There’s no doubt about the fact that art influences the way we experience reality. In fact, art is so influential that it affects the way we understand reality. Literature, Hollywood flicks, advertising or pop songs change our perception of love and what to expect from our partners.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was famously meant to be a parody of sorts. “These violent delights…” It is a cautionary tale as to how dangerous can be for us to idealize a romantic partner, how perilous it is to give up on everything for them. Yet people find the pair’s death as “romantic.”
Another example? The Great Gatsby. People upload quotes from this novel everywhere, as if the love story between Daisy and Gatsby is romance at its finest. It’s not. Daisy does not love him as much as he does her. Also, this so called “love” corrupts Gatsby to the point that he is nothing without her. Everything he does, it’s because of her.
Is this what we’d truly want from love? Is this what we understand by love?
But all this pales in comparison to the manner in which “love” was defined by 19th century novels. Let’s take a look at some of these novels and the way in which they define relationships.
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
There is but a lesson in this novel: telling your crush how you feel will just make you look desperate — to him and everyone else you know. Seriously. This is what happened to Marianne. She falls in love with the man of her dreams, and she doesn’t hesitate to make her availability to him quite clear — she flirts, casts him longing glances, and even writes him. Practical, reserved Elinor falls in love as well, but maintains the detached demeanor of a friend toward the object of her affection. Guess who gets her happily ever after?
Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
Isabel Archer wants to remain independent and unwed to enjoy her freedom. Unfortunately, she quickly abandons this principle when she meets the dapper Gilbert Osmond and marries him. Huge mistake. Soon she’s shackled to a cold, arrogant jerk who makes her life hell. Touring Europe alone with your massive inheritance seems like a much better idea. Lesson? Once you let someone charm you, you risk losing freedom and happiness forever.
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
Ah, Mr. Rochester. The tortured romantic hero who inspired a million girls to hold out hope for that adorable, brooding guy a grade above them who tortures them with snarky insults and always seems to be dating the most popular girls in school. What do his comments really mean?? He’s probably just afraid to admit what a profound connection you have. Yup, that’s it. I mean, Jane Eyre ended up happy with her confusing, hot-and-cold beloved, so why not you? Lesson: A guy might have many reasons to treat you badly, but this doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
If Tess had kept her past “sexual experience” (that is, her sexual assault) to herself, she’d have gotten to remain married to a stand-up guy who enjoyed hypocrisy and shaming rape victims, and the tragic events of the novel’s second half need not have happened at all. She may have thought his confession of a sexual indiscretion as a younger man indicated that he would be open-minded about her not being, technically, a virgin, but somehow, he saw her lack of virginity as far more significant than his own. Double standards, anyone?
What have you learned about dating and relationships from the books you’ve read?