Hello, my dear strangers!
I hope you enjoyed part 1 of my list. Here’s part 2, in which I introduce four or, more precisely, five new couples from five incredible novels (or, more precisely, four novels and one play).
7. The March Family Series by Louisa May Alcott – Jo March and Friedrich Bhaer
I’m sure many of you are familiar with this series and its four novels revolving around the March family – Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys. There’s plenty of romance and warm feelings to be found within its pages and a plethora of worthy relationships that deserve attention. There’s Jo and Laurie, Laurie and Amy, Mr. and Mrs. March, Meg and John, even the one-sided and never fulfilled relationship between Dan and Bess which I found endlessly touching and simultaneously heart wrenching. I love the character of Dan and could go on, day and night, explaining why.
But, that is not the subject today. The subject on the table right now is the relationship and marriage of Jo March and Friedrich Bhaer. I intentionally wrote Jo March and not Jo Bhaer, because the development of her character begins well before she gets married. Jo March is me. I’m sure that there are plenty of introverted, bookwormy, rebellious girls out there who have related to Jo over the centuries, but I’m arrogant enough to say – Jo March is me. She is one of the most successful and well-rounded female characters in the history of literature and I write that with utmost confidence and assuredness. There’ll always be lady-like characters out there like Meg, gentle souls like Beth and vain little book-burning, self-centred brats like Amy, but Jo is… Well, not one of a kind, but she certainly does stand out.
But, seriously, just as there have always been girls like Meg, Beth and Amy, there have always been and always will be girls like Jo. Girls that care about books, inner strength and integrity more than they do about fashion and make-up and proper behaviour. Girls that have an active, vivid imagination and live to write/read. Girls that find it difficult to fit in and are, in turns proud of the fact, yet also a bit daunted by the loneliness they might one day face. Girls that make up for poor social skills with their unintentional charisma, charm and wit. Girls who push boundaries for women and find small ways of making the world a better place every day. Jo March was, quite frankly, the first completely successful female character of such above-mentioned traits to grace our bookshelves and our lives, centuries before the creation of Hermione Granger.
Her husband, Fritz Bhaer is sort of like a male equivalent of her, though not really. I’d say he’s more pragmatic, even though he can be quite idealistic too. He gave up everything, sold everything he owned (except for certain precious books) and came to a new continent in search of better luck. Quite a bold move, in and of itself. He appreciates the arts just as much as Jo does, is humble, kind and supportive. His well-rounded and mature character may be attributed to his age, which is why I spent the better half of my childhood thinking I’d never truly fall in love till the day I met an older gentleman, one quite like Fritz. Jo’s fire complements his serenity and Friedrich’s practicality complements her idealism. They’re a match made in heaven and they both possess enough patience and love in their hearts to open up a school teeming with problematic kids who require lots of attention and care. That’s the kind of people Jo and Fritz are – an admirable, generous couple that will forever stay in my memory.
6. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo – Cosette and Marius
This is only an excerpt about their relationship from a longer review of the novel. If you wish to read the entire review, click here.
One of my favourite and, definitely more pleasurable parts of the novel, was Marius and Cosette’s love story. At first it seemed unlikely, mostly because of Cosette’s naivety and cluelessness, but then it grew on me. Their first encounters in the park were so endearing and I was extremely glad that their love was first shown from Marius’s perspective. His initial unawareness and then the slow descent into the madness of love were so well described.
At first it seemed forced, as if Hugo was determined to create a love story were there was absolutely no chemistry between the characters, but I ended up liking it so much, that Cosette and Marius climbed their way onto my top 9 literary couples list. I won’t lie: until the very end, I felt like their relationship was not one of equals. Marius bore much heavier burdens than Cosette did and her easy-going and trusting nature at times made me look upon them and picture them as a brother and his little sister, rather than two lovers. Excluding her earliest years (which Cosette barely even remembered in her later life), she grew up into the typical damsel in distress. She was loved and cherished by everyone. She spent most of her life living in an ivory tower. She was fiercely protected first by Fantine, then by Jean Valjean and then by Marius. She was unaware of so many things happening around her and couldn’t see past her own little world. This may, in part, be Jean Valjean’s fault.
