5 Great (and Tortured) Couples from Literary History5 Great (and Tortured) Couples from Literary History

5 Great (and Tortured) Couples from Literary History

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with exciting – and tumultuous – love stories of iconic couples from literature. Even with the highs and lows of romance, love comes through as strong and indispensable.



Antony and Cleopatra, Napoleon and Josephine . . . Travis and Taylor – history is replete with tales of the tumult of romance and passion. And so is literature. Since Valentine’s Day is close by, let’s celebrate by diving into the sometimes choppy waters of five great literary romances.


Through these lovers’ enduring passion, we come to understand that no great romance comes without its unique tribulations. Maybe our real affairs of the heart don’t reach the tortured heights of these lovers, but their stories remind us that love is worth what we go through to achieve and sustain it.


Romance and Valentine's Day aren't always the same as sex and love.  Watch MagellanTV's Surprising History of Sex & Love to learn more about the differences. 


Here are our five Valentine’s Day romances for the ages:

1 – Romeo and Juliet 

Romeo and Juliet, the central characters of William Shakespeare’s timeless play, represent young, passionate ardor doomed by fate and social pressures. This intense, immediate romance leads to a series of tragic misunderstandings, resulting in their untimely deaths. Their story encapsulates the ideal of true love as something worth sacrificing for, even in the face of insurmountable obstacles. 


2 – Tristan and Isolde 

Based on an ancient Celtic legend, the story of Tristan and Isolde has been handed down in many forms, perhaps most memorably in an opera by Richard Wagner. Tristan, a knight, is sent to retrieve Isolde for her marriage to his uncle. However, they accidentally consume a love potion, falling deeply in love. Their affair continues after the marriage, leading ultimately to tragedy. The couple’s story is one of literature’s most romantic and tragic pairings.


3 – Lancelot and Guinevere  

Lancelot and Guinevere, from the Arthurian legends, anchor a tale of forbidden love. Guinevere is married to King Arthur, while Lancelot is Arthur’s closest knight and a paragon of chivalry. Their love affair is both profound and destructive, challenging the ideals of loyalty, honor, and duty, and stressing the conflict between personal desire and societal obligations. Lancelot and Guinevere are enduring symbols of the complexities and depths of human emotion and romantic love.

Laurence Olivier (l.) as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as the stricken Catherine in the 1939 film version of Wuthering Heights. (Source: Promotional image from Photoplay magazine, June 1939, via Wikimedia Commons)


4 – Catherine and Heathcliff  

In Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights, Catherine and Heathcliff embody one of the most tumultuous and passionate love stories in literary history. Their childhood friendship blossoms into a powerful, albeit destructive, romance that transcends social class and conventional morality. The story showcases how love can become all-consuming and vengeful, yet remain undying. This relationship is celebrated for its intensity, depth, and the idea that love can last beyond the grave.


5 – Ennis and Jack 

In Annie Proulx’s story “Brokeback Mountain” – and the award-winning movie based on it –  star-crossed lovers Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist are two cowboys who develop a deep and passionate romantic connection. The narrative is marked by the challenges they face in a society that rejects their love, leading to a heartbreaking conclusion.



Title Image: Tristan and Iseult (Death), 1910 painting by Rogelio de Egusquiza (Source: The collection of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, via Wikimedia Commons)


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