Star Crossed Lovers: 10 Tragic Couples To Read (And Cry About)
Have you heard the phrase “star-crossed lovers” before? Have you ever wondered what it means, where it came from, or how did it become one of the most popular romance tropes in pop culture?
The phrase “star-crossed lovers” describes a couple whose relationship is often thwarted by external forces. The phrase was coined by Shakespeare in his 1595 play Romeo and Juliet:
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife
It is crucial to remember here that “star-crossed” does not equate to Disney’s “meant to be” or “happily ever after.” In fact, it is quite the opposite. Shakespeare’s “star-crossed” equates to “doomed to die” or “destined to fail”; representing a cautionary tale for those not to become or pursue for such a fate in romance. Of course, modern pop culture has referenced the star-crossed lovers archetype from songs such as Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and No Doubt’s “Gravity” to major cinema pictures including Jack and Rose from Titanic and Satine and Christian from Moulin Rouge.
The star-crossed archetype is found not only in music and movies but in literature as well. From classic to contemporary, here are 10 tragic literary couples we can’t help but to read and cry about.
- Catherine and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte
It’s all doom-and-gloom as Wuthering Heights is set in the gothic moors of England. Heathcliff, an orphaned gypsy raised by the Earnshaw family, falls in love with their daughter Catherine. Despite their seemingly romance, Catherine chooses to marry for status rather than for love; leaving Heathcliff in rage lashing out in vengeance and violence. A selfish and self-destructive love at it’s best.
- Augustus and Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene
Romeo and Juliet are not the only star-crossed teenagers to have a tragic ending. When Hazel meets Augustus at a cancer patient support group, the two of them embark on a romantic journey together to Amsterdam in search of their favorite author. Despite their limited time together, Augustus and Hazel both learn that hurt in this world is unavoidable. The Fault in Our Stars does not end with dry eyes or an unbroken heart.
- Gatsby and Daisy from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Set in the roaring twenties, Gatsby and Daisy became one of the most doomed star-crossed lovers in modern literature. Gatsby and Daisy are in a delusional love affair as all odds are stacked against them including mysterious millionaires, selfish flappers and jealous, murderous husbands. Their tragic ending is so beautifully and symbolically written that we keep coming back to it decades after its initial publication in 1925.
- Winston and Julia from 1984 by George Orwell
Love cannot bloom in a totalitarian state, but that doesn’t stop Winston and Julia from trying. Winston and Julia secretly engage in a passionate affair, hiding their love from the government. These star-crossed lovers truly believe they can conspire to overthrow their dystopian dictatorship. However, the tortuous tyrannical Big Brother is ultimately stronger (and more powerful) than any emotional bond the lovers might share. To Big Brother, love is corruption. Still bleak and relevant.
- Tess and Angel from Tess of the D’urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Tess is unlucky from beginning to end. From the birth of her child by rape to her eventual demise in seeking revenge on her attacker, Tess’s tragedies remind her that she cannot (and never will be) with her true lover, Angel. Readers beware, Tess of the D’ubervilles is not for the faint of heart.
- Louisa and Will from Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
After Louisa loses her steady job at a cafe, she takes on a job as a caretaker for a quadriplegic man named Will Traynor. Will, despondent about his physical condition, wants to end his life in Switzerland. Louisia is distressed by what she hears, and tries to convince Will that there is a point to living by taking him on mini adventures; showing him how wonderful life can be. Get ready for the tissues.
- Cecilia and Robbie from Atonement by Ian McEwan
It’s all one big misunderstanding after another. Once Cecilia reveals her romantic feelings for the gardener, Robbie, things go quickly wrong from there. One night at a dinner party, Cecilia’s younger sister accuses Robbie of raping Cecilia’s cousin out of suspicion and fear. The wronged Robbie, who could have jumped the social gulf and lived happily ever after with Cecilia, instead goes to prison, then to the front lines in WWII, and…well, it doesn’t end happily for either of the lovers.
- Inman and Ada from Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Set during the Civil War, Cold Mountain is an odyssey of estranged lovers struggling to reunite with one another. Searching for the other, Inman and Ada fight for their survival (and for their love) by showing perseverance throughout their journey. In the end, Inman teaches us that losing something you already have is far worse than not getting what you want.
- Anna and Vronsky from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Noblewoman and socialite, Anna Karenina, has a scandalous love affair with a dashing military man named Count Vronsky. Vronsky is eager to marry Anna if she agrees to leave her powerful government official husband, Count Karenin. It all turns into a downward soap opera spiral, except it’s Tolstoy, which means it ends on a tragic note.
- Noah and Allie from The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
Set in pre- and post- World War II, Noah and Allie fall in love at the wrong place and time. Separated due to their socio-economic status, Noah continues to write letters to Allie, confessing his love for her, and the letter goes unanswered. Time passes, and Noah and Allie are finally able to reconnect but at a higher cost.
10. Romeo and Juliet from Romeo and Juliet
Last, and tragically not least, the star-crossed superstars themselves — Romeo and Juliet! Although the two love birds weren’t historically the first star-crossed lovers (nor the last), Romeo and Juliet set the bar high for tragic romance. Their tragic fate has become the blueprint staple for star-crossed lovers as we have seen here in multiple examples.
No matter what the external forces are (war, family, status, bad luck, etc.) there is a reoccurring theme with star-crossed lovers — and that is, no one ends up happily with the other. What are some of your favorite star-crossed couples?
Further Reading and Sources:
Star Crossed Lovers of China’s and Japan’s Literary Traditions https://scroll.in/article/891308/photos-the-star-crossed-lovers-of-china-and-japans-literary-traditions
Star Crossed Lovers Not Written by Shakespeare https://www.toptenz.net/top-10-tales-star-crossed-lovers-written-shakespeare.php
8 Epically Doomed Relationship in Literature https://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2014/02/8-epically-doomed-relationships-in-literature.html
Love against All Odds in Books, A Valentine’s Day Special https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/feb/12/love-against-the-odds-in-books-valentines-day