Sure, most of us would like to lose a little weight, but why just diet, when you can diet with drama? Take a cue from some of literature and history’s most tragic heroines, who wasted away in some of the most heartbreaking and terrible ways, and often over a romance gone wrong. But at least they left behind good looking corpses.
Here are the favorite weight-loss secrets of some of our saddest, but slimmest heroines.
HEARTBREAK & STARVATION
Catherine Earnshaw • Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights
At first, ragamuffin Catherine was partner in crime to her equally rakish adopted brother, Heathcliff. Then she got all classy and refined, and decided she couldn’t marry the low-borne Heathcliff, despite him being her true love. Instead she marries stuffy, upper class Edgar, and misery ensues. Catherine, though pregnant with Edgar’s child, refuses to eat for weeks. Hours after giving birth to a miraculously healthy daughter, Cathy, she dies. Still, she must not have looked too bad at the end. Narrator Nelly describes her in death: “No angel in heaven looked as beautiful as her.”
INCEST & A DEATHLIKE TRANCE
Madeline Usher • Edgar Allen Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher
Madeline is the twin sister of Roderick Usher, and Poe’s unnamed narrator alludes to a less than Platonic relationship between the two siblings, who’ve been holed up in the family manor for just a few too many years. Madeline suffers from deathlike trances, during which she does not eat or drink. Thinking her dead (at least, that’s his story) Roderick shuts her in the family tomb, where he insists to his increasingly creeped-out guest that she remain for two weeks before being buried. During a terrible storm, a markedly thinner Madeline, who clawed her way out of the tomb, bursts through a door and throws herself on her brother. Both die on the spot—for real this time.
Read Related: Why Diets Don’t Work
FICKLENESS & ROMAN FEVER
Daisy Miller • Henry Miller’s Daisy Miller
Beautiful, spoiled, and coquettish, young Daisy likes to play her men like violins. To the horror of her upper-crust mother, she abandons one suitor—the upright Winterbourne—for sketchy Italian Giovanelli. But when Giovanelli takes Daisy on a nighttime tour of Rome’s Coliseum, Winterbourne tries to intervene, warning Daisy that she’ll catch the Roman Fever, which was actually a malaria outbreak that plagued Rome in the 19th century. She brushes him off and guess what? She falls ill with fever and dies a few days later. Moral of the story? Stick with the suitor who tries to keep you from catching malaria.
PROSTITUTION & CONSUMPTION
Fantine • Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables
Poor Fantine. In Victor Hugo’s devastating look at the hardships of the 19th century French underclass, Fantine’s fortunes just keep going from bad to worse. First, she has a child out of wedlock and is abandoned by her suitor. Then she loses custody of her child and is forced into prostitution. Then she has to sell her hair and front teeth for money. Then she dies of tuberculosis, known in the 19th century as consumption. Oh, and then, to add insult to injury, her body is tossed into a pauper’s grave. The only silver lining in Hugo’s epic saga is that Fantine’s daughter, Cosette, does eventually get to live happily ever after.
STARVATION DIET ON ORDERS OF THE EMPEROR
Agrippina the Elder • Roman Noblewoman
What we construct of the life of 1st Century Roman noblewoman Agrippina the Elder suggests that she was no shrinking violet. Historian Tacitus writes that “Agrippina knew no feminine weaknesses. Intolerant of rivalry, thirsting for power, she had a man’s preoccupations.” In her time, she was one of the most powerful women in Roman politics. A granddaughter of Julius Caesar and mother to dastardly Emperor Caligula (okay, so maybe that’s not something to brag about), Agrippina’s power and influence eventually landed her on the wrong side of then-emperor Tiberius. He banished her to the island of Pandataria, now called Ventotene, where she starved herself to death, apparently on Tiberius’ orders. Couldn’t he just have made her drink poison or something?
BRAGGING ABOUT HER OVARIES & STARVATION
Niobe • Greek Mythology
Niobe, Niobe, Niobe. Don’t you know you’re not supposed to piss off the Greek gods? Niobe was queen of Thebes, and with her husband, King Amphion, had 14 kids—seven girls and seven boys. But she made the mistake of bragging about her fertility, and she did so in earshot of Leto, a goddess who had just two children, Artemis and Apollo. Enraged at Niobe’s pride, Leto sent her offspring to kill all of Niobe’s children. Upon seeing his dead brood, King Amphion killed himself immediately, leaving Niobe to mourn her entire family, After not eating for nine days, she fled (though weak with hunger, one suspects) to Mount Sipylus, where she turned to stone. But she kept weeping, and a stream formed from her stone visage. Even today on Sipylus, there is a natural rock formation resembling a woman’s face, and when it rains, the face appears to weep.
These tragic heroines no doubt died with their girlish figures intact. Still, tuberculosis, starvation and deathlike trance don’t seem like safe, healthy ways to trim down. So to avoid the wrath of the gods or being presumed dead and entombed, we’ll stick with good old eating right and exercising!