Literary Love Triangles
[source: Sony Pictures Television]
Like the very best comfort food, a good love triangle can make you forget all your troubles; they just make you feel good! Okay, they actually make you feel angst-ridden, angry, swoony, like you’re on the wings of love, and both satisfied and unsatisfied—sometimes all at once. Love triangles can be terrible! But isn’t this push-and-pull what makes a good love triangle so fun? And as much as literature and pop culture is riddled with these complicated relationships, not all of them are created equal. To make a love triangle truly great, both suitors need to be viable options. A reader needs to understand why a character might choose either person—and the best love triangles of all inspire vehement disagreement amongst fans (but, like, in a nice, fun way, okay?). To celebrate true love and the uncertainty and angst that goes with it, let’s take a closer look at six powerful love triangles found in literature both classic and contemporary.
The Book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Triangle: Mr. Darcy – Elizabeth Bennet – George Wickham
Obviously now, knowing what we know, this is barely a triangle. Darcy and Elizabeth are perfect for one another and Wickham is an ass. However, when Wickham first enters the picture, it’s obvious why Lizzy is so taken with him. He’s charming, he’s exciting, and he is in a uniform. All things that Darcy is not. But, as much as Elizabeth says she hates Darcy, she can never stop thinking about him. Even when she’s smitten with Wickham, there’s something brewing with the tall, brooding guy. Of course, by the time Elizabeth makes her choice we already know Wickham is a scoundrel and Darcy is the handsomest, richest gentleman she’ll ever meet, so the decision is pretty easy to make.
The Book: The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
The Triangle: Peeta Mellark – Katniss Everdeen – Gale Hawthorne
Like so many literary love triangles, this one begins with a childhood love. If the Hunger Games never happened, you can assume that Katniss and Gale, so well-suited for one another, would’ve ended up married and well, as happy as one can be in District 12. But the Games do happen. And then war with the Capitol happens. Everyone is changed. Katniss doesn’t really make a decision between the two men that love her, so much as passively lets fate decide. She realizes she could never be with Gale because he believes the ends justify the means—a line of thinking that led to the Games and her sister’s death—but she doesn’t just run off into the very strong, capable, built by carb-lifting arms of her Games partner, Peeta. Instead, Peeta stays by her side until eventually it dawns on her that no one will understand her—what she’s been through, what she needs—like Peeta does. The end to the triangle is agonizing, but Katniss ends up with the right guy for the woman tragedy has turned her into, a love that is very much real.
The Book: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
The Triangle: Edgar – Catherine – Heathcliff
No one wins in this triangle because everyone ends up sad and dead. Love is fun, right? This classic triangle, though, does contain a well-trotted triangle trope and thus, is very important: Catherine is choosing between Edgar, who represents a fairly content life thanks to his money and social status, and Heathcliff, who offers no stability but instead, a passionate, soulmate-level of love. Catherine first chooses status and comfort and marries Edgar, but things get complicated when Heathcliff runs off to go make himself a better man. Because love is the worst, Catherine dies before she can ever finally be with the person she should’ve chosen from the get-go (here’s a hint, Edgar: when your wife locks herself in her room over another man, maybe you shouldn’t be married to her), and Heathcliff spends the rest of his life more-or-less haunted by her ghost. Real cool, love.
The Book: Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
The Triangle: Jamie – Claire – Frank
It is extremely easy to be #TeamJamie in this time travel love triangle: Claire’s 18th century Scottish lover wears a kilt, is strong yet vulnerable, and he loves the hell out of Claire—but one shouldn’t discount Frank, her husband back in the 1940s. Claire feels guilty for loving Jamie because she’s married, and up until the whole “falling through rocks and ending up in the past” thing, Frank’s been a pretty good husband. He is decent in the sack (not like Jamie, but who is, really?), admires Claire’s intelligence, and once Claire returns from her jaunt into the past, he raises another man’s child as his own. Still, as much as getting back to Frank is what propels Claire in the first book of the series, once she is with him, she knows in her soul that her heart belongs to Jamie. This internal choice is quickly validated by their loveless marriage and Frank’s ongoing affairs. Thank goodness Claire can get back to Jamie, otherwise this whole thing would’ve been very tragic.
The Book: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Triangle: Ifemelu – Obinze – Kosi
Love triangles live for thwarting romance via time and space. Take, for instance, childhood sweethearts Ifemelu and Obinze. They are very obviously meant to be together—any scene between them is legit magic—but Adichie makes them work for that love. Ifemelu leaves Nigeria and has this whole entire life in the United States before returning and finding Obinze is married and has a child. His wife Kosi isn’t terrible. She’s beautiful and loyal, albeit a bit too traditional for Obinze. It’s pretty clear once Ifemelu comes around, that he only feels compelled to stay in his marriage out of duty, not love. It’s why he leaves Kosi to finally reunite with Ifemelu. Hey man, true love is a tough thing to compete with.
The Book: Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer
The Triangle: Edward Cullen – Bella Swan – Jacob Black
Love it or hate it, Twilight gives a good triangle. Has there ever been a house divided so intensely as #TeamEdward vs. #TeamJacob? If we all were doing our jobs we’d be able to take a step back and be #TeamBella. This would mainly consist of telling our protagonist that both of her relationships are pretty toxic, what with one stalking her, creepily staring at her, and eventually allowing her to become a vampire and the other, though warm and protective, moving on from her and CLAIMING HER UNBORN DAUGHTER AS HIS TRUE LOVE. Bella chooses Edward, but maybe she should’ve pulled a Kelly Taylor, chosen herself, and gotten the hell out of Forks.