For every blazingly romantic literary proposal, there's one so awkward it'll make you join the nearest convent. Just because a proposal takes place in a book doesn't mean it's romantic or successful, but just because a proposal isn't romantic or successful doesn't mean it's not epic. Here, 13 of the greatest, sweetest, awkwardest, rudest proposals that literature has to offer.
1. Beatrice + Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing
I've written about this moment before, because it is perfection. Sworn enemies Beatrice and Benedick have a lot of trouble admitting that they're crazy about each other — "Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably," Benedick snipes at one point — but they finally make it official:
BENEDICK: They swore that you were almost sick for me.
BEATRICE: They swore that you were well-nigh dead for me.
BENEDICK: 'Tis no such matter. Then you do not love me?
BEATRICE: No, truly, but in friendly recompense.
[Their friends bring out two love poems that each has written about the other.]
BENEDICK: A miracle! here's our own hands against our hearts.
Come, I will have thee; but, by this light, I take
thee for pity.
BEATRICE: I would not deny you; but, by this good day, I yield
upon great persuasion; and partly to save your life,
for I was told you were in a consumption.
BENEDICK: Peace! I will stop your mouth.
2. Madeline Bassett + Bertie Wooster in Right Ho, Jeeves
Bertie Wooster really, really doesn't want to marry the ultra-sappy Madeline Bassett, but he accidentally proposes to her while trying to tell her that his friend is in love with her. That's so Bertie! Madeline initially denies his proposal, but after the romance with Bertie's friend doesn't work out, Madeline decides she'll marry him after all. Here's how Bertie finds out:
"But what," I mused, toying with the envelope, "can this female be writing to me about?"
"Why not open the damn thing and see?" [said Aunt Dahlia.]
"A very excellent idea," I said, and did so.
...a sharp howl broke from my lips, causing Aunt Dahlia to shy like a startled mustang.
…"Dash it!" I cried. "Do you know what's happened? Madeline Bassett says she's going to marry me!"
"I hope it keeps fine for you," said the relative, and passed from the room looking like something out of an Edgar Allan Poe story.
3. Rhett Butler + Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind
Shortly after Scarlett's husband dies, Rhett proposes, like the cad he is. Shocked and offended, she says no. He kisses her. She says yes.
Say you’ll marry me when I come back or, before God, I won’t go. I’ll stay around here and play a guitar under your window every night and sing at the top of my voice and compromise you, so you’ll have to marry me to save your reputation.
3. Anne Elliot + Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion
Austen is famously silent when it comes to certain aspects of love — for example, we rarely hear her characters' marriage proposals spoken aloud. In Persuasion, however, Austen gives us one of literature's most romantic letters of all time. The words "Will you marry me?" aren't written down, but they don't need to be.
I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in
4. Ricardo Somocurcio to "the Bad Girl" in The Bad Girl
The novel isn't one of Mario Vargas Llosa's best, but the character of the Bad Girl — alluring, manipulative, the recipient of a thousand proposals — can't help but captivate the imagination. Here, she refuses a proposal from the only man who's consistently loved her:
"I marry only for love," she said, staring daggers at me and tapping her right foot, which was extended in front of her. "I'd never marry a clod who made a proposal of marriage as coarse as the one you've just made to me."
"If you want, I'll get down on my knees, and with my hand over my heart, I'll beg you to be my adored little wife until the end of time," I said in confusion, not knowing if she was joking or speaking seriously.
"Do it," she ordered. "On your knees, with your hands on your chest. Tell me the best cheap, sentimental things in your repertoire and let's see if you convince me."
I fell to my knees and begged her to marry me…I heard her laugh as she said into my ear, "I'm sorry, but I've received better requests for my hand than yours, little pissant."
5. The Blooms in Ulysses
The lush, gorgeous ending of Ulyssses is formed from the stream-of-consciousness thoughts of Molly Bloom who, lying in bed next to her husband after sleeping with another man earlier that day, finds herself thinking back to the day her husband proposed to her. Her memories, as well as her answer, are sensual, orgasmic:
...he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
6. Fiona + Grant in "The Bear Came Over the Mountain"
There's plenty of love and love lost in Alice Munro's short stories, but this particular proposal is too sweet and simple to overlook:
He thought maybe she was joking when she proposed to him, on a cold bright day on the beach at Port Stanley. Sand was stinging their faces and the waves delivered crashing loads of gravel at their feet.
“Do you think it would be fun — ” Fiona shouted. “Do you think it would be fun if we got married?”
He took her up on it, he shouted yes. He wanted never to be away from her. She had the spark of life.
7. The shepherd + his lover in "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"
Christopher Marlowe's sensual poem is more of a life proposal than a marriage proposal, grounded by the repetition of the perfect line, "Come live with me and be my love."
The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
8. Florentino Ariza + Fermina Daza in Love in the Time of Cholera
Spoiler alert: the following engagement is broken off, only to be resumed fifty-one years later.
Their frenetic correspondence was almost two years old when Florentino Ariza, in a letter of only one paragraph, made a formal proposal of marriage to Fermina Daza. … When the formal proposal arrived she felt herself wounded for the first time by the clawings of death. Panic-stricken, she told her Aunt Escolástica, who gave her advice with the courage and lucidity she had not had when she was twenty and was forced to decide her own fate.
