4x4th Estate: Best literary weddings (or almost weddings)

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

‘Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.’


Has there ever been a more memorable or tragic ‘jilted at the alter’ narrative in literature? In Charles Dickens’ 1861 novel Great Expectations we meet Miss Havisham, an eccentric and vengeful woman who resides alone in a rotting stately home. We learn that when Miss Havisham reached adulthood she inherited a vast fortune when her father passed away. She then fell in love with a man named Compeyson who, unbeknownst to the poor Miss Havisham, was only interested in her wealth. On that fated morning, while getting into her wedding dress, she received a letter from him and realised that she had been tricked. Devastated and heart-broken, she remained alone in her decaying mansion, never removing her dress – even leaving the wedding breakfast and cake untouched on the table. The power of Dickens’ character is such that ‘Miss Havisham’ has surpassed as a mere name; a medical condition has in fact been dubbed the ‘Miss Havisham Effect’ because of it – the pleasure derived from pining for lost love.


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

‘Reader, I married him.’


Could it be true that one of the most acclaimed weddings in literature is the one that doesn’t take place? And when it finally happens, we don’t even get an invite? In Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, Jane is set to marry Mr. Rochester – the master of Thornfield estate. As a wedding gift, Rochester presents Jane with an exquisite veil; however, on the eve of their wedding Jane suffers strange dreams and wakes to find ‘a form’ rummaging through her closet. The form takes the shape of a feral and savage-looking woman, who lifts Jane’s veil and tears it in two. Brontë examines the theme of marriage from numerous angles in this novel. Marriage between people of differing backgrounds and financial situations are surmountable when it comes to lasting love; those who marry for wealth or passion alone are doomed to failure. With a beautifully satisfying ending, Jane Eyre certainly lives up to its classic status.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

‘I’ll follow thee and make a heaven of hell, To die upon the hand I love so well.’


Now we turn to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play that centres entirely on loves difficultly, marriage, and even ends with a group wedding. Most know the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: four young lovers, intertwined and conflicted; mischievous fairies that make you think twice about who you take a woodland stroll with; and the King and Queen at the helm, involved in their own wicked games. Being a Shakespearean comedy, this spectacle ends happily; however, it certainly lives up to its cliché that the course of true love never does run smoothly. The joint wedding between Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena has become so famous that even modern ceremonies use ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as their wedding theme – with thousands of websites and Pintrest boards dedicated to the subject.


We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

You are not in this life to count up victories and defeats. You are in it to love and be loved.’

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We Are Not Ourselves is the debut novel from American writer Matthew Thomas. It opens with Eileen Tumulty’s childhood in New York; ashamed of her Irish-American upbringing, Eileen cannot wait until she will marry and take her partners name. She meets Ed Leary on a blind date on New Year’s Eve. As they establish themselves as a couple, Eileen envisages a bright future for them; she a graduate student in Nursing, he a scientist. Readers follow their relationship from blossoming romance, to husband and wife, to mother and father. Their wedding marks the beginning of this bright and hopeful future; one that is not set to last. Thomas’ novel is a magnificent example of a great story stemming from great characters. His evocative narrative expertly captures familial lives burdened by mental illness, culminating in one of the most powerful reads in contemporary fiction.


Words by Laura Knowles

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