The Best–Worst Weddings in Literature

There’s an old saying about theatre: all tragedies end in death, and all comedies end in marriage. But as anyone who’s ever had to help plan a wedding knows, putting together the big day isn’t always a barrel of laughs. Between the high stress of planning one of the most expensive parties of your life to the exhaustion of dealing with two sets of in-laws and extended families, “tragicomedy” is probably a more accurate description.

With wedding season kicking into high gear, we decided to pull together a list of books featuring the most infamous weddings in literature. From the weird to the bad to the ugly, no matter how stressful upcoming nuptials are, you can take comfort in the thought that the reception is bound to turn out better then the Red Wedding. Probably.

Seating Arrangements

Maggie Shipstead’s social satire dissects the grievances and aspirations of a family of utter WASPishness—think characters with names like “Biddy” and “Winn”—as they descend upon a New England island for the wedding of their eldest daughter. Imagine Jane Austen crossed with Gossip Girl, add in the chaos of a wedding weekend and in-laws at odds, and you’re well on your way to envisioning this entertaining satire.

The Graduate

Charles Webb’s novel is probably best known for inspiring the classic 1967 movie starring Dustin Hoffman. Benjamin, a recent college grad awash in ennui for his middle-class life, strikes up an affair with a sultry older woman, only to fall in love with her daughter. The classic wedding scene, in which Benjamin disrupts the ceremony and makes off with the bride—via city bus, no less—is just as chaotic in print as it is on the silver screen. Fair warning: Fans of the movie might find themselves overwhelmed by the urge to listen to Simon & Garfunkel as they read it.

Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare’s Much Ado gets our vote for featuring not one, but two of the most dramatic wedding scenes in fiction. After Claudio is deceived into believing his beloved Hero has been unfaithful, he publicly denounces her at the altar. As seems to happen weirdly frequently in Shakespeare, everyone decides the best course of action is to fake the humiliated bride’s death. They then convince Claudio, stricken with grief and remorse as Hero’s innocence is discovered, to marry a woman he’s never met—who, naturally, is revealed to be Hero, alive and well after all. It’s a pretty wacky turn of events, but as the Bard would say, all’s well that ends well.

Great Expectations

The title of Charles Dickens’s classic is pretty apt here: The unreasonable, fairytale-level expectations for modern weddings are a huge source of stress. Take Miss Havisham as an example of what not to do: Jilted at the altar and stuck reliving her aborted wedding day for the rest of her life—decrepit wedding dress and rotting cake included—her strange and tragic tale is our society’s collective fears about marriage and loneliness oh-so-creepily realized.

Planning a wedding (and hoping to avoid the above scenarios)? We have just the collection for you. Click here to see references on everything from wedding etiquette to DIY guides for a smooth, lovely, and stress-free day.

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