There are some couples whose very names are synonymous with love and with tragedy. Their pain seems to leap from the very pages of literature and into our hearts forever. The following are a few of the most tragic couples in literature.
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet are the most unforgettable tragic couple in literature. The star-crossed lovers from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” defied their parents and society to be together. In fact, they are so in love that they would rather die than be apart. Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” also give one of the most memorable lines in literature:
“O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”
-William Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet”, 2.2
Sadly, despite their love and their careful planning, the two lovers are never united in life. The two kill themselves, and in doing so, unit their families.
Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw
Emily Bronte’s gothic story, “Wuthering Heights”, introduces the reader to another tragic couple-Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. These ill-fated lovers were doomed from the start. Heathcliff was the orphaned child Mr. Earnshaw found while in Liverpool. Mr. Earnshaw brings Heathcliff home to live with his family. All of the family members despise this dark, strange child except Mr. Earnshaw and his young daughter, Catherine. Catherine and Heathcliff develop a love for each other so deep that they actually feel like they are one person. Catherine states:
“It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.”
– Emily Bronte, “Wuthering Heights”, Ch. 9
Catherine Earnshaw marries another man to secure her legacy and to try to protect Heathcliff. Heathcliff, however, earns his own money and extracts revenge on the whole Earnshaw family. It is only after their deaths that the two lovers are happily reunited.
Father Ralph de Bricassart and Meghan Clearys
“The Thornbirds” is an epic tale of the Cleary family. They battle the rough Australian Outback to survive. “The Thornbirds” is also the unforgettable tale of love and passion between Maggie Clearys and Father Ralph de Bricassart. They two are forbidden to love because of Ralph’s vows to the church, but that doesn’t stop them. Despite his vow of celibacy, Father de Bricassart does give in to carnal desire and has an affair with his Maggie. This affair produces their only son, Dane. Ralph returns to the church and tries to forget Meghan. It is only after great tragedy strikes does he realize all he has scarified for the church.
“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to out carol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain… Or so says the legend.”
-Colleen McCullough, “The Thornbirds”
Literature has produced some of the most unforgettable tragic love affairs. The couples listed above are only a few of greatest star-crossed lovers of all times.