“Write a quick love story. The story must end badly.”
Don’t most love stories end badly? That was the question posed by my English Lit professor at the beginning of the semester, and he challenged us to find a story in classical English literature that didn’t end poorly. For starters he gave us Wuthering Heights, The Importance of Being Earnest, Middlemarch, and Pride and Prejudice. We all sighed because these are some of the most annoyingly dull “masterpieces” around, but the class was required for our majors so we sucked it up and bought the books.
“We should definitely start with Pride and Prejudice,” Carrie said once the study group had settled in my dorm room’s common area, a space just slightly larger than my kitchen back home, and appropriate cramped with five bodies strewn around its couch and carpeted floor.
“Already read it,” Jeff admitted. “Snooze fest.”
“Well, tell us what it was about,” I said. “Maybe we won’t have to read it to get a good perspective.”
“So there was this dude named Mr. Darcy, who I think must have been a dweeb ’cause no one seemed to like him except this young girl — Elizabeth I think her name was. Elizabeth’s family had all these parties and somehow they kept inviting Darcy,” said Jeff, yawning.
“Why keep inviting him when he’s an insufferable bore?” Jessica interrupted.
“Because that’s what they did back in the 18-whatevers,” Jeff said. “Anyway, they fall in love — Elizabeth and Darcy — but there are too many obstacles, the biggest one being the difference in their social class. And there’s a happy ending where they get married and supposedly live happily ever after.”
“Wait,” I said. “Why supposedly?”
“The author leaves it hanging at the end, like they’re getting married but the class thing might be too much for them to overcome in the end.”
“Chalk one up for a mixed ending,” Carrie said from her spot perched on the arm of the couch. “Next.”
“Wait a second,” interrupted Jessica as I had started thumbing through Middlemarch. “Is it the book that has a mixed ending or the love story?”
“Oh, I see what you’re saying,” I said, dropping the other book. “Our question was about the love story itself, if it ends badly, not if the book has a sad or incomplete ending.”
“Well, I think the love story is a weak one, personally,” Carrie said. “They don’t have enough ‘face time’ together to prove it’s really love. And even though they get married in the end, who’s to say that this lack of familiarity won’t doom them? We can’t answer the question definitively based on just this book, even though it has what might be qualified as a happy ending.”
“Damn,” I grudgingly agreed, grabbing Middlemarch by its spine again.
“So, you don’t believe in true love lasting in spite of challenges?” Jessica asked. I sensed a trap, but I stepped into it anyway.
“I think who’s to say it’s true love if they’ve known each other for such a small period of time, since they’ve spent so little time actually together?” I said.
“We’ve only known each other since the semester started,” she challenged, suddenly angry. “And you told me you loved me. Was that all a lie? Because according to you, you don’t believe in true love lasting without a huge space of time to, what, prove it?”
“That’s not what I said,” I backpedaled quickly. “I said that in English literature that was the case.”
“But English literature is based off of actual emotions and real feelings, most times of the author themselves,” Jessica maintained.
“How about we move on to Middlemarch?” prodded Jeff.
“Screw Middlemarch,” Jessica said. “We already have our answer, don’t we? All love stories end badly because either love sucks or people who say they’re in love are liars. Back then they used class as an excuse and these days we blame time. There’s your answer.”
And she was gone, grabbing her bag and books in a rush of air, the door slamming behind her like a thunderclap. Carrie and Jeff looked at each other as if to avoid looking at me, and I didn’t even know what to say. I supposed I should follow Jessica, but the truth was she had a point. Maybe I had been looking for an excuse to break up with her. Perhaps I really didn’t believe in true love, at least not at our age, and maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. We were too young to be so serious. Well, weren’t we?
“So yeah, screw Middlemarch,” Carrie finally said, breaking the silence. “Let’s see why that woman was screaming across the moors for what I can only assume was a ghost.”
And Wuthering Heights it was.