"don't change your plans"
May 5, 2020 7:07 PM   Subscribe

I am in search of reading recommendations about unrequited love, please.

Short stories, novellas (I'm really into novellas right now), novels, non-fic books, essays, any prose form is welcome. (I'm not normally a poetry person, but I could probably get into good poetry right now). I'd rather BIPOC and queer characters and writers. Sexual assault is a non-starter.

Other than those two things, I've got no specifications (if a suggestion doesn't float my boat, it might just be the thing for someone else). Tearjerkers are fine.
posted by joycehealy to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This is the second time today I've answered an AskMe with:

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day.
posted by Beardman at 10:45 PM on May 5, 2020 [11 favorites]

Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Lots of unrequited love, though mostly not romantic. Just lots of futile longing for connection. I found it pretty devastating.
posted by sohalt at 11:59 PM on May 5, 2020 [4 favorites]

Villette by C Bronte, naturally!

Ditto The Rector's Daughter, by F.M. Mayor.

Warming Her Pearls by Carol Ann Duffy is a great poem on a similar theme:

Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when I'll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,

resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.

She's beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.

I dust her shoulders with a rabbit's foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.

Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head.... Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way

she always does.... And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 4:53 AM on May 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not sure it completely fits, but The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
posted by Automocar at 5:28 AM on May 6, 2020

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
posted by emd3737 at 5:47 AM on May 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

Consider Bluets by Maggie Nelson. Not entirely about unrequited love, but about lost love, friendship and other musings. It's short, prose/poetry mix and I believe the author identifies as queer
posted by icy_latte at 8:16 AM on May 6, 2020

Scott Spencer's Endless Love.
posted by dobbs at 8:41 AM on May 6, 2020

The requited-ness or otherwise of love features a fair bit in Middlemarch.
posted by Balthamos at 10:55 AM on May 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sexual assault is a non-starter
Skip The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:06 AM on May 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you have any appetite for sci-fi, Trouble on Triton by the masterful Samuel Delaney explores heartbreak and unrequited love in automated luxury gay space communism.
posted by zeusianfog at 12:00 PM on May 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
posted by slogger at 12:08 PM on May 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Zadie Smith, On Beauty (a hommage to E.M. Forster, Howards End). About the families of two warring academics at an Amercian university. Son of one family pines in vain for daughter of the other family, his sister falls for a classmate, who also falls for the daughter of the other family, etc. I really liked the chapters from the pining daughter's point of view, but I have to add that a lot of it deals with the perspective of the two warring academics, both of which - SPOILER - have affairs with students, which might also be a non-starter for you.

Herrmann Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund . Narcissus becomes a monk, Goldmund an artist, the love isn't necessarily romantic (I read it as such, but it's subtext at best) or unrequited per se, but has to be mostly sublimated anyway, because their life goals are so incompatible. Caveat: Haven't read it in twenty years, no idea if it features sexual assault. Goldmund gets around and sees a lot of ugly shit in medieval Germany, so not terribly unlikely though.

Thomas Mann, Death in Venice. Very topical, because of the cholera-component. No sexual assault, but as creepy as you can possibly get without it. (The famous author Aschenbach is deeply disturbed by his newly -awakened desire because its target is the 14-year old son of a family of fellow tourists. Then - SPOILER! I guess, although it hardly comes as a great twist - everyone dies of cholera). Another profoundly important text for teenage me (pining for a 14 year old feels slightly less off when you yourself are 15), but I mention it only because I'm apparently in a confessional mood - whatever is unrequited here I wouldn't necessarily call "love" nowadays.

(I have so many favourites on this topic, which as I now realize with some schock, however all contain significant amounts of sexual assault - George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, Elsa Morante's House of Liars.)
posted by sohalt at 12:55 PM on May 6, 2020

Maybe an offbeat suggestion, if so feel free to disregard, but one of my favorites on this topic has long been A Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes, which is a set of short pieces on different aspects of unrequited love and limerance, and how it shows up in the mind and behavior of the one in love. And then if you like, you can also read Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, which Barthes borrows from.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 1:44 PM on May 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

"Washing the elephant" (poem)
posted by lathrop at 8:04 AM on May 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

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