Marius, on the other hand, while his struggles could by no means be compared to those of Jean Valjean, still had much more darkness to him and carried many more burdens than she did. At times, his brooding nature irritated me, especially the decision he made after he had found out that Cosette was leaving France, but his self-imposed isolation, his solitary ways and his stubbornness soon endeared him to me, for he much reminded me of myself. Cosette’s early years spent in struggles can hardly compare to everything Marius has had to endure – the truth about his father, his decision to leave his grandfather, the years he spent in poverty (during which he stayed generous, might I add), his quest to find Cosette, the burden of Jean Valjean’s past. Those are just some of the things he has had to endure, things that Cosette not only didn’t have to go through, but also remained ignorant of.
I like them. I like them very much, since they made their way onto my top 9 couples, but no madness will ever compel me to say or write that their relationship was one of equal partners.
5. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee – George and Martha
I think I have already explained my sentiments regarding this couple in my review of the play and feel no need to repeat myself. So, if you wish to, you can read the review here.
4. Tre Metri Sopra Il Cielo/Ho Voglia Di Te by Federico Moccia – Step and Babi/Step and Gin
Now, you may be wondering why I have two relationships here instead of just one, but to my mind, they’re inextricable. Also, I believe that these two relationships and their respective books merit the most exposition, since they’re not so well-known, so just bear with me.
In the first novel, we meet Stefano, called Step. He seems like your typical motorcycle-riding, physical-force-coercing, dining-and-dashing, beer-guzzling, illegal-races-participating, staying-out-all-night bad boy. Yawn… Or, so I thought. Here’s the deal with Step – bad boys are everywhere, in our literature, our movies, our lives, even when they don’t deserve the title. After all, everyone has their own perception of what constitutes a bad boy. For some, it’s a mafia boss, for others – simply a boy who gets detention every once in a while. But, what 90% of them have in common is that, more often than not, they are American characters written by American authors for American readers. Step is European. Now, that may not sound like much to you, but it does to me. Thing is, I can spot the difference immediately. Americans generally tend to be more squeamish and will tag the bad boy label to basically anyone. So really, in defence of American bad boys, it’s really not their fault. It’s the fault of those behind them, their authors, their writers, their producers. Also, they’ve been done to death. European bad boys, not nearly as much. Hence, Step really does stand out, in a variety of ways.
Anyway, in the first novel Step falls in love with Babi, a well-to-do girl who has high expectations to live up to. She is an early riser, rarely drinks (with the exception of only the finest wines), maintains a healthy diet, exercises, goes to a private school, is a good student, an obedient daughter, pampered and loved by everyone – a model child. Now, when you have such opposites as these ones who share a genuine love and strong attraction, more often than not, you have the girl abandoning her rigid ways, standing up to her family and finally, after the last straw, discarding her good girl persona and riding off into the sunset on the back of her man’s motorcycle. Or, alternatively, you have the guy discarding his bad boy persona and settling down with the woman who has managed to tame his wild ways. Not here though. And that’s just one of the things I love about these books and the way they’re written – realism.
Babi does defy the expectations for a while, getting in constant quarrels with her overbearing, status-conscious mother, risking her well-being, education and future for Step. But, eventually, she realises who she is and that Step simply doesn’t fit into her life at all. One time, Step gets thrown out of a club for initiating a fight with a guy who made a comment about Babi’s rear end. Another time they’re fleeing the restaurant because Step and his friends refuse to pay. Another time Babi invites Step over while she’s babysitting, hoping for some intimate downtime, but then a slew of his raucous friends appear, trashing the place, giving weed to the little boy she’s looking after and stealing jewellery from the apartment, for which Babi gets the blame. And yet another time, Babi perjures herself in court in order to save Step from doing time. Enough is enough, she realises and breaks up with him. Step is inconsolable, but the worst is yet to come when his best friend dies in the illegal races they partake in. Step has had enough and decides to leave for New York.
