Although the original Saint Valentine was martyred in the third century and the Catholic Church has been celebrating his feast day on February 14 for centuries, the pink and chocolate covered affair that is modern Valentine's Day hasn't been around very long at all. Which is a shame because it means that some of our favorite classic literary heroines never got a chance to celebrate — and we never got a chance to see what they would have made of the holiday.
Though more often than not literary heroines' stories revolve around romance, they all have different approaches to love, romance, and the men in their lives. And so it stands to reason that they would have had all different opinions of Valentine's Day. Would they have liked the idea? Hated it? What gifts would they have bought? Would they have wanted to celebrate with a traditional dinner and a romantic comedy type date, or would they have wanted something more unconventional? Or would they have eschewed the idea of a date all together and gotten together with a group of friends? And what would their position have been on chocolate?
We may never know exactly how each of them would have felt, but using a little imagination, we can make some educated guesswork.
Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice
Lizzie Bennet might have lived in the 18th century, but she's still someone that girls in the 21st can still identify with. So how would she have viewed the modern Valentine's Day? Probably with rolled eyes and a few choice — but oh-so polite — words about the shallow version of love propped up by Valentine's Day. If there were one thing our Lizzie didn't put much stock in it was shallow social convention and all the hypocrisy that surrounds them. So while she wouldn't have been one of those people loudly bashing Valentine's Day, I doubt she would have gone in for it much, either. Except maybe as an excuse to get together with Jane and Charlotte and hide from her mother's pointed comments.
Jo March from Little Women
I always felt that underneath her tough exterior, Jo March was more of a romantic than she wanted to let on. Odds are she would genuinely hate all of the endless pink hearts and chocolate hearts and candy hearts and every other type of heart — and complain about them loudly and bluntly. But secretly, I think she would have liked the idea of an excuse to cozy up with someone special.
Janie Crawford from Their Eyes Were Watching God
One of the most remarkable and lovely things about the character of Janie Crawford was that she always kept an open mind and an open heart, even when life tried its best to stamp it out of her. So I think that Janie wouldn't take the easy road and get cynical about Valentine's Day but instead appreciate the beauty in a day all about focusing on the person you love. Because it really can be quite a beautiful thing if you approach it with an open mind.
Anna Karenina from Anna Karenina
This classic Russian beauty always had quite the self-destructive streak, not mention great propensity for getting caught up in love and romance and co-dependence. If Anna were around for modern Valentine's Day, my guess is she would love the opportunity to go all out. Of course, her version of "all out" would naturally be elegant and understated to a fault — nothing tacky for our Russian leading lady. But she'd probably love Valentine's none-the-less. Particularly if it annoyed Russian society.
Cathy Ernshaw from Wuthering Heights
If anyone dared to suggest that Cathy Ernshaw celebrate anything that involved the color pink, I imagine her look might cause said person to wither and die where they stood. In fact, if it were possible for Cathy Ernshaw to squash Valentine's Day underneath her shoe until it was nothing but a dirty, pink stain on the floor, she probably would.
Cleopatra from Antony and Cleopatra
The regal Cleopatra from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra didn't need trimmings and trappings and great displays to demonstrate the depth of her affection for her love. She and Marc Antony balanced their deep personal feelings with their public duties with the grace and dignity that befit their status. But even though Cleopatra was mature enough and secure enough in her relationship not to need Valentine's Day for herself, given its social prominence, she probably would have used the occasion for a stately dinner of some sort, or as a way of reminding everyone just who she was and that she and Antony were unshakable.
Lily Bart from The House of Mirth
If ever there were a literary heroine made for Valentine's Day, it would be Lily Bart. She would have gone positively giddy over the decorations, gifts, and potential plans. She would have wanted to attend every party —doubtless dressed head toe in pink — and to secure herself the absolute best date. Though she probably would have found herself torn between the man who was most outwardly impressive and the one she really wanted to celebrate the romantic holiday with.
Karen Blixen from Out of Africa
If there's one thing that can be said of the main character from this autobiographical tale, it's that she was always confident in herself and lived her life the way she wanted. So when it comes to Valentine's Day, I doubt she would have been any different. With or without a partner, if she felt like celebrating, she would; if she didn't, she wouldn't. It probably would have depended on how she felt that year (and whether she was even living in a country where anyone cared).
Eliza Sommers from Daughter of Fortune
The Eliza Sommers we meet at the beginning of Isabel Allende's historical coming-of-age novel is certainly curious about love, and probably would eager to participate in Valentine's Day, if there was someone who asked her. But, naively, she also would most likely have huge expectations about what a Valentine's Day date meant and completely miss how shallow and superficial the day can also be.
Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter
Hester Prynne might have been a romantic at some point in her life, the young woman in the novel probably wouldn't have gone in for Valentine's Day much. Hester had the strength of character to rise above the unfairness she had to deal with in Puritan society, but she was not what you might call cuddly — or someone who would be much interested in candy hearts. If she bothered to dignify Valentine's Day with any of her attention, it would probably be to shoot it a contemptuous glare.
Sethe from Beloved
Sethe lived a hard, hard life and probably would have welcomed the opportunity to have someone pamper her a little and treat her to some chocolate and a night off to have some light-hearted fun for a change. She probably would have been bemused by the existence of such a holiday, but hopefully she would have gotten the chance to enjoy it.
Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre
Jane was nothing if not practical, and thus probably wouldn't have been a fan of Valentine's Day. A whole day all about romance and frivolity? She probably would have either thought the whole thing silly or just assumed that it wasn't really for someone like her anyway. She wouldn't have hated on it, but wouldn't have felt any desire to join in, either.
Image: Christian Bucad/flickr