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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

who are the worst couples in the history of fiction (novels, TV, movies, etc)?


In the wake of J.K. Rowling’s revelation that it was a mistake to pair up Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley — the author has said that they would probably eventually need couples’ therapy — the Guardian’s Hannah Jane Parkinson has come up with her list of “the 10 worst couples in literature.” One of the “winners”:

Heathcliff and Catherine (Wuthering Heights)

They are one of the best-loved literary couples, and one of the worst. Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship can only be described as mutually destructive and abusive – and deserving of a session or two on a Relate sofa. You know a pairing is on the rocks when they spend most of their time trying to hurt the other in the most malevolent means possible (like ruining their offspring). It’s the kind of obsessive love that prioritises control over a person and loses sight of the individual’s happiness. They are basically a version of Sid and Nancy on the moors.

All of Parkinson’s examples are from novels (if novels that have also become movies, some more than once), but I see no reason to limit ourselves that way. So:

Who are the worst couples in the history of fiction (novels, TV, movies, etc)?

I think I must go with Mickey and Mallory Knox, as played by Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. Their relationship is based on murder and mayhem, which makes them a couple whose issues aren’t only bad for them, but for basically for everyone they come in contact with.

Please enjoy this anti-Valentine’s Day Question, and have fun.

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)

  • Going with Daisy and Gatsby. Gatz should have realized that Nick was the one for him.

  • Gatsby and Daisy not being a good couple is sort of the point of the book, for much the same reason Nick isn’t a good substitute: They placed the target of their affection on a pedestal and failed to acknowledge the flaws.

  • LaSargenta

    Medea and Jason

  • Jim Mann

    Lydia Bennet and George Wickham, in Pride and Prejudice.

  • Hank Graham


    I want to give away many, many copies of “How to Suppress Women’s Writing.” The problem with the quote above is that “Wuthering Heights” is NOT a love story. It’s only treated as a love story because that gave critics a way of dealing with a woman writer, back in the 1840’s and 1850’s.
    That’s why the “classic” Olivier/Oberon film version eliminated the ENTIRE SECOND HALF of the book.

    Sorry, I think you know this is one of my pet peeves.

    For movies, I’d have to go with Holly and Kit from “Badlands,” just as despicable as Mickey and Mallory, but believably human, in a way Oliver Stone’s characters are not. After “Natural Born Killers” I wanted to get a shower; after “Badlands,” I felt genuinely sad at how thoroughly screwed up people could be.

  • MisterAntrobus

    Humbert Humbert and Lolita come to mind, and not just for Humbert’s obvious criminality and child abuse. Lo is a manipulative little tyrant once she figures out how to hurt Humbert (her only way to exercise power over her situation), which she does often and mercilessly. In fact, Humbert’s romanticization of Lolita is one of the great ironies of the book (and certainly the Kubrick film, perhaps less so the Adrian Lyne version), since she’s nothing more than an ordinary petulant adolescent in extraordinary circumstances.

  • rurugby

    Have to say Padme/Queen Amadola and Anakin Skywalker. Terrible acting, chemistry and to save her Anakin becomes evil. Besides that the kid ages faster than anyone else.

  • MisterAntrobus

    True . . . the “love” scenes in Episode II are among the most painful things to watch in all of cinema. I’d watch the eyeball slice in Un Chien Andalou twenty times in a row rather than sit through that again. Then there’s the whole “I sure hope you feel okay after murdering a whole village full of sentient beings” scene . . . any woman who had not taken leave of her senses would have backed out of the room slowly and called Galactic 911.

  • Danielm80

    I hate to say it, but Penny and Leonard on The Big Bang Theory make a terrible couple. They have nothing in common, and they don’t seem to respect each other very much. The actors have great chemistry, and it’s nice to see people from such different social circles get together, in a Breakfast Club sort of way, but as hard as I try, I can’t really buy it.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling in Hannibal. The novel and movie, I mean. I have yet to see the TV show of the same name though I doubt it’s an improvement.

  • Bea Harper

    Bonnie and Clyde, obvs.

  • Angela Gunn

    Sam and Ginger, Casino, though in large part that’s because you suspect they were even worse to be around IRL.

  • Angela Gunn

    The show has no Clarice — set much earlier. It is however terrific and ever so highly recommended…though not during mealtime.

  • Karen Lee

    Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. This one has always enraged me. He’s obviously more interested in his male friend than he is in her. She’s a wonderful, warm, fully-realized human being and deserves far better than this emotionally and sexually-repressed cold fish.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Thanks for the recommendation. I will have to check it out some time when it becomes available at my local library.

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    I haven’t read the books, but Bella and Edward in Twilight come to mind. And I was always in favor of the ending of My Best Friend’s Wedding, against the pairing of Julianne and Michael, despite the outcries that they should have ended up together. And I cannot stand Peter Parker and Mary Jane in the Tobey McGuire / Kirsten Dunst version of Spiderman, the chemistry is awful. I eventually saw them in an interview together and it appeared that Dunst couldn’t stand McGuire, that finally made sense of it.

  • Whether *Heights* is actually a love story or not, Catherine and Heathcliff are still a fictional couple.

    I mean, *Natural Born Killers* isn’t a “love story,” either.

  • Hank Graham

    Now, now–I think George Lucas’s inability to sketch believable or likable characters goes far beyond Padme and Anakin. Think Jar-Jar Binks and Bass Nass.

  • MisterAntrobus

    I think that’s a built-in part of the black humor of Shaw’s Pygmalion. It’s softpedaled in the musical version, but can’t be entirely papered over.

  • Crow T Robot

    Well, Oliver and Barbara Rose in “War of the Roses” comes to mind – but that may be a bit obscure. Then there was Martha and George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” That was a gruesome pairing. But I’d guess the grand prize for doomed relationships has to go to Fay Wray and King Kong. He was a giant savage ape and she was an Aries. It would never have worked.

  • PJK

    Come on, nobody has come up with this one? Jaime and Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones. Not only the worst couple in the show, also the parents of (almost) the worst person in the show.

    People who’ve read the books and seen Season 3 can guess who I think is the worst person on the show.

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