Love Triangles, Part 2

A commenter on my last post about love triangles pointed out that various love-angles have been featured in literature since who-knows-when. Cave people probably told stories about dramatic love triangles in grunts and signs, and good for them.

The story of Helen of Troy was a love-triangle of sorts, with Paris stealing Helen from her wretched husband Menelaus. There’s the classic King Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triangle, one of my very favorite stories of all time, and the accompanying Tristan-Isolde-King Mark tale. Shakespeare loved a good love triangle, and even Jane Austen gives us a variety of love-angles in Mansfield Park, arguably her primmest book—and again, one of my favorites. (Honestly, if there were a Team Edmund/Team Henry debate, I’d be rooting for Henry Crawford. Seriously!)

Downton Abbey happily plays on our interest in love-angles.

But why? I really want to know what it is about being caught between lovers that is so appealing to us. Is it the drama? The exquisite joy and pain of having two people who love someone so much—do we want to experience that vicariously?

Still, today I want to drag into the mix love untried and those rare books in which two lovers unite without much friction. I just finished one: Soulless, by Gail Carriger, a book which probably warrants a blog post about pastiche and steampunk and parasols.

Over the course of the book, though, which is the first in a series, the two lovers are wed—and there are really very few love-related obstacles for them to cross before the wedding. Practicalities like not knowing if you’re writing a series aside, what is the merit of letting the lovers get together right away, especially when we readers love to have the drama stretched out?

I started this topic out with fantasy because, well, I write and read mostly fantasy these days. I do read and love me some historical fiction and classic fiction—Jane Austen continues to be one of my very favorites. But the mix of lovers does transcend genres, just as it transcends the “romance” category generally.

I want to throw this open to you, readers. Which do you prefer: love quickly triumphant or love tried with complications like other lovers? Why do you prefer it? What are your favorite love stories?

As for me, now I just want to reread Mansfield Park.

15 thoughts on “Love Triangles, Part 2

  1. I’m not sure what attracts us to love triangles. I think you may have hit upon it with your comment about enjoying it vicariously. Not too many of us carry on more than one relationship at a time. I’m sure there are those who do, but I would think trying to manage more than one intense relationship takes its toll emotionally and physically.

    Unintentionally (meaning I didn’t write it into my outline but it has evolved during the writing), I have a love triangle developing in my own series. It heightens tension, that’s for sure, and it pits two people against each other that probably wouldn’t be at each other’s throats otherwise. Remember, it is not just about the person being loved, but the conflict between the two hoping to win the third’s heart.

    • That’s a great point, and I hadn’t really thought of it outright before. My first, never-to-see-the-light-of-day novel has a love triangle, and while I considered what the two men would think about each other, I never really had them interact too terribly much. I’ll have to keep that angle in mind when I rewrite that book from scratch.

  2. I do think it is the drama and the natural fascination with human relationships that keeps us flipping pages on a good love triangle. That said, I think there can be a lot of drama in a relationship where the coming together is easy. When the lovers get to have each other, the author can do all kinds of mean nasty things to them, like having one be abducted or having the constant worry of harm befalling one or the other. No matter how you approach it, you can keep people reading with a good relationship set.

    • That’s very true. In one of my favorite romances, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, the two main lovers come together in the first book. But there are lots, and lots, and LOTS of obstacles. They’re even compelling as a middle-aged married couple. I think when it’s done well, there’s as much drama in a standing relationship as in a new one–you’re totally right.

  3. Okay, let me just say that I LOVED Soulless! And then I’ll warn you that she does mess with the perfect couple just a trifle in upcoming books, but still they’re all a lot of fun. And yeah, after reading so many tortured triangles it is sort of refreshing to see two people who like each other, then love each other, without all the attendant angst & drama. The first Jane True book (Tempest Rising) was like that, and if you haven’t read Nicole Peeler’s series, you should add it to your list. I like Soulless & Tempest Rising because of the realistic look at how relationships develop. That said, I agree with tmso in the comment above, that it’s the unreality of a triangle that makes it intriguing.
    Thanks for the post!

  4. I tend to be more inspired by great love stories that are NOT triangles, but which nonetheless have huge obstacles to triumph over. Right now I’m thinking Phedre and Joscelin from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart series.

      • It’s not as good. *sigh*

        She’s written another series now, too, and none of them top the Phedre books.

      • me too, Emmie. I’ve read two of the Imriel ones, and though they’re fabulous and a similar style, for me they don’t quite reach the heights of Phedre and Joscelin (to be fair, not much ever will in my eyes!)

    • YES, that’s a great example, and one I didn’t think of! There’s a strange dynamic to that one because of Phedre’s, erm, clients, but that couple sticks together in spite of what amounts to a fairly basic relationship difference. Thanks for pointing them out!

  5. It’s all about struggling to achieve the end result–the hero’s journey. Love that comes too easily is no fun–we want angst, tears, anger, revenge–we want to feel.

    • YES. Well-put. That’s what it boils down to, isn’t it? We want to feel, and feel a lot, and things we wouldn’t normally feel in our own lives. And a fulfilled love story SHOULD complete the character arc.

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