Does literature rely too heavily on love?

Alice Mottram 15 February 2015

Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, The Great Gatsby; literary classics that have become synonymous with the word ‘masterpiece’, have been culturally idolised and incessantly referenced, they are novels that skilfully weave together the social and the political, rendering them timeless.

Yet ask a stranger on the street, and they will fawn over the Adonis-in-breeches that is Mr. Darcy emerging from the lake to Elizabeth Bennett, in a scene actually absent from the novel. They may whimper at how misunderstood Heathcliff and Cathy were, or how tragic it is that Gatsby will never possess his Daisy. The novels and their characters are have been immortalised, but not because of their commentary upon social class and gender inequality, but because they have become pin-ups for the most used theme of all: love.

Is love too overdone in the literary world? Does it detract from the important politics of a work? Are our mantelpieces, our libraries, our bookstores, so saturated with romantic fiction that any treatise on love has now become a brand mark for unoriginality?

To answer ‘yes’ to the aforementioned questions is to disregard the important function love plays in the literary sphere that encompass the pages of a novel, a collection of poetry, or a play. The most beautiful prose and verse is born of a poet’s aching heart, from Catullus’ “a thousand kisses” to Ted Hughes’ “her smiles were spider bites”, love is the medium for poetic craft. If it were not for love, readers would not be granted the privilege of reading Heathcliff’s lamenting “I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”, or Fitzgerald’s dream-like ‘tuning fork that had been struck upon a star’; love is like a siren call that continues to lure readers back to texts that are centuries old. Not just aesthetically pleasing, it also lays a foundation for authors to explore their society. Is it not the relationship between Lizzie and Darcy that the class division of Austen’s era is made even more apparent and detrimental? The unifying experience of love is not restrained by time; it provides the bridge that allows readers to accept and feel the potency of the political and social issues of a bygone era, no matter how alien to their own life experiences.

Literature can never rely too much on love because it is the stage upon which the socio-political can act and retain relevance for all readers. It is the vortex between the 19th century and the 21st, the Ouija board between author and reader, the telephone wire between human and human; love is where "soul meets soul on lover’s lips".