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As Deirdre Johnson argued in her 2010 book Love: Bondage or Liberation? , there are two types of (literary) love triangles:
'there is the rivalrous triangle, where the lover is competing with a rival for the love of the beloved, and the split-object triangle, where a lover has split their attention between two love objects.' p.6 (London, 2010)It is especially the former, the rivalrous triangle, which emerges in a lot of contemporary, and especially YA, fiction. Literature has always centred around that which is dramatic and tragic, causing tension and conflict, since it is in conflict that humans reveal most about themselves. In itself, this is nothing bad, yet the idea of the love-triangle has been intrinsically linked with damaging female stereotypes which are thus continued.
One of the most tragic literary "love-triangles", in its truest and saddest sense, is from Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. The sexual double standard which perpetrates the novel cannot be missed. For Alec d'Urbervilles, Tess is something he can take whenever he pleases, whereas to Angel Clare, Tess is something to be worshiped until she, inevitably, falls off of her constructed pedestal. Neither of the two men in this love-game arranged by society see the woman for who she really is or take the time to really listen to her and respect her voice. She is judged for her, forced, sexuality, whereas male sexuality is accepted without question. And naturally Tess is the only real victim of this double standard. If you think that this double standard is singular to Tess of the d'Urbervilles or was gotten rid of by the first waves of feminism, you are sadly mistaken.
each man is a viable choice for the heroine but each speaks to a different part of who she is. The heroine isn’t choosing between two men, she’s choosing who SHE wants to be and that will dictate who the right match is. (source: Carrie's Procrastinatory Outlet, 11/05/2010)Although I can see how to some this would seem as a "better" interpretation of a love-triangle than to think of it as a woman being incapable of making up her mind, it makes me extremely sad. What this implies is that in order to find out who she is, the heroine has to choose a man. He is, clearly, already settled on his path and managed to be so all on his own, whereas the woman still wavers and is uncertain. Her knowledge of herself doesn't actually come from within herself but from the confirmation of the "rightness" of her feelings, given to her by the presence of a man. It perpetrates the idea that women are constantly looking for affirmation from men (but also generally from everyone around them), an idea which does nothing to boost girls' self-confidence.
In this sense, Thoughtful by S.C. Stephens was a crude awakening for me. The fourth book in the Thoughtless-series, it is written from the man's, Kellan's, point of view, giving us his perspective on the love-triangle including him his friend and the girl. While reading it I found myself severely disliking the female character, Kiera. Stephens gives her nothing in the sense of character to work with and when Kellan goes on a curse-filled rant against her I almost understood his reaction. By under-developing their narratives and automatically incorporating tropes, authors, male and female, are in danger of continuing damaging stereo-types in their books.
There is a lot more to say about this topic and my opinion is, by far, not the most informed. I am not saying that books with love-triangles can't be fun or be entertaining, but I think it is important to think about some of the traditions which underlie different literary tropes. What is it that these books are really saying and are you making up for is flaws by rationalizing them? What are your thoughts on love-triangles?