Literary Mixtape: Ophelia


If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite literary characters might be listening to while they save the world/contemplate existence/get into trouble, or hallucinated a soundtrack to go along with your favorite novels, well, us too. But wonder no more! Here, we sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters. What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennett, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: Ophelia, the saddest girl in Denmark.

Well, we figured that since we gave her moody jerk of a boyfriend a mixtape, Ophelia should get her own. Poor Ophelia. Beautiful and tragic, she is the archetype of the “hysterical woman” in literature – Gertrude called her “incapable of her own distress” as, scorned by Hamlet (what would be the modern equivalent of “get thee to a nunnery”?), and upset by his apparent madness, went mad herself and then drowned — literally and figuratively — in her own sadness. Some literary theorists complain that she was portrayed as insane because she was smart and expressive, and in touch with her own sexuality. There’s even some who say that between the lines, Shakespeare meant her to be pregnant. Obviously the lady would be listening to some pretty sad songs to corroborate her mood, so here’s what we think she would bemoan her fate, sing madly, and pick wildflowers to.

“The Biggest Lie” — Elliott Smith

What teenage depressive doesn’t love Elliott Smith? For Ophelia’s case, we recommend what may be the saddest Elliott Smith song ever written. Yeah, it’s that bad.

“Terrible Love” — The National

As far as we can tell, this song is about a love so awful that Matt Berninger has started hallucinating insects and oceans. Or maybe it’s just about escaping your lover’s madness by any means possible. “I won’t follow you into the rabbit hole / I said I would but then I saw / Your shiver bones / They didn’t want me to.”

“Your Ex-Lover is Dead” — Stars

The opening directive says it all: “When there’s nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.”

“Wildcat” — Ratatat

Too cerebral, too sexual Ophelia would love Ratatat’s sultry electronic beats, especially this track, with all that strategic screaming thrown in.

“Nothing Compares 2 U” — Sinead O’Connor

For not getting over Hamlet.

“The Cold Part” — Modest Mouse

The perfect song for the saddest of girls to rock back and forth to before she drowns herself. Not only does the song itself sound the way cold water feels, there’s basically only one lyric: “So long to this cold, cold part of the world…”

“In the Flowers” — Animal Collective

We know Ophelia loved wild flowers, wandering around with them in her skirts and handing them out to passerby at the height of her madness, and we can hear her singing along now as she spins in circles, her arms askew: “Then the ecstasy turns the writhing light through our windowpane / Now I am gone, I left flowers for you there…” Plus, we all know only crazy (and hot) girls are into Animal Collective.

“Brick” — Ben Folds Five

In another day and age, Ophelia. Detached boyfriend, accidental baby, depressed woman, everyone cries. But it’s just so pretty.

“Our Hell” — Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton

We think Ophelia would love Emily Haines, for her pretty (but not super feminine) voice and panting whispers. This is a classic track about the dissolution of a relationship and the destruction of a world. She tries to save him, but it can’t be done.

“Cold Water” — Damien Rice

Do we even have to explain? This is the saddest song on the list.