Literary Elopements

June is the month of weddings. We think of brides in white, bridesmaids, lovely cakes, flowers, and tearful moms. But through circumstance, or a horror of the above, some famous couples in literature choose to slip away for clandestine nuptials.
The most famous of these must be those crazy kids, Romeo and Juliet. Actually, their secret wedding has charm, but almost at once, events spin out of control. Family hatreds, murder, fake death, and real suicide do the newlyweds in. Truly, “…never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Unbridled passion, the tragic flaw that Shakespeare bestows on his tragic characters, is a direct route to misery.
A real life literary couple fared better after they eloped. The Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning defied her father and, with the aid of the semi-invalid Elizabeth’s nurse, slipped away from London’s Wimpole Street and made it to Italy. Her father disinherited her, and her brothers never spoke to her again. By all reports, however, theirs continued as a loving, supportive marriage until her death. Of course, they had much in common, including their work, literary friends, and an adoring public. In spite of Elizabeth’s frailty, she also gave birth to a son, nicknamed Pen. Theirs was a love match in every sense.
And finally, let’s consider one of my favorite poems, The Eve of St.Agnes by John Keats. On a freezing winter night of drunken revelry, Porphyro sneaks into the castle to his beloved Madeline’s room. He convinces the maiden (and she doesn’t need much convincing) to seize the moment and run away with him, “For o’er the southern moors I have a home for thee.”
It was February. Who can blame her?
Elopement, even of soul mates, has a romantic, reckless courage about it. And the wedding tends to be simple.


Karen Wills

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