Whatever your plans are for Valentine’s Day, curling up with an evergreen, spellbinding romance has a special charm. Your search for love, with its anguish, ecstasies, longing, strife, pain, togetherness, heartbreak, hope and a myriad of emotions, stops here, within the pages of these mesmerising reads. From classics to bestsellers, from the hauntingly painful to the heart-warming and tender, and the hopelessly mushy, here are our favourites:
Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
However clichéd this choice seems, Shakespeare’s heartbreaking tale still evokes a strong emotional response. Borrowed from other famous tales written earlier in the sixteenth century, this tragedy tells about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families. Shakespeare's use of his poetic dramatic structure, his skilful heightening of tension by switching between comedy and tragedy, his expansive portrayal of even minor characters, and his use of sub-plots to flesh out the story, makes it one of his most popular plays. It tells us all we need to know about human longing, the brevity of young love and how it is impossible to control it.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
A timeless good old-fashioned love story, this incisively witty classic of English literature with superb characterisation revolves the tempestuous relationship between Elizabeth Bennet, the daughter of a country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich aristocratic landowner. Set in rural England in the early 19th century, it follows the Bennet family, which includes five very different sisters. A master class in social commentary, the situation is set up in the very first playful line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife," and leads to an eventual happily-ever-after-union. The novel revolves around the importance of marrying for love, not simply for money.
The novel revolves around the importance of marrying for love, not simply for money.
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Considered by many as the greatest work of literature ever written, and set against the panoramic backdrop of 19th-century Russia, this tale, which Tolstoy himself called his first true novel, operates at many levels. A memorable and enduring classic in eight parts, it deals with themes of betrayal, faith, family, marriage, religion, morality, desire, gender, class and the Imperial Russian. The plot centres on the adulterous relationship between Countess Anna Karenina and the dashing cavalry officer Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky that scandalises the social circles and forces the young lovers to flee in a futile search for happiness. Tragedy unfolds with an increasingly paranoid Anna throwing herself before a train and her suicidal lover heading off on a death mission to fight the Turks.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
With her 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë created one of the most unforgettable heroines of all time. An orphan, the penniless and plain Jane endures incredible hardship to secure a governess position for a young girl in the creepy household of her employer, Mr Edward Rochester. Jane’s sharp wit and defiant nature meet with Rochester’s sardonic temperament, and the two form a deep, intense bond. But the house has dark secrets, and the courageous and spirited Jane is forced to make a heart-wrenching choice. An unconventional love story, it is ultimately the tale of one woman’s fight to claim her independence and self-respect in a society that has no place for her.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
First published in 1936, this novel is set in Clayton County and Atlanta, during the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era. Featuring unforgettable characters that have captured the readers’ imagination for eight decades, it is the story of headstrong Scarlett O’Hara, the manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who finds herself in dire straits in the aftermath of the Civil War, the changing nature of Atlanta, and her tumultuous relationship with the roguish Rhett Butler. As Scarlett uses every means at her disposal to keep her family and land out of poverty, Butler offers her a way out. Will she lose her heart in the process? Widely considered The Great American Novel, it explores the depth of tangled human passions and courage with bold intensity.
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Published in 1847, the year before Emily Bronte’s death at the age of thirty, and incorporating elements of many genres—from gothic novels and ghost stories to poetic allegory—the author’s only novel is one of the nineteenth century’s most popular yet disturbing masterpieces. Heathcliff loves Catherine Earnshaw, and Catherine loves Heathcliff. But, class snobbery gets in the way of their passion. Through Catherine’s betrayal of Heathcliff and his bitter vengeance, their mythic passion haunts the next generation even after their deaths. With the windswept moors as the unforgettable setting, and the stark depiction of mental and physical cruelty, the novel challenges religious hypocrisy, morality, social classes and gender inequality. Love and anguish are hand in hand here. This is perhaps the most haunting and tormented love story ever written.
Love and anguish are hand in hand here. This is perhaps the most haunting and tormented love story ever written.
