I love literature. I am a hopeless romantic. And it is Valentine’s Day. So what better time than today to share some of the most romantic excerpts I have come across in books? Last year I wrote a post on classic love poems. https://wordpress.com/post/literarygitane.wordpress.com/912 This year I’m sticking to prose passages. Not all of them are cheesy, I assure you. In fact, most of them are sentimental and sweet.
Love At First Sight
The French have a special word for it. They call it un coup de foudre or a bolt of lightning. I am reminded of that first fateful meeting at the train station between Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky. He is captivated by her beauty and needless to say it’s only a matter of time ( umm ..like a few seconds) before he falls head over heels in love (or lust) with her.
“In that brief glance Vronsky had time to notice the restrained animation that played over her face and fluttered between her shining eyes and the barely noticeable smile that curved her red lips. It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance, now in her smile.” Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
Love is blind and love blinds. Especially if your gaze is upon a dazzling beauty. Our Count continues to be blinded by Anna’s looks. “He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.” All he wants is for her to belong to him. Never mind that she is married to someone else. And that she has a son. Those are minor impediments in the face of this grand love. I mean what can be more enticing than forbidden love? Even though this love will be the ruin of them and lead to destruction and alas, even death.
The First Kiss
What’s love without some heart- racing lip action? There are kisses and then there are kisses. Here’s a kiss that leaves you breathless and weak in the knees:
“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.” The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald
Sigh! I think my own heart beat faster and faster and my breathing stopped when I read this passage. And my incarnation is complete. Okay, let me not forget this one little detail. Daisy is a married woman. What’s with these men in novels who seduce married women? Duh, it’s the thrill of the chase. After all, an inaccessible being is more mysterious and alluring. Just imagine if the fascinating creature were within grasp! Wouldn’t our lovesick hero start taking her for granted and move on to the next conquest? Shh… but today is not the day to be cynical.
Declaration of Love
I am a sucker for novels like Rebecca and Jane Eyre with the theme of the good, innocent and kind-hearted young woman who has to learn to be brave in a cruel, hostile world. Throw in an evil stepmother- like character, a brooding and distant hero well-versed in the ways of the world and an enchanting socialite who is not an ingénue like our poor heroine and I’m in a romantic literary paradise! Never mind if the brooding man has skeletons in his closet or gasp! ….a wife already stashed away in there. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels and Mr. Rochester, one of the most romantic literary heroes. So I forgive him his flaws and even his sordid past in exchange for these delicious lines:
“After a youth and manhood passed half in unutterable misery and half in dreary solitude, I have for the first time found what I can truly love — I have found you. You are my sympathy — my better self — my good angel. I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wraps my existence about you, and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.” Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
Who needs sappy Hallmark cards when you have such a heartfelt outpouring of emotion to express your love?
Charles Dickens is one romantic soul. In fact, the guy is all mush. Of course his novels are Dickensian in the true sense of the word but some of the most romantic lines show up amidst the descriptions of squalid working conditions, abject poverty, and the plight of orphans- one could expand the adjective ‘Dickensian’ to include unabashed sentimentality and romance. When I first read Great Expectations, I was struck by Pip’s one-sided love for the cold-hearted Estella. “I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.” Unrequited love is a thème de prédilection with Dickens. There is this passage in Our Mutual Friend where Bradley Headstone asks for Lizzie’s hand in marriage. Would any girl decline this impassioned proposal?
“You know what I am going to say. I love you. What other men may mean when they use that expression, I cannot tell; what I mean is, that I am under the influence of some tremendous attraction which I have resisted in vain, and which overmasters me. You could draw me to fire, you could draw me to water, you could draw me to the gallows, you could draw me to any death, you could draw me to anything I have most avoided, you could draw me to any exposure and disgrace. This and the confusion of my thoughts, so that I am fit for nothing, is what I mean by your being the ruin of me. But if you would return a favourable answer to my offer of myself in marriage, you could draw me to any good – every good – with equal force.” Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens
Oh no, these words ring hollow to Lizzie and she turns him down. Oh, our poor rejected suitor!
Till Death Do Us Part
But here are two people who had better luck and are looking forward to a happily ever after:
“It was Dinah who spoke first.
‘Adam,’ she said, ‘it is the Divine Will. My soul is so knit with yours that it is but a divided life I live without you. And this moment, now you are with me, and I feel that our hearts are filled with the same love, I have a fullness of strength to bear and do our heavenly Father’s will, that I had lost before.’
Adam paused and looked into her sincere loving eyes.
‘Then we’ll never part anymore, Dinah, till death parts us.’
And they kissed each other with a deep joy.
What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life — to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?” Adam Bede, George Eliot
With all due respect to ‘Corinthians’, don’t you think this passage is far more suitable for a wedding reading?
Sometimes you mess up in life and in love. Lucky are the people who get second chances. Jane Austen’s Persuasion can seem like a rather dull novel in comparison to the delightful Emma and Pride and Prejudice but to me it portrays a more realistic picture of love. Anne Eliott broke off her engagement with a young man she was in love with on the urging of Lady Russell as he was a man beneath her social class. She made a mistake many years ago and is paying dearly for it. She still pines for Frederick Wentworth and at the ripe old age of 27 her prospects seem bleak to her. The two cross paths again years later ( meanwhile he has become a Captain in the Navy and he is considerably richer..cough, cough..noteworthy developments we can’t ignore.) and they are still in love with each other but won’t admit it. Oh my God.. but can he forgive her for breaking his heart all those years ago? You know it will end well. It’s a Jane Austen novel after all. And he writes one of the most romantic letters ever. Swoon!
“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.” Jane Austen, Persuasion
Okay, I admit it. Everytime I read this, I get a little teary in the good way…out flow tears of relief and joy. Who wouldn’t like receiving such a romantic love letter and that too from a dashing captain? If only people still sent love letters to each other in this age of texting?
People complain that such sublime sentiments only exist in books and movies. But it is possible to experience such love in real life if you accept that love is not perfect and never will be. None of the love expressed in the books was perfect or smooth -sailing. These love relationships were far from uncomplicated. Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky’s love was doomed. And so was Gatsby’s. Jane Eyre had to contend with a skeleton in Mr. Rochester’s closet ( literally! ) and a husband who lost his eyesight. Bradley Headstone was unlucky in love. Adam Bede pursued Dinah’s cousin, the extremely pretty Hetty and hoped to marry her before he proposed to Dinah. Anne Eliott and Captain Wentworth had to wait a long time to find each other. Perhaps we need to recognize that there is a difference between love and the illusion of love and that true love is perfectly imperfect. I’ll end with a passage from Corelli’s Mandolin where Dr. Iannis explains what love is to his daughter Pelagia. This passage which is a realistic depiction of love is actually recommended by registry offices for a wedding reading:
“Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.” Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières
Do you have any favorite romantic passages you like to read again and again? Please share them in your comments. Hope you enjoyed reading my favorite romantic lines. Now go woo your sweetie with these words. They will speak volumes of your love. Happy Valentine’s Day!