Top Ten Weddings in Fiction

This week’s topic popped into my mind a few months ago when I heard someone talking about their favourite soap opera weddings.  I don’t really watch soaps (I do follow The Archers but I feel that that is less a soap than it is a way of life).  Anyway, I got to thinking over which are the top weddings in literature – not necessarily the ones that went the best, often rather the reverse, but the ones that stuck out most of all in the memory.  With nuptials generally consisting of a woman in white walking down the aisle of a church, it’s always impressive to see some creative thinking entering into the scenario and with these, the authors definitely brought just that.

Miss Havisham, Great Expectations

 

 

The reader arrives long after Miss Havisham’s unsuccessful wedding day, but yet the bride herself has remained trapped in the very minute that she was jilted.  Dickens is never more Gothic than in his description of the decaying wedding feast and dusty cake, with Miss Havisham herself trailing about in her yellowing wedding dress generally giving everyone who crosses her path a serious case of the creeps.  As a child, I remember being terrified watching Martita Hunt’s spine-chilling portrayal – despite the fact that she is never married, Miss Havisham has to be the most memorable fictional bride.

Jane and Bingley, Elizabeth and Darcy, Pride and Prejudice

For all that Austen’s novels typically feature marriage plots, the weddings themselves tend to be rather samey.  We know that Mrs Elton made bitchy comments about the lack of lace on the day that Emma becomes Mrs Knightley, and that Louisa Musgrove has apparently grown too severe for hair ribbons but the actual ceremonies tend not to get a mention.  The day that Mrs Bennet dispatches her ‘two most deserving daughters’ to the marital state is the only one that is featured on the page – that the sisters marry two best friends on the same day seems to bode well for their futures together.

The Coup, The Princess Bride

Prince Humperdinck thought it would be easy; get married, kill the bride, start a war.  But alas.  He reckoned without the Man in Black.  This is one of those rare stories where the film and book are roughly at equipoise in terms of quality.  I adore the film despite the rather 1980s feel to the special effects but I also loved the book (although I did completely fall for the idea that it was an abridged version of an earlier novel – oops).  Any wedding that collapses because of a coup that is happening outside has to be one worth remembering.  And the priest with a speech impediment while one is attempting to wed in haste adds a whole extra layer of comedy – all together now, Mawidge is what brings us together today.

 

 

In some ways, this feels like an odd choice.  It was published very recently but I feel it captures the craziness that spiral up around a wedding day and which has so very little to do with the young couple themselves.  Like a far darker Father of the Bride, Winn Van Meter is not happy about his daughter’s wedding and his own insecurities threaten to destroy the day itself – it is very much a tale of #FirstWorldProblems but in some ways it is very apt in this age where the hoop-la around the wedding threatens to overshadow or even undermine the event it is supposed to be celebrating.

Mr B and Pamela – Pamela

Pamela is either an idiot or very, very clever.  Having been imprisoned by Mr B and subjected to numerous increasingly ridiculous assaults, as soon as he proposes marriage to her, Pamela immediately flips her opinion to that of devoted wife.  Mr B becomes immediately the ‘very best of men’.  Which leads the question – has she been stringing him along all this time?  Is this just the story of an incredibly manipulative young woman seducing her master – it may be a bit much to believe Samuel Richardson capable of writing such a thing but Henry Fielding clearly agreed as he wrote Shamela which took that basic point and made it into an entire novel (and a far better one than Pam at that).  On the other hand, if we are taking Pamela at her word, then she is clearly suffering from Stockholm Syndrome – in terms of offensiveness, this wedding is right up there with Luke and Laura Spencer getting married on General Hospital.  I think this one probably gets my Dishonourable Mention for this category – it would be Romeo and Juliet since they get married after meeting for about twenty minutes but they were kids so I’ve excused them on the basis that it’s more of a case of Poor Parenting.

Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre, both times – Jane Eyre
The first time that Jane Eyre stands at the altar with Mr Rochester, the vows are being read and all is going smoothly, the vicar barely pauses but then – catastrophe.  They are interrupted with an Objection.  The groom already has a wife.  Spoilers.  The reader has stood alongside Jane with baited breath throughout the ceremony, knowing that something is about to go terribly wrong and when it does, it hits with a real thud.  It doesn’t matter that’s been a century, it doesn’t matter how many times you read it, it still packs that jolt of horror as Jane discovers the truth.  By comparison, the second wedding passes by with the simple words, “Reader, I married him.”  The contrast could hardly be greater as rather than sitting in breathless anticipation, the ceremony passes by wordlessly and with the household staff hardly batting an eyelid.  With the minimum of fuss, Miss Eyre becomes Mrs Rochester.


Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle, The Wedding of Sir Gawain


King Arthur comes across as a bit of a coward in this story.  Challenged by Sir Gromer to discover what it is that women most desire or else face death, King Arthur spends a year doing just that and is unable to find an answer.  So Dame Ragnelle steps up to help – on the proviso that the King’s nephew agrees to marry her despite her being fabulously ugly.  Being a decent sort of chap, Sir Gawain steps up to the task (he was my favourite Arthurian character except for Sir Gareth).  As he takes the loathly lady to bed, he treats her as if she was actually desirable, breaking the spell she has been under she is transformed into her pre-cursed beautiful state.  The best part though was that the spell left her beautiful for only half the time, the night or the day but when Ragnelle asked Gawain to choose, he gave her back the choice, thus breaking the spell forever.  I think there’s a metaphor in there about relationships but I’m not going to draw it out.  I like that there is more to this story than simply a question of a damsel in distress – it is a very early examination of the relationship between the sexes.  Ragnelle was Gawain’s favourite ever wife even though she lived only five more years and she bore him his son.  Happy Ending … aside from the premature death.

 

The Lammles, Our Mutual Friend

This is one of Dickens’ more forgotten novels – or at least so it seems to me.  There are a few ‘odd couples’ in this novel but best (or worst) of all are the Lammles.  They are brought together by their mutual friends the Veneerings and through them Dickens presents a fabulous parody of Victorian courtship.  Mr and Mrs Lammle have a lovely wedding day where they are oohed and aahed over as a very handsome couple and perfectly suited.  And then comes the honeymoon, where they go for a walk on the beach and discover that neither of them have a bean.  Tricked by Veneerings, each has believed the other to be rich and now they are caught by the ties of matrimony forever – Dickens was never one to paint a satisfactory picture of matrimony but here we see how like a mousetrap snapped shut, two people have been ensnared forever by an ill-advised wedding.

Lola and Paul, Atonement

As Briony watches the wedding of her cousin Lola to Paul Marshall, she comes to realise just how badly she has messed up.  The vows read by the priest echo in her mind and she realises that the lie which she told is being walled up and sealed away by this marriage.  Here, a wedding is not an event to celebrate but rather to agonise over – too late, too late – there is nothing to be done.  While Briony wishes for the courage and the strength to put things right, the ties of two other people’s matrimony bind her to the lie she wishes she could cast aside.  Lola and Paul have smoothed away any implication of their guilt by this diabolical union.

Cuchulain’s Wedding, The Hound of Ulster/Irish mythology

As a child, this was my favourite wedding of all.  Cuchulain loved Emer, she loved him too.  Her father Forgall was not so keen on the match.  First of all, he sent Cuchulain to Scotland to train with Scatha, in the hopes that Cuchulain would die along the way.  Of course, he did not (although he totally did cheat on Emer and he got some other woman pregnant but apparently it’s ok to forget that even though it’s totally not).  Upon his return, Cuchulain is a bit distracted by how totally tough he is now and doesn’t immediately claim Emer as his own.  But then he hears that her father is planning to marry her off to the King of Munster.  Cuchulain is having none of that.  Solo, he storms Forgall’s castle, kills all twenty-four of his men, steals his treasure and runs away with Emer.  And ever afterwards, if an Irishman saw something terribly bloody, he would say that it ‘was like Cuchulain’s wedding’.  I read this when I was eight and have been trying unsuccessfully to work that phrase into conversation ever since.

The Red Wedding, A Storm of Swords

 

 

If I lived in Westeros and I received a wedding invitation, I would have very little difficulty in RSVPing No.  Whether it’s Stannis’ wedding where Robert Baratheon ‘made use’ of the bridal bed (luckily Stannis isn’t the type to hold a grudge), the Frey wedding where three mysterious pies appeared courtesy of Ser Wyman Manderley, it never does seem to be about celebrating two people’s commitment.  Admittedly, Joffrey Baratheon to Margaery Tyrell would have been worth attending purely for the joy of seeing the groom’s purple writhing face but still, then you have to worry about being framed for murder and who needs that aggro in their life?  The worst of all though has to be the Red Wedding – both bride and groom make it through the night but they are very much in the minority.  We know things are going wrong when the food is so rubbish but once the Rains of Castermere starts up … well … everyone’s ****ed.

Laura’s Wedding, Little House on the Prairie


The reader tracks Laura’s progress from the age of five until the evening of her wedding day.  Laura marries Almanzo in a black dress because they need to get the job done quickly as otherwise his mother and sister will turn up and stage-manage a ‘big church wedding’ which neither of them can afford.  This one is an unusual wedding therefore in that it is not about the dress, or the ceremony, but about the words which are spoken and the promises which Laura and Almanzo are making to each other.  Laura asks Almanzo to ensure that the Reverend Brown will not ask her to promise to obey, as she knows that she could not stick to this and Almanzo agrees that he never knew a woman who would do it, nor a decent man who would try to make her.  I was probably about seven or eight when I first read those chapters – I hated romance of all sorts at the time and most of the male members of the species aside from my grandfather – but Laura’s wedding seemed different, it seemed like two real people who were taking a step to start their lives together.  Rather than the wedding, the joy here is in their marriage – far better than a fairy-tale, this is life.
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