Top 10 Literary Romances

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The perennial popularity of stories where star-crossed lovers struggle to be together have been with us since Adam and Eve.  The following list has excluded some of the classics such as Tristan und Isolde, Orpheus and Eurydice and Joanie Loves Chaci.  However, despite those omissions, it still covers some of the greatest literary romances of all time.

10. Wuthering Heights

The traditional tale of boy meets girl is given a trailer-trash twist here because Cathy and Heathcliffe are brought up as siblings giving this novel incestuous overtones.  The passion in Bronte’s writing is powerful and describes a tempestuous relationship that is analogous to the stormy Yorkshire moor setting.  The story has some dark and sinister developments; with his propensity for murdering small animals and kidnapping potential partners Heathcliffe is less “typical romantic hero” and more “seriously disturbed sociopath.”  Yet this still remains one of the most powerful love stories ever told.

Most memorable quotation: “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees – my love for Heathcliffe resembles the eternal rocks beneath – a source of little visible delight, but necessary.”

9. Gone with the Wind

Every reader knows that Rhett and Scarlet belong together.  Rhett knows it – most of the South knows it – and the only person who doesn’t know it is Scarlet O’ Hara.  To this end, Scarlet O’Hara spends most of the novel marrying one unfortunate after another as she struggles to find elusive happiness.  Margaret Mitchell’s magnificent novel is a love story that does give a damn.

Most memorable quotation: “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

8. Venus in Furs

Leopold Sacher-Masoch – the man who gave his name to the practice of masochism, wrote this novel of a man obsessed with the pleasure of being dominated by a beautiful woman.  The central character in Masoch’s novel is willing to submit to the most outrageous indignity for his lover’s pleasure.  However, her idea of an outrageous indignity is to call him “Gregor.”  If nothing else, Venus in Furs shows that most men and women really need to work on those communication issues.

Most memorable quotation: “You have taught me what love is. Your serene form of worship let me forget two thousand years.”

7. Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s novel is something like the early nineteenth century version of the Pepsi taste challenge: should Elizabeth choose Darcy or Bingley?  Written with Austen’s usual wit and ironic understanding of courtship values, Pride and Prejudice is a stately romantic journey that promotes the ideals of courtly love.

Most memorable quotation: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

6. The Knight’s Tale

The first of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales has a knight relating the story of two men competing for the love of one woman.  Nowadays the two guys would probably knock each other senseless until one of them was either dead, unconscious or had conceded that the best man won.  Things haven’t changed much since the late 1300s because that’s exactly how Arcite and Palamon, the central characters of The Knight’s Tale, choose to resolve the matter.  The Knight’s Tale promotes the timeless values of gallantry, courtly love and having the longest jousting pole.

Most memorable quotation: “Felds hath eyen, and wode have eres.”

5. Dracula

Inspiring a literary love of all things vampiric, Dracula’s legacy has left us with Anne Rice’s endless saga of vampire stories and Joss Whedon’s superlative TV show: Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  Our contemporary affection for creatures of the night was all borne from Bram Stoker’s epistolatory tale of a blood-sucking fiend from the Transvaal.  This chilling little novel proves: if true love can’t conquer all, then garlic and a wooden stake can be equally effective.

Most memorable quotation: “My revenge has just begun! I spread it over centuries and time is on my side.”

4. Jane Eyre

The plot of this story has more holes than all of the UK’s golf courses.  Jane starts off the story as an orphan, yet the narrative ends with her inheriting wealth from her uncle and dividing the money with cousins.  Rochester keeps his demented ex-wife a prisoner in the attic, yet Jane still loves him because she claims, “…we are precisely suited in character…”  At the end of the novel Jane and Rochester are together.  Although he has less eyes and hands than he started with in the book, Rochester hasn’t yet locked Jane in the attic – which suggests the relationship is an improvement on his previous one.

Most memorable quotation: “I resisted all the way: a new thing for me.”

3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The eponymous hero of Victor Hugo’s novel doesn’t have a lot going for him.  Aside from being ugly, stricken by a hunchback and various forms of spinal deformity he is also French.  Nevertheless, Quasimodo gives his heart to the beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda, beginning a heart-wrenching story of unrequited love that remains powerful today – more than 175 years since its first publication.