The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough (1977)
Love stories don’t always turn out how we want them to. This beautiful love story blossoms between Ralph de Bricassart, a young and ambitious Catholic priest, and one of his parishioners, the headstrong red-haired young girl Meggie. It’s a forbidden love. Set in 1915, on Drogheda—a fictional sheep station in the Australian Outback named after Drogheda, Ireland—it spans the years 1915 to 1969. Their love for each other is both innocent and passionate and they each go to great lengths to avoid the other; with Meggie marrying the dashing Luke O’Neil. Despite having spent many years apart, Meggie and Ralph are reunited with tragic consequences for them both. Powered by the dreams and struggles of three generations, this moving, poignant and unforgettable tale will make you laugh and cry.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Set in Tokyo during the late 1960s, Murakami’s haunting and original debut novel is a nostalgic story of loss and burgeoning sexuality. It is told from the first-person perspective of a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, Toru Watanabe, who is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman. But, their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. While Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation, Naoko finds the pressures of life unbearable and retreats further into her own world. Toru then finds himself drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman. A poignant story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
The book begins with an elderly man, sitting by his wife's bedside, reading her a story. From there, we travel back in time to when star-crossed lovers Noah and Allie met as teenagers in 1932 and spent one magical summer together. At thirty-one, Noah Calhoun, back in coastal North Carolina after World War II, is haunted by images of the girl he lost more than a decade earlier. At twenty-nine, socialite Allie Nelson is about to marry a wealthy lawyer, but she cannot stop thinking about the boy who long ago stole her heart. An ageless and timeless tale that moves us to laughter and tears and makes us believe in true love all over again, this decade-spanning story told in an extremely plain and simple writing style is a wonderfully escapist romantic read about the power and magic of love to defy all odds.
Love Story by Erich Segal
This is the tale of two college students whose love enables them to overcome the adversities they encounter in life: Oliver Barrett IV, a Harvard jock and heir to the Barrett fortune and legacy, and Jennifer Cavilleri, the quick-witted daughter of a Rhode Island baker. From very different worlds, Oliver and Jenny are brought together in the unlikeliest of ways, are immediately attracted to each other and their love deepens. Upon graduation from college, the two decide to marry, against the wishes of Oliver's father, who promptly severs all ties with his son. Without financial support, the couple struggles to pay Oliver's way through Harvard's Law School, with Jenny working as a private school teacher. Jenny is diagnosed with leukaemia, and is dying. With a simple plot and adorable characters, this tearjerker still remains an all-time favourite.
Jenny is diagnosed with leukaemia, and is dying. With a simple plot and adorable characters, this tearjerker still remains an all-time favourite.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
This feel-good and emotional novel is for everyone, be it people in their old age, or teens studying in school. The story is about two teenagers, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, who are also the protagonists and follows their lives when they are diagnosed with terminal cancer. Hazel meets Augustus for the very first time at a support centre for cancer patients and survivors, which she had started to attend. Augustus is there for a remission. This is when they meet each other and their lives see some light again and they feel alive and better. The book follows the various turns, both the tragic and funny, that Hazel and Augustus go through moments. Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, it explores the thrilling and tragic business of being alive and in love and writes incredible, honest truths about the secret, weird hearts of human beings.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
It is a love story about a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel unpredictably, and about his wife, an artist, who has to cope with his frequent absences and dangerous experiences. Here are a woman and a man meeting in a Chicago library, but while Clare clearly knows Henry and has done for ages, Henry doesn't have a clue who she is. This, we eventually understand, is because he has been travelling from his future to her past, and in that past they fell in love, so he hasn't yet met her in his own present. Classified as both science fiction and romance, it examines issues of love, loss, and free will. In particular, it uses time travel to explore miscommunication and distance in relationships, while also investigating deeper existential questions. Unputdownable!
You may also like:
- Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
- The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
- The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Annand Annie Barrows
- This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
- Atonement by Ian McEwan
- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Picture Credit: Andrik-Langfield
Archana Pai Kulkarni is the Books Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.