While I don't often think about literary romance and whatnot, today being Valentine's Day seems fitting. After all, it's quite human and natural to be thinking about love and marriage today, and I think it's fun sometimes to think about favorite literary couples--and the moment that started their Happily Ever After. Last year we talked about favorite heroes, heroines, and married couples. The year before we talked about biblical foundations for romance novels in the series "Is Love a Fancy or a Feeling?" and today, I thought it would be fun to dig out my favorite literary proposals, and why I like them.
Should we even be thinking about literary proposals? Sure! For one thing, proposals give you a pretty good indication of the couple's future chance of happiness--whether they're two selfish beings who are in for a lot of heartbreak, or a weak man looking to a beautiful woman to fulfill his lusts, or two Christians whom God has joined together to advance the Dominion Mandate. Proposals are the door that unlock the rest of the couple's future, and there are a lot of practical lessons we can learn on realistic and unrealistic proposals simply from reading books.
Besides, I will be the last person in the world to deny that proposals are heaps of fun.
Beware of spoilers. If you've never read the novel and don't want to know what happens, then don't peek. :)
Favorite Literary Proposals
Knightley and Emma
Knightley is one of literature's best heroes, hands-down. He's practical, he speaks the truth kindly, he's loving without being sappy, and his sarcastic wit is a joy to behold. He's neither a tormented soul like Mr. Rochester nor the puppy-lover like Laurie. Just a respectable, imperfect man who loves a woman with a mix of faults and virtues. And it is their normality which makes them perfect for one another.
"I cannot make speeches, Emma:" he soon resumed; and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing.—"If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am.—You hear nothing but truth from me.—I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it.—Bear with the truths I would tell you now, dearest Emma, as well as you have borne with them. The manner, perhaps, may have as little to recommend them. God knows, I have been a very indifferent lover.—But you understand me.—Yes, you see, you understand my feelings—and will return them if you can.
What did she say?—Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.—She said enough to shew there need not be despair—and to invite him to say more himself.
But the gem of the whole piece is entirely the last sentence of the chapter. After all that romance, there is a thought spared not for his lady-love, but for his rival. For Mr. Knightley, after all, is only human, and subject to the jealousies and inconsistencies of the rest of us.
He had found her agitated and low.—Frank Churchill was a villain.— He heard her declare that she had never loved him. Frank Churchill's character was not desperate.—She was his own Emma, by hand and word, when they returned into the house; and if he could have thought of Frank Churchill then, he might have deemed him a very good sort of fellow.
Beren and Luthien
One of Tolkien's greatest legends in The Silmarillion, the tale of Beren and Luthien is a most epic bride-price and courtship story for the ages.
Then the spell of silence fell from Beren, and he called to her, crying Tinuviel; and the woods echoed the name. Then she halted in wonder, and fled no more, and Beren came to her. But as she looked on him, doom fell upon her, and she loved him; yet she slipped from his arms and vanished from his sight even as the day was breaking....Beyond his hope she returned to him where he sat in darkness, and long ago in the Hidden Kingdom she laid her hand in his. Thereafter often she came to him, and they went in secret through the woods together from spring to summer; and no others of the Children of Iluvatar have had joy so great, though the time was brief.
Gilbert and Anne
While Gilbert is a dashing Prince Charming in the movie version of the Anne story, the movie misses an important part of the romance that you can only get by tracing Anne's character development in the books. She's an independent woman, bound for a college education and her manly ideal. So independent and romantic that she's blind to a good man who will give her a good home and a purposeful, happy life. In the books, Montgomery traces Anne's realization that her dreams are airy nothings, and the substantial, if less gilded, realities are what will give her lasting happiness.
Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one's life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one's side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music, perhaps...perhaps...love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.
Gilbert was not thus to be sidetracked. "I have a dream," he said slowly. "I persist in dreaming it, although it has often seemed to me that it could never come true. I dream of a home with a hearth-fire in it, a cat and dog, the footsteps of friends--and you!"
This proposal is my favorite simply because it's a family venture. The whole family helped Laddie get to know the Princess, and the whole family helped him off to propose to her, and shared in his joy when he returned.
"Laddie, are you sure enough to go?" I heard Mother ask him whisper-like.
"Sure as death!" Laddie answered.
