature a novel full of beautiful prose which details one of the most passionate (and toxic) romantic relationships of all time.
Cathy and Heathcliff are driven to distraction by their obsession for each other, yet can never seem to reach a point where either one compromises. They actively hurt one another, are hateful to everyone around them, and too strong-willed to give an inch. Love and pain is definitely closely intertwined for this rather dysfunctional literary duo.
2. Daisy and Gatsby from The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald may be considered a tale of passionate love (I mean, he found a house opposite hers so he could watch the green light at the end of her dock, for crying out loud), but Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby’s relationship was arguably worse than Daisy’s relationship with her own husband, Tom.
Sure, Tom and Daisy don’t treat each other well, and they both cheat, but you could also argue that they’re suited suited for one-another. Gatsby bases his relationship with Daisy solely on his own expectations—how he wants her to act, his idea of nostalgic romance, and on what he believes love means—but doesn’t take into account what Daisy wants or needs. It’s an unhealthy balance that results in zero closure for either person.
3. Anna and Vronsky from Anna Karenina
Considering that Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina ends with the protagonist throwing herself in front of a train, it’s probably not hard to see why the relationship could be considered a bit toxic.
Vronsky is young, handsome, and charming and doesn’t believe in social conventions like marriage. Anna, on the other hand, is married and has a child. While social conventions shouldn’t stop anyone from pursuing love, it’s important to remember this was 19th century Russia and women who cheated on their husbands were not looked fondly upon. Couple this with Vronsky distancing himself from Anna the more obsessed and the more tightly she tries to hold onto him, and you end up with a passive-aggressive relationship and the 1800’s version of ghosting.
4. Lydia and George from Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen’s beloved novel may feature one of the most stable fictional marriages in classic literature, but it also showcases one of the worst. While Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy have a great relationship based on mutual respect and adoration, Elizabeth’s younger sister, Lydia, isn’t so lucky.
Lydia is described as untamed and wild, but George Wickham, the man she eventually marries, is no better. George is a gambler and a liar who agrees to marry Lydia only after Mr. Darcy pays him off. If that’s not a recipe for a vexatious match and marriage, I don’t know what is.
5. Romeo and Juliet from Romeo & Juliet
William Shakespeare's tale of star-crossed lovers is often held up as the romantic ideal, but let's just call a spade a spade, shall we? While teenage love can be overpowering and passionate, when your brain isn't fully developed for another 8-10 years you can make a lot of really foolish choices—as becomes pretty clear in the trajectory of Romeo & Juliet.
This play isn't so much a love story as the tale of a tragic and foolish end to two young lives. Romeo and Juliet die by suicide a mere week after they meet and fall in love. This isn't really a romance to envy, though we can admire the language and artwork inspired by it, such as our gorgeous Romeo & Juliet poster with the text of the entire play on it!
6. Jake and Brett from The Sun Also Rises
Ernest Hemingway couldn’t write a happy love story to save his life, and it’s a theme that is clear in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. The book reflects some similar notes as The Great Gatsby, namely showing wealthy people going about recklessly ruining each other’s lives.
Lady Brett Ashely is engaged to another man, but pines for Jake Barnes. Unfortunately, Jake has an old war wound that keeps them from ever settling down together, but that in no way even begins to explain why they’re both so awful. Jake shows up to a get-together with a working girl he promptly ditches, while Brett spends almost the entire book running from one romantic encounter to another, then expecting good ol’ Jake to show up when things get dicey. Maybe it is better that they never ended up together.
Who do you think is the most dysfunctional couple in modern or classic literature? Share which ones you love to hate in the comments below!