Two years later, he makes a decision to move back to Rome and that’s when the second book begins. Step is now a much more toned down version of his former self. His hormones, teen angst, aggression and overall impulsiveness have strongly diminished. He no longer races and even gets a job working for a television programme. He’s still grieving though, grieving over the loss of his best friend, the relationship with his mother, the breakup with Babi. Enter Gin. She’s a spirited girl Step meets when he catches her trying to steal his petrol. He teaches her a lesson in the most charming of ways, by taking her out for an unexpected dinner. Next, it’s revealed that Gin works for the same programme. They keep running into each other and his feelings for her start intensifying. However, Babi is never far from his thoughts.
Everything is going great until one day, Step unexpectedly runs into Babi at a party. They talk, catch up and end up sleeping with each other. But, as Step painfully comes to realise, the reunion he kept hoping for for so long turns out to be bittersweet, at best. Babi is simply not the girl he used to love. She’s changed so drastically that Step no longer has any doubts concerning his feelings. It turns out that Babi lured him only to prove to herself that she no longer loved him, since she’s soon getting married, as she later admits to Step.
Step forgives her, but cannot forgive himself. He tells Gin all about it. She’s heartbroken at first, but they later come to reconcile. Through her diary entries we come to realise that she and Step met at the same party where he met Babi, though Step has no recollection of this. We find out that Gin fell in love with him that very night and has spent every day since dreaming of him, following him around, jotting down notes on his activities, even befriending his mother, constantly thinking of ways of getting closer to him, watching him and loving him from afar.
I chose to put both relationships on this list and to place them equally, since they’re both extremely formative and extremely important. You may recognise your own relationships in them. The first book revolves around that first gripping love, that sudden descent into the madness and the passion of it all and describes perfectly the recklessness of falling in love for the first time. One’s first real love and first real relationship can hardly be described as a relationship, if I’m to be honest. It’s more like preparation, a wannabe mock relationship condensed into a much shorter period of time, with emotions all over the place. It happens, it’s there and then it just goes away. And, since it usually happens at a very young, unprepared age, you tend to be a lot more forgiving, understanding and tolerant. You are more likely to turn a blind eye to the screw-ups your first partner makes. It is all beautiful and magical for a while, but then life knocks you down, revealing all the discrepancies you spent so much time trying to ignore. So, no matter how strong, pure and addictive that first love is, it is seldom strong enough to withstand all the punches in store. I have heaps of respect and admiration for this novel for presenting that hectic, chaotic, rushed first romance and its inevitable demise with such accuracy and heart, yet without embellishments.
The second novel is perhaps even better, in my opinion at least (though I know many who would disagree with me). It demonstrates what comes after. So, you’ve had the most romantic, turbulent and powerful relationship of your life. Now what? What could possibly be strong enough, genuine enough or mesmerising enough to top it? What act could follow? Hard as it may seem, life goes on. New loves emerge to replace the old ones. Only, these new ones are capable of being even stronger and more genuine than that first one. Simply because they are more real. And you and your partner even more compatible. There’s no more reason to ignore the ugly truth and hide behind your love, using it as a shield for all the illogical stuff. Step and Babi spent more time shielding themselves than anything else, I’m certain, and justifying their relationship to themselves and others, while with Gin there was simply no need, on either part.
The girls themselves are completely captivating. Babi remains somewhat of a mythical presence in the second book, but even throughout the first one, she’s a queen on her pedestal. Babi has this almost magnetic charm to her and a unique ability to present herself as vulnerable, innocent and straight-laced. We see boyfriend after boyfriend of hers falling for her and never quite recuperating. Her first boyfriend screwed up and knew that patching things up with Babi would be trickier than with any other woman. Alfredo, her boyfriend after Step, re-enters the second novel as a desperate alcoholic, lurking about her building, hoping to rekindle their affair. Step is utterly destroyed after she breaks up with him. All of them have a really hard time getting back to normal after a relationship with someone like Babi, someone who cares for and respects herself, someone who knows her price and agrees to haggle only when completely enamoured. Babi is adored by everyone, though truly loved only by Step. Yet, even those who don’t love her and don’t really know her – adore her, as she represents something they could rarely get to have.
