Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Not like our good friend Jane needs another film adaptation, but we could do with one that grapples with seriously with Jane being only about 18, Rochester pushing 35 at least (she says twice her age), and that Madwoman up in the attic, instead of Hollywoodizing all of that as just another obstacle to True Love.
Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Griet is 19 to Vermeer’s 33. What? In the 17th century, 33 was quite old, I assure you.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Second Mrs. DeWinter is just a young lass in her early 20s, and her widower husband in his 40s. She fares pretty well, if you figure all that psychological torture comes out in the wash when it turns out the whole husband-murdering-wife thing was a huge misunderstanding.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
To be honest, I never understood Jo’s obsession with the 40ish Professor Baer. I was rooting for Laurie all along.
Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Weber
This novel is written in the form of letters by a young girl to an older male correspondent, whom, at the end of the book, we learn she has married. Just how much older he is isn’t clear, but as she refers to him as “Master Jervie,” a considerable gap can be inferred. A bit of a patriarchal ending, but hey, who doesn’t love a guy who falls in love with a girl who writes?
What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] by Zoë Heller
Exploitative is the only way to describe the relationship between the 40-ish Sheba and her 15-year-old student. No matter how “mature for his age” he is. Great book, though.
The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek
Elfriede Jelinek’s novel only says that the teacher is middle-aged, and her student is clearly just “younger,” but the violent turn their BDSM attraction takes turns some of the assumptions of the May-December romance on their heads.
The Lover by Marguerite Duras
In Marguerite Duras’ classic, a 15-year-old girl and a 27-year-old man have an affair in Saigon. Her inexperience is not a weakness in this novel, however, not by a long shot.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Middlemarch, by contrast, is 100 percent pure cautionary tale. Sometimes, on reread, it’s like a horror show. Do not go into the Casaubon house, Dorothea!
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
Aschenbach’s obsession with young Tadzio may never be consummated, but that’s what makes it so compelling. Passion as confusion and degradation, indeed.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
You knew this one was coming. If you read this book as sympathetic to Humbert Humbert, you read it desperately wrong.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
She’s 20 or so. He’s got a few centuries under his belt. Maturity isn’t so much the issue. But he’s a deeply unreliable sort, always vanishing into the shadows, and a terrible marriage prospect. We’ll put this in the “Date someone your own age!” column.