Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the Broadway opening of Edward Albee’s now-iconic play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which went on to win a Tony for Best Play and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. It also brought us the incomparable George and Martha, a bickering, bitter couple whose frustrated, drunken antics have turned them into modern archetypes. Inspired by the anniversary of this wonderful play, we’ve put together a list of the most twisted couples in literature — with George and Martha leading the pack, of course. Read through our choices after the jump, and if we missed your deliciously self-destructive or unfailingly dysfunctional favorites, add to our list in the comments.
George and Martha, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The archetypal bantering couple, Albee’s dark pair are ruthless, brutal, and toxic to everyone around them. But of course, it’s their shared secret that’s the most twisted of all.
Catherine and Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights
The ultimate story of dark, destructive obsession, Cathy and Heathcliff manage to be endlessly cruel to one another while they cling to each other’s hearts as tightly as possible. Catherine’s bitter plea basically sums it up: “I wish I could hold you… until we were both dead.”
Jamie and Cersei Lannister, A Song of Ice and Fire
Jamie and Cersei are twins-turned-lovers willing to kill to protect their secret, which is twisted enough on its own. We won’t spoil it for those who haven’t gotten there yet (or are watching the show), but let’s just say that later on, things get even more… mangled.
Lestat and Louis, Interview with the Vampire
Though it’s never explicitly stated (at least not in this novel), it’s pretty clear that these two vampires are lovers, albeit constantly at odds, with Lestat denigrating and abusing Louis and Louis constantly complaining about his hatred for Lestat. Which makes sense — after all, it’s not like you can really expect a relationship that begins with one party killing the other and turing them into a demon to be functional.
Valmont and Merteuil, Dangerous Liaisons
In this epistolary novel (which yes, was the source material for Cruel Intentions), the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil are determined to corrupt and seduce everyone around them — including each other. Merteuil dangles herself before Valmont so she can use him for her own ends, but decides maybe she wants his heart as well as his body, whether he’s willing to give it or not. Suffice it to say, it all ends in smallpox.
Charles and Camilla, The Secret History
Another pair of handsome blond twins secretly in love with each other, Charles and Camilla have a very different feel than the Lannisters — creepier, less proud — but their jealousy is just as potent and their relationship is perhaps even more binding.
Frank and April, Revolutionary Road
We shudder at the very thought of this novel, or indeed, at any of Yates’s fictional relationships. Manipulation, barely constrained rage in suburbia, guilt and self-hatred make this one of the most destructive couples we’ve ever gotten to know. As Yates once explained, “If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy.”
Jake and Brett, The Sun Also Rises
Poor Jake and Brett. They can’t be together, but they can’t seem to leave each other alone, either, much to the destruction of everyone’s tender booze-soaked feelings. It’s all very exasperating, but it does lead to one of the most iconic final lines in literature.
Tom and Daisy Buchanan, The Great Gatsby
Tom and Daisy are twisted in their own mundane, unhappy little way, lying and cheating and being generally terrible. “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
Lolita and Humbert Humbert, Lolita
He, a middle-aged scholar plagued by a terrible obsession with nymphets, she, and 11-year-old girl who likes the attention — at first. Need we go on?