Mother looked, and she had to see how it was with him; no doubt she saw more than I did from having been through it herself, so she smiled kind of a half-sad, half-glad smile. Then she turned to her damask rose bush...that none of us dared touch...and carefully selected the most perfect rose....She held it toward him, smiling bravely and beautifully, but the tears were running straight down her cheeks.
"Take it to her," she said. "I think, my son, it is very like."
I can't tell you about Laddie when he came back from Pryors'. He tore down the house, then tore it up, and then threw around the pieces, and none of us cared....Pryors had been lovely to him. When mother asked him how he made it, he answered: "I rode over, picked up the Princess and helped myself. After I finished, I remember the little unnecessary formality of asking her to marry me; and she said right out loud that she would."
Angel and Freckles
Very few times do women propose to men in literature. But it happens on occasion, and the Angel's proposal to Freckles, however unsuccessful, is one of the sweetest.
"I want you to be my real knight, Freckles, and come to me and tell me that you--like me--a little. I have been counting on you for my sweetheart from the very first, Freckles. I can't give you up, unless you don't like me. But you do like me--just a little--don't you, Freckles?...I must have you, and now I guess--I guess maybe I'd better kiss you next."
She lifted her shamed face and bravely laid her feverish, quivering lips on his. Her breath, like clover-bloom, was in his nostrils, and her hair touched his face. Then she looked into his eyes with reproach.
"Freckles," she panted, "Freckles! I didn't think it was in you to be mean!"
"Mean, Angel! Mean to you?" gasped Freckles.
"Yest, said the Angel. "Downright mean. When I kiss you, if you had any mercy at all you'd kiss back, just a little bit."
Professer Bhaer and Jo
There is great debate in literary circles on whether Jo should have married the Professor or Laurie. But to be honest, I never thought Jo and Laurie were suited to one another, and the Professor is one of the sweetest and wisest men that her wild spirit needed to balance it out. He was perfect for her, and his proposal is charming.
Jo, I haf nothing but much love to gif you. I came to see if you could care for it, and I waited to be sure that I was something more than a friend. Am I? Can you make a little place in your heart for old Fritz?" he added, all in one breath.
"Oh, yes!" said Jo.
It was certainly proposing under difficulties, for even if he had desired to do so, Mr. Bhaer could not go down upon his knees, on account of the mud. Neither could he offer Jo his hand, except figuratively, for both were full. Much less could he indulge in tender remonstrations in the open street, though he was near it. So the only way in which he could express his rapture was to look at her, with an expression which glorified his face to such a degree that there actually seemed to be little rainbows in the drops that sparkled on his beard.
"Ah! Thou gifest me such hope and courage, and I haf nothing to gif back but a full heart and these empty hands," cried the Professor, quite overcome.
Jo never, never would learn to be proper, for when he said that as they stood upon the steps, she just put both hands into his, whispering tenderly, "Not empty now," and stooping down, kissed her Friedrich under the umbrella....Though it came in such a very simple guise, that was the crowning moment of both their lives, when, turning from the night and storm and loneliness to the household light and warmth and peace waiting to receive them, with a glad "Welcome home!" Jo led her lover in, and shut the door.
But alas, there are only so many good memories you can cram into one blog post.
Oddly enough, some of my favorite couples never had proposals. Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price were left to the reader's imagination. Colin and Emily from Tidings of Comfort and Joy never had a proposal either. Neither did Matthew and Mellangell, or Herbert and Capitola. But after some thought and looking over my little collection, today's selections are my most favorite classics.
The best author for proposals, in my opinion, is Gene Stratton-Porter. They have all the love you generally want to be present in a proposal, but they contain more than just 'you are the center of my universe'. The couple generally meets by having a common purpose for bettering the world in some way, and they fall in love by working for that purpose together.
Altogether, my favorite proposals have common concepts: dominion and vision. Couples that have different strengths and weaknesses, and so make a complete whole. Couples who are committed to sacrifice for each other at any cost. And, of course, sometimes I like a couple simply because they're so sweet that they defy description. :)
This post was so fun that I think I'm going to do Literature's Worst Proposals on Tuesday. :) I couldn't fit them both into one, and though it's an extension of the Valentine's Day theme, it will be most amusing to look up. :) So stay tuned until then for more period drama fun!
What are your favorite literary proposals?