Great lovers: Heights of passion - Part two, N-Z

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

What causes some relationships to echo through the ages? Their joy? Their intensity? Their resilience? Or their triumph against the odds? Ariane Sherine concludes our two-day celebration of true romance by choosing 25 more couples who, in different ways, embody the power of love

When we think about "true love", we tend to do so through a haze of rose-petal confetti. Our idea of a great love affair is as likely as not to involve an enraptured couple, luminous with joy at having discovered each other.

Perhaps we picture them gazing longingly into each other's eyes; maybe they are sharing sweet kisses, waking entwined in one another's warm arms, or whispering endearments to be remembered affectionately for decades. In these imagined romances, any altercations are fleeting, any infidelity is unthinkable - and, of course, no separation lasts longer than a few nights.

Why, then, do so many of the relationships featured in this Valentine's Day selection of great romances defy the above description? If we exclude those still living out their stories, then only a very few of these couples - the lesser-known E B and Katherine White, perhaps, or Emil Zand#225;topek and Dana Zand#225;topkovand#225; - come close to embodying the kind of loving, lasting relationship we long to have for ourselves.

Several of our couples met while one or both were already attached; many remained so throughout the romance, while a surprising number were also unfaithful to their "great love". Long absences and unrequited desire feature frequently, and almost half the liaisons were volatile, two fatally so. Yet all are considered to be among the great love stories of the past millennium.

The answer may be that all relationships are imperfect, and few more so than those of artistic luminaries and statesmen. With notability comes temptation; with great success comes absence, often leading to loneliness and indiscretions. More importantly, no real-life romance could possibly live up to the fanciful notions of love that we are encouraged to believe in. As the song says, love is pain.

Those of us in love torture ourselves with thoughts of losing it; the loveless yearn for it, remembering only its delights and never its agonies. The wonder is not that most relationships falter, but that any last a lifetime. Yet they do, and many of those described in this lovers' canon give us cause for joy and hope. If their love endured war, poverty, infidelity, incarceration and the wrath of society, surely our own relationships can withstand less?

Another possibility is that we prefer tales of heartache and passion to those of quiet contentment, providing we don't have to live them out ourselves. We can enjoy the heady glow of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's brightly burning flame, yet not have to suffer the heat; we can empathise with Petrarch, Yeats and possibly Shakespeare's tortuous longing, yet not face comparable rejection.

Similarly, although we would never wish for it, nothing elevates a love story as poignantly as early death, which is why one of the loveliest of historical British romances is that of Victoria and Albert - a man who did little to charm the country but so won his Queen that Victoria spent half her life mourning his early death.

If it is true that passion makes for a great narrative, it is also no coincidence that many of the most notable artists' and poets' love lives were full of sorrow and intensity: their grief and elation suffused their art, making it greater in the process.

In 1893, the playwright Oscar Wilde wrote to his notoriously petulant lover, Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie): "Dearest of All Boys, Your letter was delightful, red and yellow wine to me; but I am sad and out of sorts. Bosie, you must not make scenes with me. They kill me, they wreck the loveliness of life. I cannot see you, so Greek and gracious, distorted with passion. I cannot listen to your curved lips saying hideous things to me." Yet, despite Wilde's palpable anguish, Bosie's unpredictable behaviour influenced his most romantic letters, and is likely to have inspired some of his greatest work.

Of course, the answer to our question may merely be that legends of woe and strife are more memorable than tales of gentle constancy, even if ceaseless friendship through the trials of ageing and loss is in truth the greatest love of all. Suffering is more readable than bliss, and melodrama lends itself more readily to history than contentment. The stories that endure are those that capture the imagination, whether or not they represent love in all its fullness.

However, for all the caprices, clashes and destructive natures of the poets, actors and great characters in this selection of great lovers, there is one trait that distinguishes them from lesser couples, and renders them deserving of our affections: each firmly believed they had found their one true love. That many of them subsequently went on to throw it away is testament both to the difficult nature of love itself, and to the fallibility of humans.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

    £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

    Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map