A lot of what we hope for and expect out of our own romantic encounters originates from the epic angst-filled affaires d’amour of our favorite books. It’s why you start working on your “how we met” story mere hours after you actually meet your boo to be. It’s why you imagine that guy you kind of hate at work will somehow magically turn into the love of your life after a few stern words and an apology letter (thanks, Pride and Prejudice ).
Speaking of which, it’s also probably why you’ve re-watched all five and a half hours of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice somewhere in the area of eight or more times. Well, that and because of the delicious pond scene with Darcy (Colin Firth has some serious nerd-sexy going on #sorrynotsorry).
But much as we’d like to believe the authors of some of the most brilliant fiction in history have all the answers to life and love, unfortunately, they can’t always be trusted. Or, at least, their characters can’t be. Mixed in with all the sweet musings on the perfect happiness of love in our favorite novels, there’s a whole lot of pretty terrible love advice. From generally harmless tidbits to seriously-don’t-do-this-unless-you-want-to-be-alone-forever advice, here are a few bits of love advice you’ll want to give some serious side-eye when you turn to the pages of these books.
“Possession, which cloys man, only increases the affection of woman”
―Matthew Gregory Lewis, The Monk
OK, so maybe nobody’s reading The Monk for love advice, but nonetheless, this is a load of crap. The whole passage around this quote is about how Ambrosio is growing used to and therefore disenchanted with his lover Matilda, meanwhile Matilda grows more affectionate. If there were a line graph of this, the “affection of woman” would plummet with startling sharpness after about 5 seconds of putting up with that kind of treatment. So, I wouldn’t bank on winning any hearts with this idea.
“To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love”
―Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Wait, is that why dance clubs are so popular? Who knew? Still, you’ll have to note that Ms. Austen didn’t say anything about dancing well. Some of us look like Zoidberg performing a mating ritual when we step out on the dance floor. Such a performance doesn’t always lend itself to a fondness for dancing (or to finding a dance partner with any fondness for his toes), but it sure doesn’t keep all the bad dancer of the universe from having just as good a shot at love. Just ask Taylor Swift.
“When women are secret they are secret indeed; and more often than not they only begin to be secret with the advent of a second lover.”
—Thomas Hardy, A Pair of Blues Eyes
I mean... or you have secrets because they planned you an epic surprise birthday party, or really don’t want to admit that it wasn’t the dog whose fart just practically suffocated you. But if you want to go around thinking that every furtive itch you see on your lady friend is proof of infidelity, then good luck ever staying in a relationship ever.
“Here's my advice to you: don't marry until you can tell yourself that you've done all you could, and until you've stopped loving the women you've chosen, until you see her clearly, otherwise you'll be cruelly and irremediably mistaken. Marry when you're old and good for nothing ... Otherwise all that's good and lofty in you will be lost.”
—Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
Because it’s definitely a great idea to approach marriage like you’re walking down the aisle to your death bed. If you feel like “all that’s good and lofty in you will be lost,” as you stare into the eyes of your beloved at the altar, run the other way. Far, far the other way.
“Love her, love her, love her! If she favours you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces — and as it gets older and stronger, it will tear deeper — love her, love her, love her!"”
—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Miss Havisham is clearly the worst person to ever take love advice from. If someone “tears your heart to pieces,” what in the name of Aphrodite are you going to love them with? If you ever meet anyone who even resembles an Estella, the only word you need is “bye.”
“Love, she felt, ought to come at once, with great thunderclaps and flashes of lightning; it was like a storm bursting upon life from the sky, uprooting it, overwhelming the will and sweeping the heart into the abyss.”
—Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Oh Emma… young, foolish Emma. If you encounter this book at a younger age, you might be liable to get swept up in the same dreamy-eyed passion that Emma does. A good relationship can (and probably should) have some passion in it, but it doesn’t always look like lightning and fireworks. Real love isn’t all shining, shimmering, splendid. It often looks a lot more like getting up 10 minutes early so your boo doesn’t have to wait for the shower, or a brand new bottle of bourbon waiting for you after work when he knows you had a terrible day.
“If wealthily, then happily”
—William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew
Pretty much nobody in The Taming of the Shrew is setting a good example for a good relationship. Happily there are enough movies, TV shows, and anecdotes out in the world that condemn the whole marry for money thing. So, what’s left to say? Don’t do it. I mean... at least not if you're looking for the lovey dovey romance of John Mayer songs.
“But Levin was in love, and so it seemed to him that Kitty was so perfect in every respect that she was a creature far above everything earthly; and that he was a creature so low and so earthly that it could not even be conceived that other people and she herself could regard him as worthy of her.”
—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Whoa, buddy! Levin is gonna be real surprised the first time Kitty lets one rip in bed. Just sayin’. There’s love and then there’s idolization. Luckily real life usually clears up the latter after a couple of days of living with your significant other. After the first time he stink bombs the bathroom, you’ll quickly realize he’s just as disgusting a creature as you are. And after the first time he stops you from venturing anywhere near said stank-ified bathroom, you’ll realize just how much he cares.
"Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.”
—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Look, Anna, I feel you. You’re coming out of a loveless marriage and all, but, uh, respect? Yeah, that’s gonna need to be a part of that whole love thing too.
“My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Healthcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”
—Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
Yikes, it’s good to be all about a person you’re in love with, but you should probably also be able to exist or something. I mean, dang, not only is it kinda creepy to consider another person to be yourself, but you’ve also gotta have your own life ya know? Also, any love you can describe as “a source of little visible delight…?” Unless you’re both just really shy or freakishly private, or 24/7 method actors pretending you’re in a horrible relationship, let’s just go ahead and say that’s probably not a good thing.
“If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!”
—Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
That’s some Carrie, Swim Fan kinda response right there. Sure, Frankenstein’s monster’s got some legitimate grievances, but no reason to go all gloom, doom, and terror. Nope. Time to move on to someone who knows what she’s got. Thanks.
So, it’s all well and good to disappear into the fantasy world of fiction from time to time, but when it comes to real life love, maybe it’s best to take a piece of better advice from the literary expert on love herself (Jane Austen, of course) when she writes in Persuasion, “I will not allow books to prove anything.”