Crimes of passion, adultery, extra-marital activities, cuckoldry - call it what you will but there's no denying that illicit affairs and infidelity is a prevalent theme in literature. The way that authors portray marital unfaithfulness extends from the predictable unhappily married couples to love triangles and the murderous plotting of injured spouses.
Some of the most famous stories ever written are centred on the theme of unhappy people struggling to find love at whatever cost. An excellent example of this popular storyline is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy which is considered by some to be the greatest novel ever written. The story focuses on Anna, the married aristocrat and socialite, and her affair with Count Vronsky. Anna eventually moves away with Vronsky but becomes increasingly paranoid about his imagined infidelity and eventually she takes her life. Madame Bovary, The Great Gatsby, Lady Chatterley's Lover all involve characters who participate in illicit affairs and extra-marital activities.
Shakespeare, a master of storytelling, brilliantly weaves a tale of implied deceit, cheating and affairs in Othello but not all is what it seems. Although the entirety of the story is about cheating and jealousy, it appears that none of the characters ever do cheat and the outcome is disastrous for all.
Mostly scandalous, sometimes shocking and always entertaining, this selection of fictional lovers and cheats shows the course of true love never did run smooth.
by Nicholas Mosley
An ageing politician on the brink of insanity conducts an affair.
by Edith Wharton
A poor farmer is involved in a love triangle with a relation of his ailing wife.
A Severed Head
by Iris Murdoch
A smug husband has a wife and a mistress but things turn sour.
Talking It Over
by Julian Barnes
A contemporary love triangle, in which the three characters take turns talking to the reader.
by Ha Jin
An army doctor waits 18 years to divorce his wife to marry his true love.
The End of the Affair
by Graham Greene
A passionate love affair ends suddenly when the woman calls it off.
The Painted Veil
by W. Somerset Maugham
Set in colonial China, depicting superficial, adulterous relationships.
The Shipping News
by Annie Proulx
A family torn apart by the cheating wife moves to Newfoundland to rebuild their lives.
A Spot of Bother
by Mark Haddon
This book has it all: a dysfunctional family, a cheating wife and a mentally unstable father.
The Good Soldier
by Ford Madox Ford
Nothing is as it seems when two couples carry on numerous affairs which lead to disasterous outcomes.
by Irwin Shaw
Marriage goes down the tubes when son discovers mum in bed with someone other than daddy.
by Tom Perrotta
Bored suburbanites unhappy with their lives
conduct illicit love affairs.
A Live Coal in the Sea
by Madeleine L'Engle
A multigenerational mystery stemming from grandma's adulterous life.
The Pilot's Wife
by Anita Shreve
Following his plane crash, the pilot's wife discovers her husband was leading a double life.
by John Updike
Feeling trapped by life and a failing marriage, Rabbit runs to the arms of another woman.
The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A woman is cast out from her community and forced to wear a letter "A" to mark her crime of adultery.
A Ship Made of Paper
by Scott Spencer
A story where the man is willing to throw away everything including his wife for the woman of his dreams.
by Christos Tsiolkas
A badly behaved boy gets slapped and neighbours have extra-marital sex.
by Frances Iles
A doctor slowly poisons wife so he can be with the woman he loves.