On Valentine’s Day : Five Seriously Messed Up Love Stories

by |February 14, 2012

The Garden of Earthly Delights (circa 1490) by Hieronymus Bosch.

Love is…

What? What the hell is it?

My definition of love is only
one of billions.
As is yours.

Love doesn’t always come to us on a Hallmark card. Sometimes it comes dressed in a clown suit. Sometimes it looks like a lasagne or smells like smelly feet. Sometimes, what we think is a just a vigorous game of Twister is, in reality, the most romantic moment of our lives.

Love can be sad. Love can burn. Love can be unfathomable. Love may be fleeting or may linger like a rash. Sometimes love is  only felt when it is absent. Love can be wrong.

There is no end to the variety of loves experienced by humanity. One generation’s perversions are another’s norms.

If literature is any guide, love is whatever it wants to be…

If traditional Valentine’s Day reading gets you down, try these…

Five Seriously Messed Up Love Stories

Jude the Obscure

by Thomas Hardy

Jude Fawley, the stonemason excluded not by his wits but by poverty from the world of Christminster privilege, finds fulfilment in his relationship with Sue Bridehead.

Both have left earlier marriages. Ironically, when tragedy tests their union it is Sue, the modern emancipated woman, who proves unequal to the challenge.

Hardy’s fearless exploration of sexual and social relationships and his prophetic critique of marriage scandalised the late Victorian establishment and marked the end of his career as a novelist.


Death in Venice

by Thomas Mann

Gustav von Aschenbach, a successful ageing writer, travels to Venice for a holiday.

One day, at dinner in his hotel, Aschenbach notices an exceptionally beautiful young boy.

Soon his days begin to revolve around seeing this boy and he is too distracted to pay attention to the ominous rumours that have begun to circulate about disease spreading through the city.



by Vladimir Nabokov

‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of my tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.’

Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, frustrated college professor. In love with his landlady’s twelve-year-old daughter Lolita, he’ll do anything to possess her. Unable and unwilling to stop himself, he is prepared to commit any crime to get what he wants.

Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? Or is he all of these?


Mademoiselle de Maupin

by Theophile Gautier

Chevalier d’Albert fantasizes about his ideal lover, yet every woman he meets falls short of his exacting standards of female perfection.

Embarking on an affair with the lovely Rosette to ease his boredom, he is thrown into tumultuous confusion when she receives a dashing young visitor. Exquisitely handsome, Theodore inspires passions d’Albert never believed he could feel for a man – and Rosette also seems to be in thrall to the charms of her guest. Does this bafflingly alluring person have a secret to hide?

Subversive and seductive, Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) draws readers into the bedrooms and boudoirs of a French chateau in a compelling exploration of desire and sexual intrigue.


Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë

In a house haunted by memories, the past is everywhere . . .

As darkness falls, a man caught in a snowstorm is forced to shelter at the strange, grim house Wuthering Heights. It is a place he will never forget. There he will come to learn the story of Cathy: how she was forced to choose between her well-meaning husband and the dangerous man she had loved since she was young. How her choice led to betrayal and terrible revenge – and continues to torment those in the present.

How love can transgress authority, convention, even death. And how desire can kill.


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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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  • February 14, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    I agree! I also admit that I never thought Romeo and Juliet was romanctic, but maybe that is because my HS English teacher ruined it by saying that if they had lived, they would have ended up bickering like any other couple.

    Ah well, there are other great romantic stories.

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