top 10 forbidden literary love affairs

26/06/2011 by Hannah Davies

From Lady Chatterley's Lover to Notes on a Scandal, Hannah Davies picks her top ten forbidden love affairs

From cross-class love affairs to extra-marital indiscretions, there's a myriad of forbidden relationships.

And, it would seem that just as love-struck couples are incapable of overcoming their desires, novelists are unable to avoid the lure of forbidden love. From 19th-century French classics to modern day British blockbusters, there are countless titles that have taken on the subject, but here are my top 10:

Lady Chatterley's Lover—D. H. Lawrence (1960)

Penguin Books was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act in 1959 for publishing Lawrence's depiction of an extra-marital affair between the aristocratic Lady Chatterley and her working-class gamekeeper Mellors. A "not guilty" verdict in 1960 however enabled the novel to be made available to readers in the UK for the first time, and the furore ensured the book sold out on the first day of publication. Its appeal has endured, with readers attracted to the power of Lady Chatterley's frustrations as she attempts to balance her sense of duty to her invalid husband and the draw of her inappropriate lover.

Madame Bovary—Gustave Flaubert (1857)

Despite being Flaubert's first published novel, Madame Bovary is considered one of his most accomplished and influential works. The book experienced a similar path of resistance to that of Lady Chatterley's Lover, facing a trial and then acquittal in Paris in 1857, before becoming a bestseller. It sees the main character, middle-class Emma Bovary, embarking on several romantic liaisons in a bid to escape the banality of her provincial married life. Although a relatively simple tale of a wife's adultery, it is stylishly told, with Flaubert's careful choice of words conveying the ups, and the many downs, of Bovary's existence.

Lolita—Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

Too scandalous by American publishers, Lolita started life as an underground literary sensation in Paris. Written from the perspective of paedophiliac professor Humbert Humbert, it was considered both controversial and revolutionary for its explicit coverage of perhaps the most forbidden love of all—the desire of a man for his young stepdaughter. Although the nature of the topics covered in the book are deeply unpleasant, Nabakov’s beautiful prose makes it eminently readable.


Oranges are Not the Only Fruit—Jeanette Winterson (1985)

Winterson’s semi-autobiographical dėbut novel tells the story of Jeanette, who has been adopted by an evangelical Christian mother living in a Pentecostal community. A key focus is on the challenges she faces—including an exorcism held at her church—as she comes to terms with her homosexuality and actively engages in relationships with other women in her community. This experimental book, which was adapted for a BBC series in 1990, saw Winterson pick up the Whitbread First Novel Award.

Atonement—Ian McEwan (2001)

Well-received by critics and readers alike, McEwan’s Atonement—which became a Bafta-winning film in 2007—centers on the traumatic events that rock the aristocratic Tallis family at their country house in the summer of 1935. Although on the surface it follows the well-trodden tale of a cross-class love interest between the family’s eldest daughter Cecilia and the housekeeper’s son Robbie Turner, the additions of a sexual assault, the conviction of an innocent man and the backdrop of war, make for an ambitious and impressive literary novel—recognised with a Booker Prize shortlisting.

Notes on a Scandal—Zoë Heller (2003)

Another Booker-shortlistee, Heller’s Notes on a Scandal portrays two forms of forbidden love—that between Sheba Hart, a female teacher and her underage pupil Steven Connolly, and the simultaneous unhealthy obsession that fellow teacher Barbara Covett develops for Hart. Told from the perspective of the lonely Covett, who uses the secret of Hart’s affair to control her, it is a dark and gripping psychological thriller that became an Oscar-nominated film starring Judi Dench in 2006.

The Museum of Innocence—Orhan Pamuk (2009)

Considered “worthy to stand in the company of Lolita, Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina” by the Financial Times, Nobel Prize-winning Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence was shortlisted for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Originally published in Turkish, it is set in Istanbul and narrated by Kemal, a wealthy and married man, whose attention is caught by a distant and poor cousin called Füsan. What follows is a beautifully-told tale of obsessional love, in a city that Pamuk brings to life brilliantly.

Delirium—Lauren Oliver (2011)

Published to rave reviews earlier this year, Oliver’s imaginative and well-constructed dystopian young adult novel describes a world in which love itself is forbidden. At the age of 18, all adults must take the ‘cure’ that will prevent them from ever falling in love, but when 17-year-old Lena Halloway meets Alex (and gets her first symptoms of ‘Deliria’) she starts to question the controlling nature of the government. It is the first in a trilogy, set to be followed next year with Pandemonium and Requiem.

Life: An Exploded Diagram—Mal Peet (2011)

Published earlier this month, Life is a complex young adult novel exploring the events that led to the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis. But, at its heart is a beautifully-written secret love story between the working-class Clem and the wealthy Frankie, complete with all the trials and tribulations of ill-matched teenage love.

Obedience—Jacqueline Yallop (2011)

You don’t get much more forbidden than a wartime love affair between a French nun and German soldier—a key feature of Yallop’s second book, which is due to be published in August. Set to be entered for the Man Booker Prize by her publisher, the novel uncovers what happens in a French convent during Nazi occupation, including Sister Bernard’s memories of her illicit relationship and the terrible things people can do in the name of love.

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