Love Or Obsession: First Literary Edition

After writing so much about love, obsession, and the obscure, unexplored gray area in between, I thought I’d continue exploring that subject this week. I didn’t intend to spend more than a few posts on it, but it ended up being such a broad, engrossing topic that I decided it deserves greater scrutiny.

However, rather than just dig deeper into what constitutes love and what constitutes obsession, which can often lead to horror stories about stalkers, I’m going to try and approach this from a different point of view. I’m going to try a little exercise here. It’s going to be small, but it has the possibility to expand, just as my “Sexy Sunday Thoughts” column has expanded in recent times.

What I want to do here is fairly simple. I want to take classic romances from various sources, be they books, movies, TV shows, or comic books, and do a quick assessment on the nature of the relationship involved. Now there are some very complex relationships in fiction, so much so that I can’t hope to dig into every one of those complexities. If I do, it’ll be in a different post.

Instead, the purpose of this exercise will ask one simple question. Is the relationship in question more akin to love or obsession? Now I don’t claim to be an expert on the literature in question. I’m sure there are true literary buffs who would argue my assessment passionately. I perfectly understand that and I’m happy to have that debate. For now, I just want to get the discussion going.

For this initial exercise, I’m going to focus on classic romances from literature. These are the kinds of romances most people learn about in English classes and literature studies. They may also come from popular contemporary sources. Since this is just the first edition of this exercise, I’ll focus on romances that are most well-known. If someone wants to chime in on a more obscure romance, please do so in the comments.

Also, if you think I’m dead wrong in my assessment, please let me know why. Again, I’m not an expert. This is just an exercise that I hope will make people more aware of the differences between love and obsession, along with how it impacts romance stories. With that in mind, here’s the first round of “Love Or Obsession.”

Romeo and Juliet

Love or Obsession?

I know it’s a classic. I know this is the romance most people cite when they want to embody the sappiest, most ideal form of love possible. However, having read this classic play in high school and seeing multiple movies of it, I still have a hard time calling it a genuine love.

I know that sounds blasphemous to those in literary circles. I don’t doubt that there’s some element of love there, but I think too much of it is built on obsession. These two barely know each other, which is very much a result of the circumstances you get with a play. Everything has to happen so quickly. There’s not a lot of time to develop this romance.

Even if there were time, a romance where every waking thought and every single feeling is centered on each other doesn’t give the impression of love and comfort. It gives the impression of desperation and extreme distress, which is hard to frame in the context of genuine love.

Sir Lancelot and Guinevere

Love or Obsession?

This is another classic romance that’s built on a love triangle, a tool in romantic stories that tends to kill any meaningful passions like a thousand dead puppies. I’ve made my hatred of love triangles clear. This one is probably the most famous in classical literature. It can be argued that it’s probably the most refined and polished.

Granted, this is one love triangle that doesn’t make me want to bash my head in with a brick. Guinevere and Lancelot are both well-developed characters in their own right for the most part. However, too much of their character is defined by this love triangle. It’s kind of the only thing Lancelot is known for, wanting to hook up with his buddy’s wife.

On top of that, there’s not a lot of emotional depth to this romance. Lancelot and Guinevere never give the impression that their chemistry goes beyond just wanting to kiss and bone. They don’t seem to know each other on a more meaningful level. They give the impression that the forbidden nature of their desire is what fuels it, which makes it hard to see as genuine.

For that reason, I say this counts as obsession. It’s still not as bad as other horrible love triangles, some of which I’ve broken down on this blog, but that’s not saying much.

King Arthur and Guinevere

Love or Obsession?

In keeping with Arthurian Legend, I feel like it’s important to assess the other part of the love triangle. When it comes to Arthur and Guinevere, the dynamics are considerably different compared to those involving Lancelot. For one, Arthur and Guinevere meet at a younger age and they do get to know each other fairly well before things get romantic.

They also make a genuine effort in pursuing their love, despite advice to the contrary. In the classic narrative, Merlin actually warns Arthur not to pursue Guinevere. However, he doesn’t listen. He still follows his heart and Guinevere embraces it.

Even though this romance does have some tragic elements to it, I think it has more polish compared to Romeo and Juliet. Arthur and Guinevere both build a live together and support each other for much of it. You don’t do that without having genuine love for one another.

Edward Cullen and Belle Swan

Love or Obsession?

This one is kind of loaded because I know Twilight hardly deserves to be on a list that includes some of the most iconic romances of all time. I understand that, but it’s still probably the most iconic romance of the past decade or so. I know just mentioning it will bring out the anti-Twilight crowd. I understand the sentiment of that crowd, but I ask that crowd to temper their rage for the sake of this discussion.

There’s a lot of overly idealistic, overly cliched components to this relationship. It’s so ideal at times that it’s hard to take seriously. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, these two do get a chance to really know each other and become part of their world. However, I have a hard time calling this love because so much of their story, especially Edward Cullen’s, is defined by Belle.

On top of that, the idea that he watches her while she sleeps kind of skews the narrative into areas beyond romance. Watching someone while they sleep is something more akin to a stalker than a lover. That’s why, despite the passionate moments in the meadows, I rule this to be obsession.

Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan

Love or Obsession?

This is a less contemporary romance, but one that’s still structured in a very modern context. Unlike Twilight, this book is a lot more detailed in who these characters are and why they do what they do. It’s easy to tell that the story has some personal elements for F. Scott Fitzgerald. This shows in how the book’s most important relationship, Daisy and Jay, plays out.

It’s hard to judge the depths of a relationship that involves infidelity. On top of that, the greed elements that are so central to the book make the passions harder assess because it’s not clear how genuine they are. Despite this, I see Jay and Daisy’s efforts to be together as genuine.

These two characters each have such comfortable lives, if not excessively so. However, they still pursue one another. They still make an effort to be together. As such, I do think there is real love between them.

Paris and Helena

Love or Obsession?

When it comes to judging romance from ancient literature, such as the Illiad, it’s hard to put it in a modern context. This was a time when women barely had more rights than livestock and marriage was a loveless business arrangement that had all the romance of getting a building permit.

That’s not to say that the ancients didn’t appreciate love. One of the central romances in the Illiad revolves around Paris and Helena. This is the romance that starts the Trojan war and all the carnage that ensues. Passions have to be pretty damn powerful to start a war like this, with or without the help of the gods.

However, that passion is somewhat one-sided. Paris is clearly infatuated with Helena, but she doesn’t seem too receptive to him. It’s hard to feel that romantic to someone whose idea of a romantic gesture involves kidnapping her. Being so one-sided and built on an act that we consider a crime these days, it’s hard to rule this as anything other than one man’s obsession to have the prettiest girl in the land.

Odysseus and Penelope

Love or Obsession?

Sticking with classic Greek literature, there is another iconic romance that’s almost as important as Paris and Helena. This one involves Odysseus and Penelope, two lovers who test the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder. It’s a test they end up passing.

Odysseus is away from his love for quite some time, braving the River Styx and all sorts of godly troubles along the way. Even so, he never does anything to undermine the love and trust of his wife. She never does anything to betray him either, despite being pursued by plenty of eager suitors.

The loyalty between these two is admirable. Like Romeo and Juliet, it’s very much an ideal, two people who love each other so much that they don’t look to others for a romantic outlet when they’re away. Unlike Romeo and Juliet though, this one has more depth. These two are able to function independently as much as they can function together. That’s a love that ancients and modern folk alike can appreciate.

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One response to “Love Or Obsession: First Literary Edition

  1. Pingback: Idiots And How They Effect Your Love (And Sex) Life | Jack Fisher's Official Publishing Blog

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