The Blagger's Guide To: love in literature

50 Shades of Pooh, and other unlikely romantic interludes

Sunday 10 February 2013 01:00
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Don't panic – the Blagger has not gone all romantic on you and is not about to start recommending Valentine's Day reading. There are plenty of other places for that: collections of "romantic" poems; endless copies of 50 Shades of Grey; rewrites of Jane Austen with added bonking; Hallmark cards .… But you won't find any "To His Coy Mistress" here. This is a column that celebrates real love in literature; not soppy books that end "happily ever after" with a wedding.

Most authors are excited when their work becomes a GCSE set text. But Louis de Bernières's writing is practically part of the wedding vows. This passage, from Captain Corelli's Mandolin, is now recommended by register offices as a reading suitable for civil ceremonies: "Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. No, don't blush, I am telling you some truths. That is just being 'in love', which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two."

De Bernières himself was nonplussed about this when The Blagger met him, years later. He subsequently wrote a short story for The IoS, which expressed a similar sentiment in less dewy-eyed terms. In "True Love At Last", the fairy godfather eventually admits to the princess: "True Love At Last actually lasts about six months, and the Perfect Prince remains perfect for about eight months …. Eternal Love? Well, that's about three years …. Even if you add them consecutively, rather than run them concurrently, it only comes to four years and two months."

In literature, love that is not ostensibly romantic tends to fare more happily. Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings, for instance. Again, this quote, to a beloved from one who loves him, would seem perfectly apt at a wedding: "If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together ... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart ... I'll always be with you." Until, that is, you realise that this is Piglet, talking to Pooh. Is this the first gay marriage in children's fiction?

Are the Owl and the Pussycat a boy and a girl, and, if so, which is which? We tend to assume that the Pussycat is a girl, but only because the Owl calls her "lovely Pussy, O Pussy my love, what a beautiful Pussy you are …" It is Pussy who proposes: "O let us be married, too long have we tarried …" Either way, at least they left it for a year and a day before getting hitched – longer than many celebrity marriages even last.

As a moving depiction of mature, married love, Rachel Joyce's Man Booker-longlisted The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is hard to beat. So are Ma and Pop Larkin in HE Bates's The Darling Buds of May. At least, eating fry-ups together in the bath is the Blagger's idea of happy marriage.

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