The 10 Best Weddings in Literature

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I say this as someone who has written a book about going to weddings — Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest, out now from Riverhead — but that doesn’t mean I’m biased. It’s simply true: Weddings make for great scenes, unforgettable moments of high expectation, emotion, and drama — in fiction as well as in nonfiction. I’ve gathered a few of my favorites from books new and old (though not necessarily blue), along with my feelings on why these particular weddings make for great reading.

Betsy’s Wedding by Maud Hart Lovelace

The last of the Betsy-Tacy books ends with Betsy and Tacy (and Tib) all grown up, and Betsy Ray finally reconciling with Joe Willard, the hardworking newspaperman you knew she was supposed to be with all along. There’s scandal, though, when Joe proposes without asking Betsy’s father’s permission! As for the wedding, it’s a speedy affair — “just a family wedding” — and comes complete with some bridal assumptions: “Dear little Tib! Betsy thought, when they went out. She must find the right one, too. And then she will have that big wedding. And Tacy and I can be bridesmaids… It was good to plan someone else’s wedding, for, facing her own, her heart was beginning to thump.” O.K., Bridezilla Betsy.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Is there a more tragic and memorable jilted at the altar figure than poor, dear Miss Havisham? At 20 minutes to nine on her wedding day, she gets a letter from the scoundrel she’s fallen for, Compeyson, who has defrauded her and won’t be showing up. Time and life freezes in that moment; she spends the rest of her days as a hermit in her spoiling mansion, wearing her wedding dress and one shoe, her wedding cake left uneaten on the table and the clocks all stopped at 20 minutes to nine. No one wants to be Miss Havisham.

Goodbye Columbus by Philip Roth

The wedding scene in Roth’s 1959 novella, in which working-class Neil Klugman falls in and then out of love with upper-middle-class Brenda Patimkin, brings together a range of realistic wedding guests, including the relative who keeps grabbing his wife’s boobs in public, a bunch of drunk party-goers, and the wise half-brother of the groom’s dad, who tells Neil, “don’t louse it up” with Brenda.

The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

Lonely 12-year-old tomboy Frankie’s older brother, Jarvis, is engaged, and she sees the wedding as the ultimate way to belong in this achingly beautiful coming-of-age story.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It’s a novel thematically all about proper pairings, so it’s a little bit funny we don’t get any actual description of either Jane’s or Lizzie’s wedding in the end. I’m including the book on this list anyway because I love it, and because the one line describing a wedding day comes from not a bride or groom, but the frivolous if well-meaning mother of the bride(s). It is perfectly Austen-sharp: “Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters.”

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud

Just one bit of evidence about how fantastic this novel is appears in Chapter 51, titled “’Vows by Lisa Solomon’ Special to the New York Times.” It includes a Gray Lady-esque recounting of the wedding of two key characters, using words like “seafoam chiffon,” “a profusion of calla lilies,” “raven hair,” and a smile described as “like a second sun in the glorious late summer afternoon.”

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The elderly archdean with the speech impediment is being pushed to speed-marry Humperdinck and Buttercup before Westley can rescue her, but he can’t keep from spouting his meandering marital notions on “this most happy of days.” Mawidge, it’s a dweam wiffin a dweam.

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

A novel that brings together the varied and complicated interrelationships that appear at any wedding, at a status-riddled event held on a fictional coast-of-New England island, this entire book is about a wedding, and it’s right up my alley.

Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery

For those who stick with it, book five in Montgomery’s beloved Green Gables series finally provides a suitable nuptial conclusion to the love-hate-but-really-love relationship that Anne and Gilbert have been worrying away at for years. It’s all pretty damn bucolic:

It was a happy and beautiful bride who came down the old, homespun-carpeted stairs that September noon — the first bride of Green Gables, slender and shining-eyed, in the mist of her maiden veil, with her arms full of roses. Gilbert, waiting for her in the hall below, looked up at her with adoring eyes. She was his at last, this evasive, long-sought Anne, won after years of patient waiting. It was to him she was coming in the sweet surrender of the bride. Was he worthy of her? Could he make her as happy as he hoped? If he failed her — if he could not measure up to her standard of manhood — then, as she held out her hand, their eyes met and all doubt was swept away in a glad certainty. They belonged to each other; and, no matter what life might hold for them, it could never alter that. Their happiness was in each other’s keeping and both were unafraid.

Here We Are” by Dorothy Parker

To be clear, this short story by Parker is not about a wedding itself but about the even-more-important aftermath of a wedding. A young couple, two hours and 26 minutes after their ceremony, board a train for their honeymoon and wonder about what the hell just happened — and what’s going to happen next.