Scarlett, Dido, and Anna — literary women unlucky in love

Most people know the character Dido from Vergil’s Aeneid. She is a strong woman, a leader in her own right, who falls in love with the hero Aeneas. When he leaves her to found Rome, she kills herself out of heartbreak. Love destroys her. In his Heroides 7, Ovid paints a somewhat different portrait of Dido. He frames his work as a letter from Dido to Aeneas, composed as she is preparing to ascend her funeral pyre and end her own life. The letter is deeply emotional, with Dido alternately pleading with Aeneas and cursing him as the vindictive queen and the heartbroken lover battle within her. She comes across as a strong character, wholeheartedly committed to her love and to her decision to die since she cannot fulfill it.

Ovid’s Dido is reminiscent of some of literature’s other heroines, specifically Anna Karenina and Scarlett O’Hara. All three are powerful, complex women, and all three suffer greatly at the hands of Love. Despite their differences in time, culture, and situation, it is amazing to see how these women deal with and react to their respective failed love affairs. Anna Karenina destroys her social position for a passionate affair doomed to failure because of the stigma against adultery in her society. Scarlet O’hara pursues a mutually destructive relationship with Rhett Butler. While many intellectuals are familiar with these two more modern women, they are often unaware of how clearly they echo the position of Dido, whose story was written so many centuries before. This Monroe freshman research project will attempt to draw together three wildly different time periods and cultures, highlighting the similarities between these women despite the disparity of their circumstances. It will also explore how societal changes influenced the portrayals of these women by looking at dialogue, interpersonal interactions, and literary constructions.