“Tell him yes,” she said. “Even if you are dying of fear, even if you are sorry later, because whatever you do, you will be sorry all the rest of your life if you say no.”
Fermina Daza, however, was so confused that she asked for some time to think it over. First she asked for a month, then two, then three, and when the fourth month had ended and she had still not replied, she received a white camellia again, not alone in the envelope as on other occasions but with the peremptory notification that this was the last one: it was now or never. Then that same afternoon it was Florentino Ariza who saw the face of death when he received an envelope containing a strip of paper, torn from the margin of a school notebook, on which a one-line answer was written in pencil: Very well, I will marry you if you promise not to make me eat eggplant.
9. Mr. Collins + Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice
The oily Mr. Collins gives one of the longest and most brick-headed proposals of all time. As Elizabeth continually rebuffs him, he insists that Elizabeth Bennet's refusal is just the "affectation and coquetry of an elegant female." Infuriating.
My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish. Secondly, that I am convinced it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly — which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness. … And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection. To fortune I am perfectly indifferent, and shall make no demand of that nature on your father, since I am well aware that it could not be complied with; and that one thousand pounds in the 4 per cents, which will not be yours till after your mother's decease, is all that you may ever be entitled to. On that head, therefore, I shall be uniformly silent; and you may assure yourself that no ungenerous reproach shall ever pass my lips when we are married.
10. Anne Shirley + Gilbert Blythe, take one, in Anne of the Island
Gilbert's first proposal to Anne ends in heartbreak, but it's extra-romantic, in a twisted way, because we all know how their story ends.
Gilbert [took] her hand in a clasp from which she could not free it. "There is something I want to say to you."
"Oh, don't say it," cried Anne, pleadingly. "Don't — PLEASE, Gilbert."
"I must. Things can't go on like this any longer. Anne, I love you. You know I do. I — I can't tell you how much. Will you promise me that some day you'll be my wife?"
"I — I can't," said Anne miserably. "Oh, Gilbert — you — you've spoiled everything."
"Don't you care for me at all?" Gilbert asked after a very dreadful pause, during which Anne had not dared to look up.
"Not — not in that way. I do care a great deal for you as a friend. But I don't love you, Gilbert."
"But can't you give me some hope that you will — yet?"
"No, I can't," exclaimed Anne desperately. "I never, never can love you — in that way — Gilbert. You must never speak of this to me again."
There was another pause — so long and so dreadful that Anne was driven at last to look up. Gilbert's face was white to the lips. And his eyes — but Anne shuddered and looked away. There was nothing romantic about this. Must proposals be either grotesque or — horrible? Could she ever forget Gilbert's face?
11. Jane Eyre + Mr. Rochester, take one, Jane Eyre
In literature, the greatest couples usually go through two marriage proposals before they finally tie the knot (see: Anne and Gilbert, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy). The first time Mr. Rochester proposes to Jane is by far the more romantic of the two proposals, but it's also mad sketchy. Let's just say he has a little secret locked up in the attic.
"Come to my side, Jane, and let us explain and understand one another."
"I will never again come to your side: I am torn away now, and cannot return."
"But, Jane, I summon you as my wife: it is you only I intend to marry."
I was silent: I thought he mocked me.
"Come, Jane — come hither."
"Your bride stands between us."
He rose, and with a stride reached me.
"My bride is here," he said, again drawing me to him, "because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?"
12. Albert to Melpomene in "Uncle Seneca"
In Isak Dinesen's strange story, this tender proposal comes with an offer of money, and for that reason, it's roundly rejected.
"Look here," said Albert, "I have wished I could make you happy from that first moment when I met you in the rain. It is a very strange thing. One reads in books about love at first sight, but one never believes that it happens to people in real life. And then it was love at first sight with me myself…. I felt at once that you were what people call one's better self. The other girls have all been strangers, somehow, but you were like me."
13. Laurie + Amy in Little Women
Sure, their romance was a controversial one — many fans of Little Women insist that Laurie was meant for Jo — and sure, it's a little weird to marry the sister of the girl you were in love with first. But the incomplete question, the lake setting, and the general sweetness of this proposal are simple, mutual understanding at its romantic best.
He had rather imagined that the denoument would take place in the chateau garden by moonlight, and in the most graceful and decorous manner, but it turned out exactly the reverse, for the matter was settled on the lake at noonday in a few blunt words. They had been floating about all the morning…
Amy had been dabbling her hand in the water during the little pause that fell between them, and when she looked up, Laurie was leaning on his oars with an expression in his eyes that made her say hastily, merely for the sake of saying something...
"You must be tired. Rest a little, and let me row. It will do me good, for since you came I have been altogether lazy and luxurious."
"I'm not tired, but you may take an oar, if you like. There's room enough, though I have to sit nearly in the middle, else the boat won't trim," returned Laurie, as if he rather liked the arrangement.
Feeling that she had not mended matters much, Amy took the offered third of a seat, shook her hair over her face, and accepted an oar. She rowed as well as she did many other things, and though she used both hands, and Laurie but one, the oars kept time, and the boat went smoothly through the water.
"How well we pull together, don't we?" said Amy, who objected to silence just then.
"So well that I wish we might always pull in the same boat. Will you, Amy?" very tenderly.
"Yes, Laurie," very low.
Then they both stopped rowing, and unconsciously added a pretty little tableau of human love and happiness to the dissolving views reflected in the lake.