Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby
Jay Gatsby’s reputation precedes him in The Great Gatsby–the lavish Jazz Age parties and extravagant lifestyle stir everyone’s curiosity as he never seems present at his own soirees. The reality is more interesting than the rumors: bootlegging liquor, ties to the mob, and his goal to steal Daisy away from her husband. Modern day tabloid equivalent? P Diddy.
Anna Karenina’s insatiable need to attach meaning to her life through love leads her down a path of adultery with Vronsky. As she succumbs to her emotions and dispenses with rational thinking her behavior becomes increasingly erratic, ending with her demise on the railroad tracks. The public loves to feast on people who love too intensely. Modern day tabloid equivalent? Britney Spears.
Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter
Puritanical Boston mastered the art of public shaming long before the blogs and weeklies made a business of it. Hester Prynne is shunned for adultery and having an illegitimate child. Refusing to name the father of her kid, she shoulders the full burden of blame. Hester Prynne’s quiet resolve further enrages the townspeople who want to see public remorse. Modern day tabloid equivalent? Padma Lakshmi, the smokin’ hot Top Chef host who still hasn’t disclosed the name of her baby daddy.
Emma Bovary from Madame Bovary
Here is a woman made for reality television. Emma Bovary’s social climbing, extramarital affairs, and living outside her means in an attempt to place herself among those in the upper echelons of society that she is desperate to be counted among. Despite her intense desire to rise in society, she bungles all opportunities presented to her with poor etiquette and establishing herself as an outsider. Modern day equivalent? A stint on The Bachelor followed by a season on The Bad Girl’s Club. Or social rattlesnake Kelly Bensimon from The Real Housewives of New York.
The Wife of Bath from Canterbury Tales
The Wife of Bath presents herself as an expert on marriage; as she should with five marriages under her belt. She readily admits to using her feminine wiles to control her husbands–touting sexual power as currency in her relationships. Crass and brash, she states at the start of her prologue that a good husband is old, rich, and submissive. Modern day tabloid equivalent? Each and every one of the Bravo Real Housewives.
Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair
Becky Sharp is a social climber extraordinaire who leeches on to her best friend from finishing school, the wealthy Amelia Sedley. After a bungled attempt to ensnare Amelia’s brother, Becky moves on to another eligible and monied bachelor–who is promptly disowned and dropped from the family will after they elope. Becky then has a flirtation with Amelia’s husband and finally a marquess, which winds up being a social bomb. Forced to slink out of the UK, Becky winds up in Germany in the company of con artists and loan sharks. Modern day tabloid equivalent? Anna Nicole Smith.
Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice
The quintessentially appealing unattainable man: aloof, handsome and the most eligible bachelor around. He had his pick of any woman and chose our heroine with no connections or fortune to speak of. We can only imagine how his engagement to Elizabeth Bennett would have been received by the busybodies of their day. Modern day tabloid equivalent? George Clooney, the eternal bachelor.
Countess Ellen Olenska from The Age of Innocence
New York 1870’s high society is scandalized by the arrival of the freshly divorced Countess Ellen Olenska. The Countess’ former husband was abusive, adulterous, and squandered her fortune. Accordingly, the Countess is shunned by society for her divorce, foreign clothing, and disregard for the rules. Adding insult to injury, she falls in love with her cousin’s fiance–Newland Archer. Modern day tabloid equivalent? Princess Diana.
Abelard and Heloise
The non-fictional tale of Abelard and Heloise will crush your soul. Abelard is studying under the tutelage of Heloise’s uncle, who upon learning of their romantic entanglement immediately separates them. A snapshot of how things unravel from here: a baby is born, marriage is proposed, the proposal is reluctantly accepted but meant to stay secret, the mean uncle tells the world, Heloise goes to a convent, and Abelard is castrated by Heloise’s uncle. The two communicate through letters for the rest of their lives and never see each other again. Modern day tabloid equivalent? Thankfully, no one… that we know of.
Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Truman Capote captured the ‘young woman about town in New York City’ theme long before the Tinsley Mortimers and Olivia Palermos of the world (now with reality shows, natch) were permanent fixtures on Page Six. Holly Golightly is no heiress though, and staying afloat on her own requires resourcefulness. Modern day tabloid equivalent? Take your pick.
Who would you add to the list? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.