Deathly Hallows Discussion Point #11: Unrequited Love

Severus Snape’s allegiance and motivations had become the central question surrounding the series; we learn in The Prince’s Tale, Severus’ memories given by him at his death, that his service to Dumbledore and Harry is all a consequence of his unrequited love for Harry’s mother, Lily, Severus’ childhood friend. Severus vows to Dumbledore that he will do anything for him if the Headmaster will save Lily from Voldemort; at Lily’s death, Severus is convinced that his continuing love for her means he must stay on at Hogwarts to protect her son. Two questions: Are Severus’ thoughts about Harry an echo of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and his bizarre relationship with Catherine Earnshaw (or another tip of the hat to Sydney Carton)? Was dropping all this Snape information at the very end of the very last book “brilliant story-telling” or “breaking the rules of detective fiction” ( i.e., withholding clues)?


  1. Post of the week! Thank you, Hambrick91.

  2. Coppinger Bailey says

    I just wanted to give a belated tip of the hat to everyone who stuck by their convictions that Snape was helping protect Harry for Lily’s sake. That honestly was my gut response when I first read the pensieve scene in Order, but Snape’s use of the AK curse on Dumbledore in HBP made me seriously question that view. So after pouring back through the books, I decided that Snape was on nobody’s side but his own & that he would attempt to finish Harry off himself. Wrong! Sucker!

    I still think Snape — although incredibly brave to take on this protector role — was only out for his own interests, which turned out to be his love for Lily. Dumbledore realized this. I think Dumbledore, having given Snape a chance, recognized over time that Snape had wounds that ran really deep & when Harry finally comes to Hogwarts, Dumbledore sees that Snape’s grudges are still a huge weakness that Snape has yet to overcome.

    My essay on Snape referenced other fans who had pointed out the link of the name “Severus” to Machiavelli’s Prince. Just before DH came out, another HogPro blogger wrote in that the name could have originated from a character named “Severus” in French literature:

    “There’s a seventeenth century play by Corneille called “Polyeucte” (in English, Polyeuctus.) The play is about a Christian martyr, Polyeuctus, who died during the reign of the Roman Emperor Decius. There is an important character in the play named Severus (Severe, in French.) Severus, a Roman soldier, pagan, and favorite of the Emperor, is hopelessly in love with a married woman, Pauline, the wife of Polyeuctus. Severus is offered the opportunity to marry Pauline upon the death of Polyeuctus. In an act of unselfish heroism, Severus instead tries (unsuccessfully) to save Polyeuctus for the sake of Pauline. If memory serves me correctly, I think Pauline winds up being martyred also, and Severus comes over to the good side, accepting the truth of Christianity and vowing to defend Christians from the Emperor. ”

    After reading Deathly Hallows, I think both the Machiavelli and the Polyeucte references work. Snape was capable of one singular love, and he chose to act on that love. But I think my Machiavelli-based look at Snape’s character still applies, I just got his motivation wrong. And I was guilty of suggesting that a “Machiavelli-Snape” would be reduced to an overly-simplistic “Evil Snape.” Wrong! – and boring. Ms. Rowling, in my mind, stayed true to Snape’s shades of grey through to the very end, and his character is the richer for it.

    A friend of mine pointed out the other day that Snape had the single most dangerous job of any member of the Order; he was in constant danger – especially after Voldemort returns to a body. I cried when I was reading the Epilogue & Harry called his son “Albus Severus.” I thought that one line summed up everything Ms. Rowling needed to say about the end of Snape’s story. Harry realized that he was wrong about Snape, that Snape was one of the bravest men Harry ever knew, & Harry and Ginny recognized and honored the sacrifice Snape made on behalf of Lily. We don’t know if Snape wound up at King’s Cross after Nagini killed him, but he was redeemed in the eyes of those he helped to save and left behind.

  3. rosesandthorns says

    Insightful post hambrick91! You’ve expressed the thoughts that others would no doubt also be thinking, but not be able to articulate on their own. Thanks for sharing your personal experience. Eloquent reasoning, and I very much agree!

    I do find it telling that Harry, who names his second son Albus Severus, also named his first son James. I think he realized that his father, while a bully and arrogant as a teenager of fifteen, did grow out of it enough to make Lily fall in love with him (and just like Lily who died in Harry’s place, James died to try to protect those he loved, which is certainly great proof of what kind of man he became). James, like so many of us, I daresay, did grow out of his mistakes. (My opinion is that by the time Lily and James got together, James was no longer hexing Snape for fun, but only if Snape attacked him, much as Harry did not hex Draco for fun, but only if Draco attacked him.) All three men did disappoint Harry in ways: James by being a bully at one point in his life; Severus by being downright cruel to him; Albus with his “secrets” and not-so-white past … but in the end, all three of them showed their true worth. And, I think, naming his children after the three men showed the final maturity of Harry. (Of course, he did name a daughter after the wonderful Lily as well, but I think the naming conventions for his sons were the most telling, as were those final words to Albus Severus about his name and about choice *sniff*).

