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odysseus penelope, Francesco Primaticcio, Primaticcio Odysseus and Penelope
Francesco Primaticcio
Odysseus and Penelope

Valentine's Day: Literature of Love

February 14, 2012
by findingDulcinea Staff
Countless love stories in literature have inspired real-life romance. In this article find links to e-books, book club guides and other resources for exploring some of the most romantic tales in literature, including Jane Austen's "Emma," "The Odyssey" and "Captain Corelli's Mandolin."

Love on the Page

A stroll through the drugstore might make one think that we owe the celebration of St. Valentine's Day to the greeting card industry. In fact, the holiday has rich and complex origins. Discover them for yourself with the “History of Valentine’s Day” section of our Valentine’s Day Web Guide.

What did Americans think of the holiday 150 years ago? This New York Times article from 1853 makes it clear that the facts about Valentine's Day were elusive even then.

The Gift of Valentine's Day

You may be feeling like Scrooge about Valentine’s Day, and you’re probably not alone. It's true that Americans collectively shell out tens of millions of dollars a year on the holiday and many fret over how to make the day truly special and original. But others spend it alone, and some simply don’t care about it.  A recession is another way to make holidays like Valentine's Day less enticing. Warm up to the holiday with a little literature; on the Web, romantic reads are instantly accessible. (You can also read the first installment of this feature: Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas.)

O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” is a classic short story of giving and receiving. It reminds us that there’s more to love than cutting out paper hearts for Valentine’s Day. Listen to the story or download the e-book via LibriVox.

Romances Writ Large

Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley
Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley, the star couple of Jane Austen’s “Emma” have been admired and talked about for centuries. The role of Mr. Knightley, an older man and longtime friend of the family, is often discussed, even though the chivalrous behavior of Knightley at the end of the novel can’t be doubted. Still, some ask, is Mr. Knightley just a bossy older man?

Emma has faults that Mr. Knightley knows well, proving that his love is both unconditional and idealistic. Emma, in turn, admires Knightley and follows his example in order to improve herself in his and others’ eyes. The Penguin Group's Reading Guide to “Emma” offers several debate-worthy questions for your book club to consider.

You can read chapters from “Emma” online, including this essential scene between the two friends, where Mr. Knightley reproaches Emma for deploying her wit on an undeserving and defenseless subject.

Penelope and Odysseus
The immortal but long-sidelined romance of Homer’s “Odyssey” is the marriage between Penelope and Odysseus. Penelope patiently waits for her husband to return from his escapades, a ten-year detour following the Trojan War. She looks after his home, raises his son, Telemachus, and wards off suitors who want her to remarry by telling them she cannot do so until she has completed weaving a shroud intended for Odysseus’s father.

But every night, Penelope unweaves the day’s work until, after several years, she is discovered. Then the gods intervene: “At the prompting of Athene, Penelope said that she would marry the man who could string Odysseus' bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axes. By this time, Odysseus himself had secretly returned, disguised as a beggar; he passed the test of the bow, and then proceeded to slaughter the suitors who had tormented his wife.”

A Myth Remade

The great Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who often writes about mythological themes, was inspired to write a book on the ancient Greek couple in 2006. “The Penelopiad” is written from the perspective of Penelope, and ponders one large, unsolved aspect of the “Odyssey”: Penelope’s dozen maids, who are all hanged by Odysseus upon his return.

In The Guardian, Margaret Atwood discusses her book with theater director Phyllida Lloyd, who helped bring the story to the stage.

More War, More Waiting

Set in Greece, the romance between Pelagia and Captain Corelli in Louis de Bernière’s award-winning novel “Corelli’s Mandolin,” has much in common with Penelope and Odysseus—and even Emma and Knightley. Pelagia, awaiting the return of her betrothed from war, crosses paths with Corelli and launches into a second romance, coinciding with her maturation from child to adult.

Married to a Literary Giant

"The Secret Lives of Writers' Wives" sheds light on the romance and the complexities of being married to three of the world's literary greats: F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov.

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