Betsy Ray and Joe Willard are one of my all-time favorite literary couples. I love everything about them, from their first meeting in “Heaven to Betsy,” to the absolutely lovely recounting of the first years of their marriage in “Betsy’s Wedding.”
I’ve wondered sometimes what makes me like them even more than most classic couples, such as, say, Anne and Gilbert
Or Elizabeth and Mr Darcy
Or even Taran and Eilonwy (a classic couple for fans of YA Fantasy)
I even like them a little bit better than Molly Gibson and Roger Hamley, which is shocking.
But there you have it. For some reason, Betsy and Joe just stand out above the rest for me. After thinking about it, I’ve come up with a few reasons why:
(Note: I’m not saying that none of the other couples I mentioned don’t have all these traits, just not all together, like Betsy and Joe)
- Joe really respects Betsy. He doesn’t just adore her without thinking of her as a person, or think her perfection without recognizing her human flaws, or worship the ground she walks on without acknowledging that she has a brain. He respects her as a person, a human being, and he doesn’t try to shelter, coddle, or protect her. He critiques her writing honestly, and tells her real ways she can improve it. He is fiercely competitive in the first three years of their high school writing rivalry, but it is always a friendly competition.
- Although Betsy and Joe meet when they are fourteen, it is not at all certain they will end up together by the end of the series. There is an obvious attraction there, but while the reader hopes they will act on it, between their own stubbornness and outside influences, one can’t be at all sure. So that, when they do end up together, there is simultaneously a sense of “Of course!” and “Whew!”
- (and somewhat connected to 2) Because we get to see Betsy with SO many other boys, and Joe with at least one other girl, we are able to see even more clearly how perfect they are for each other, in contrast with all the other romances they’ve had.
- They are neither best friends nor bitter enemies. Nor do either of them think of the other as a sibling, while the other is hopelessly in love. Thank goodness!
- They don’t start dating (or courting, I suppose, given the era) and immediately get engaged and then married and everything is perfect. We get to see them continue to quarrel and make up, and even to break up for a time. Things aren’t perfect after they are married, either, but they meet every challenge with love and humor, and it makes them so human. In fact, everything about them is human and realistic, while still romantic enough to make the reader swoon.
So there you have it! My top five reasons why I love Betsy and Joe so much. All good things to keep in mind, for me, when writing romance between my own characters.
Who is your favorite literary couple? What are some things that you love in a literary romance, and what are some things you hate? Out of the five couples I mentioned, which do you like the best? Don’t you love Vera Neville’s illustrations for the Betsy-Tacy books?