Valentine’s Day is one of those times when family members take a sudden interest in your lack of a love life. The questions they ask invariably boil down to the same thing… are you having trouble finding yourself a man? You wouldn’t be the first. Young Victor Frankenstein had so much trouble getting himself a man that in the end he got tired and built himself a man. Tall, dark, and handsy.
Obviously, the demand for lightning is a little much, and you’d be surprised what a good Igor costs these days… but you do have the night all to yourself. You might as well give it a go.
What’s the worst that could happen?
Monk (the) n/e (oxford world's classics)
Matthew Lewis’ 1796 romance, The Monk, tells the story of Ambrosio, a devout monk who is seduced by a woman dressed up as a novice. In the course of an investigation by the Inquisition, she later tries to convince him to sell his soul to Satan. It’s all very romantic. If there is one message to The Monk it is that the best romances always end with your very soul in peril.
How better to spend a lonely Valentine’s Day than with a book that Samuel Taylor Coleridge once described by saying, “The Monk is a romance, which if a parent saw in the hands of a son or daughter, he might reasonably turn pale.”
This should be true of all your romantic entanglements.
The picture of dorian gray
Not all romance should revolve around other people. You don’t need anyone else anyway, you’re beautiful. In fact, you’re so beautiful that you’re probably immune from the ravages of time itself. There exists no sin so foul it could tarnish you; you’re so beautiful you're immortal.
This Valentine’s Day, take some time to fall in love with yourself, do horrifying things, maybe get politely addicted to opium. Lead some young men astray, but remember, always beautiful. First and foremost, beautiful.
Dr jekyll and mr hyde
If the above doesn’t sound like it suits you, you might consider dabbling with some recreational pharmaceuticals until you can design a potion that will effectively divide you into two people. Now, I know what you’re thinking, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde don’t seem to actually like one another very much, but then… opposites attract.
It’s also entirely worth your while to go back and read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde again on Valentine’s Day, if only for its subsumed sense of romance between its protagonist and its antagonist. In many ways, the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is literature's greatest missed-connection post.
Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript
This one is a bit more of a traditional “romance” in that it features knights and fantastic creatures (the Beast Glatisant, for example, has the head of a snake, the body of a leopard, and the attitude of a nineties boyband). For those of us who find ourselves single on Valentine’s Day, there’s also some special comfort to be taken from the fact that Arthur seems perfectly happy with Guinevere, even if she just happens to also be sleeping with Lancelot.
Perhaps the real life lesson in romance is that you should just let your best friend sleep with your wife. Also, if you suspect someone is sleeping with your King’s wife, you should not under any circumstances point it out. You’ll only go and precipitate the collapse of the round table, and in a way isn’t that almost a description of the death of “romance” as a concept?
The countess of pembroke's arcadia
Written towards the end of the 16th century, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia is as traditional a romance as you're likely to find. It tells the story of the Duke of Arcadia, Basilius, who hears a prophecy that his daughters will be stolen away from him, his wife will commit adultery, and he will lose his throne to a foreign power. As is so often the case with prophecy, Basiulius’ attempts to prevent these things from coming true is exactly what guarantees all of those things will happen.
For those of us who find ourselves alone on Valentine’s Day, there is a tremendous comfort in knowing that fate is immutable and there was nothing you could have done about it anyway. No point fighting it.
In many ways, Don Quixote is the original romantic comedy. If there is a core message to this early novel, it is that reading romances will inevitably soften your brain and reduce you to a mad old fool, hanging around with a dedicated-but-misguided Sancho Panza.
You can always treat yourself to a Don Quixote night-in, which is to say, you should eat and/or drink something questionable and then vomit on a friend. If you learn nothing else from Don Quixote de la Mancha, let it be that there is nothing so terrible that it can’t be solved by good intentions and better hallucinations.
Sheridan LeFanu’s vampire romance preceded Bram Stoker’s Dracula by fully 25 years (and more recent vampire romance Twilight by fully 135 years). Where the central romance of Dracula is the homoerotic subtext between Count Dracula and Keanu Reeves, the female vampire Carmilla makes advances on the young Laura.
Carmilla’s strange behaviour includes making sudden and unexpected romantic overtures, sleeping all day, and roaming the countryside by night. All of which are pretty much par for the course for us on Valentine’s Day. If there’s one thing that we can learn from Carmilla, it’s that love, true love, can be a dangerous and parasitic affair, bloodthirsty and ultimately destructive.
The faerie queene
It’s openly believed by those of us who gossip about affairs at court (in the 16th century) that Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is essentially a thousand-page love letter to Queen Elizabeth. If 16th century gossip isn’t enough to goad you into reading it, The Fairie Queene also boasts knights, dragons, and (as the title might have given away) a fairy queen.Perhaps the best thing about reading The Fairie Queene as a way of escaping the grim reality of spending (another) Valentine’s Day alone is that you’ll still be reading it by the time next year’s Valentine’s Day rolls around. This is a lifelong romance, folks.