As time goes by, Babi grows more and more conscious of her status and reputation. She comes from a good, reputable family, attends the best private schools and Universities, goes to elegant parties with the elite, dresses smartly, always says the right thing, is easily offended – a spoiled, self-centred, proud, aloof snob committed to living her life her way. She stands out like a sore thumb when amidst Step and his crowd. At one point, after another of Step’s illegal escapades, she gets angry with him and tells him about the kind of life she envisions for herself – a tranquil, hassle-free one. It’s evident that there’s no room for someone like him in her future.
Gin, on the other hand, is completely free with herself. She doesn’t hide behind shiny veneers, reputation and false modesty. Her desires are out in the open. She is fun, gregarious, easy-going, forgiving, enjoys pulling pranks and even elaborate schemes, she’s open, honest, caring, funny, confident, yet vulnerable, ready to leap in, no pretenses, no masks, what you see is what you get + so much more. She isn’t superficial by any account though, but bold, daring; isn’t squeamish about all the things Babi used to complain about, yet maintains her standards. She and Step are much more compatible, they relish their time together, always trying to one-up the other one, playing sweet games, not getting easily insulted over every single little thing, but growing together and learning from each other.
The reason I find these characters so appealing is that I see much of myself in them. There’s a lot of Step in me, especially regarding his relationship with his mother and even the rest of his family, for that matter. As far as Babi and Gin go, I’d say I’m a bit of both. I maintain high standards and find it difficult to care for someone, I am not overly concerned with my reputation, I’m easy-going, yet difficult. I don’t guzzle beer straight from the bottle like Gin does, but much like Babi prefer a nice glass of wine or a cocktail. I am picky about who I spend time with, yet treat everyone with respect. I don’t wear my heart out on my sleeve like Gin, yet am utterly insane sometimes with the way I think and act (stalking Step or someone else doesn’t sound like that much of a crazy idea, especially when you can back it up with big words such as love). Once I discard someone, I rid myself of them completely. There are no second chances with me. So, maybe I’m leaning a bit towards Babi. Or perhaps Gin. Not sure. In any case, what I like is that there are no good guys or bad guys here. There are just people.
From my descriptions, you may be ready to label Gin as a cool chick you’d like to hang out with and Babi as a cold, elitist bitch who thinks way too highly of herself, but things are simply not so black and white. At one point, Babi, faced with the disintegration of her parents’ marriage and preparing for her own upcoming nuptials, contemplates inviting Step to the wedding. The author muses that she’s become even worse than her mother, an overbearing, over-demanding ice queen who drove her husband away into the arms of another (not that I’m justifying adultery, but you don’t know her mother). At that moment, I believe that we’re given a glimpse into Babi’s future. Will her cold, merciless demeanour drive her own husband away?
One of the things I love about these two books is that it’s not all about the romance. Far from it. Great portions are dedicated to friendships, rivalries, siblings, parents and everything else in between. We see Step and Babi and later Gin interacting with the various people in their lives, we see them struggling with work and studies, their tense relationships with family members, their flings and past flames, we see their parents worrying about aging and their spouses and children, their professors coping with loneliness, the overall methods people use to deal with life (and death), to feel alive, to feel loved, to feel important in this world and so on and so forth. I can’t stand novels where lovers’ lives revolve only around their relationship, completely oblivious of the wider world and the bigger picture. My favourite part and the most heartbreaking one has got to be Step’s reunion with his estranged mother, mere days before she’s to die.
Another thing I like about these books is that these love stories were largely told from the guy’s perspective, especially the second one. I mean, how often does that happen? I’m almost sad that they’re not more well-known. Unfortunately, there are no translations into English as far as I know. I read them in Spanish and I guess you’ll just have to stick to already existing translations or, better yet, try the original, if you’re fluent in Italian. I’ve also recently heard that a third novel has been released and can’t wait to get my hands on it.
Part 1 is waiting for you.
Part 3 coming soon.
Keep reading 🙂