    Lily was definitely the light that Severus, in his darkness, did not truly see until it was too late and her life was threatened. He sees enough to be attracted to it, but not enough to turn away from the darkness, which had it’s own appeal for the vulnerable Snape. Some moments in the memories that Snape shares with Harry about Lily are particularly telling. Remember when Lily confronts Snape about Mulciber, asking him how he can be friends with such a “creepy” guy who tried to do Dark Magic to Mary Macdonald, and Sev just shrugs it off as a “laugh, that’s all”? I bet if Mulciber had tried to do the same thing to Lily, Snape would definitely not have thought it was just a “laugh.” I’m guessing he would have cursed Mulciber in a … er … “not-so-nice” way, and maybe then Snape would have truly realized the dark path he had set himself upon and just what kind of persons Mulciber and Avery were. Another moment was when the final break came after Snape called her a “mudblood.” She rightly points out that he calls everyone of her birth that name, so why should she be any different? It seems obvious that he regularly insults muggle-borns with that name, and she calls him out it.

    Ironically, it takes the darkness of Voldemort for Snape to finally see the light. All those years of being a Death Eater … Snape would know by then what kind of wizard Voldemort was. I am sure Voldemort was just as “loyal” to his followers back then as he was after he returned to his body – Voldemort regularly tortured and killed his own followers in book seven if they displeased him or brought him bad news. (“No honor among thieves,” indeed!) And Snape would not be the first Death Eater to have doubts either, as was evidenced by Regulus after Voldemort very callously tried to kill Kreacher. I also think Snape joined the Death Eaters more for the power than anything else. Possibly like Draco, who talked the Death Eater talk but does not really want to kill anyone, Snape (like Regulus) might not have truly understood what he was getting himself into until it was too late and all that he held dear (or is it deer? – I had to get a doe joke in) was in danger. That was no doubt as to why he went to Dumbledore even though Voldemort had promised to spare Lily: Snape knew very well that Lily did not matter to Voldemort and that Snape’s wishes did not truly matter to Voldemort either in the end. Snape knew Lily was in great danger. And he knew that Dumbledore was the opposite kind of wizard to Voldemort, and so Snape went to him and ended up working undercover for Dumbledore.

    I think the appeal of Snape as a character is that he could have lived a very different life if he had simply chosen better – and seen the light and the darkness for what they were earlier in his life. (He is kinda the opposite of Harry in many ways, for Harry generally chooses the right path to go on, whereas Severus chose most of the wrong paths before Lily’s death.) Even as early as the sorting … remember how Lily was sorted into Gryffindor before Snape was sorted? Suppose, like Harry, Snape (with his wish to join his friend becoming greater than his wish for the powerful lure of the Slytherins) had asked the hat to put him in Gryffindor? I have no doubt that it would have granted his wish, and even Dumbledore, with his remark on how they “sort too soon,” clearly implied that Snape had the requisite bravery of a Gryffindor. That one choice could have changed Snape’s life forever.

  4. Is anyone disappointed that Snape’s portrait was not in the headmaster’s office at the end? This is how I wish the ending would have read:
    But Harry had eyes only for the man who stood in the newest portrait directly behind the headmaster’s chair. Tears were sliding down the hooked nose onto the crisp black robes and the piercing gaze from the black eyes caused Harry to bow his head. He realized he was holding the elder wand against his heart. In the deep silence that now settled on the room, Harry wondered what was to be done. How to possibly atone for the misplaced trust, pride, and legacy of James’ behaviour? The sudden thought of Regulus Black made Harry gasp with pain. How many others might there be, who had fought bravely and secretly? As Harry struggled to put words together, he heard Hermione sniffling from where she and Ron stood close behind him. With gratitude he knew he was not alone in this misery.

    “Students of Gryffindor” then spoke the voice in such a manner that Harry felt an immediate release from his confusion. The thundering applause resumed. Harry slowly raised his eyes to meet that familiar stare. But the dark eyes were now alight with something that Harry did not recognize. Only later would he understand that it was simply the absence of turmoil, bitterness, and deception. Professor Snape was at peace.

  5. I always figured Snape was a mixture of Heathcliff and Sydney Carton. There are so many parallels with Heathcliff (hates the child of the woman he loved and lost, said child looks like the father/romantic rival, remains obsessed with woman after her death, dark piercing eyes, generally unpleasant); however, he’s not as much of a monster as Heathcliff proves to be and has some of the nobility of Sydney Carton in his protecting Harry and his death.

    Nevertheless, a fascinating character and my favorite in the series.

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