Most memorable quotation: “When a man understands the art of seeing, he can trace the spirit of an age and the features of a king even in the knocker on a door.”

2. The Story of O

Originally written by the pseudonymous Pauline Reage, to prove that a woman was able to write an erotic novel as efficiently as any man, The Story of O is notorious for its BDSM content.  However, beneath all the sexual shenanigans, The Story of O is the tale of one woman who will do anything to make her man happy – or anyone else at Roissy.

Most memorable quotation: “There existed another ending to The Story of O.  Seeing herself about to be left by Sir Stephen, she preferred to die.  To which he gave his consent.”

1. Romeo and Juliet

Originally entitled, Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, this tale of two feuding families and two star-crossed lovers is Shakespeare’s finest rendition of tragic romance.  Overlook the fact that Juliet is 13, making Romeo’s interest suspect at best and Jerry Lee Lewis-like at worst.  This is a love story that pushes all boundaries.  Romeo and Juliet has been re-written repeatedly since Shakespeare’s day, as a ballet (well, as several ballets) and as an opera (well, as more than two dozen operas), and repeatedly revisited in films such as West Side Story.  It continues to be a perennially popular tear-jerker and audience members will certainly need a tissue close to hand – and not in the same way that a tissue was needed for The Story of O.

Most memorable quotation: “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo

by Ashley Lister


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20 Comments

  1. you should not write about books you have clearly not read.

    this list and the descriptions of the books are ridiculous. you could have at least gone to the trouble of reading the spark notes of each before trying to talk about them.

  2. Yeah

    I was just about to say the same things as the comments above me, but they beat me to the punch. Seriously, how can you malign Jane Austen in such a blatant misrepresentation of one of the greatest novels in literature? God! Not to mention all of the other novels.

    Read, then write about what you read.

    Its the essential order for a reason.

  3. Hi all, and thanks for reading my list – The Top 10 Literary Romances. In response to the five questions above I'd like to say the following:

    1: Have I read Pride and Prejudice? Yes. It's one of my favourite novels and Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors. When I said the story was about Elizabeth making a choice between Darcy and Bingley, I was egregiously understating the expanse of this novel. Elizabeth does not have to make a choice only between these two men. There are also the choices of the roguish Wickham or the repulsive Mr Collins or loneliness and spinsterhood. At its core, Pride and Prejudice is the story of Elizabeth planning her future and knowing being sufficiently intelligent and independent to realise she has been born into a patriarchal hegemony and will eventually have to rely on one man or another for future survival. There is also so much more going on in this story I could have written my own Spark Notes to summarise the novel, or I could leave it with this one (inadequate) remark. I chose the latter so there was space on the list to cover the other literary romances.

    2: "They might be termed romance – but some are not romantic all." I agree. Romeo and Juliet is defined as a Shakespearean Tragedy. Gone with the Wind takes on the topics of the American Civil War. Jane Eyre deals with themes of racism and post-colonialism. Yet all of these stories have a romance at the heart of their story and that was what I wanted to bring out in this list.

    3: "Why is Romeo creepy, he was 14?" There is nothing "creepy" about Romeo being 14. I said the relationship was "suspect" because Juliet was 13. In most civilised cultures the legal age of sexual consent is 16 years or older (I'm aware that there are variations throughout the world but I'm generalising here). Because Juliet is 3 years younger than our contemporary legal age of sexual consent, and because Romeo and Juliet is a story that relies heavily on strong sexual themes (even though Shakespeare doesn't deal directly with the explicit side of their relationship) I think most people would agree that the ardent interest of anyone – irregardless of age – would be suspect when it was directed toward a 13 year old girl.

    4: "You should not write about books you have clearly not read." I agree with this comment. As I've read each book on this list, I don't see how this comment applies. The only thing that is clear is that you have a different interpretation to the stories on this list to the interpretation I reached when reading them. That means we've both read all these stories but we both took different things from them.

    5: "How can you malign Jane Austen in such a blatant misrepresentation…" I've addressed this point already with point 1. However, I'll say again, Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors. I can't see how my comments "malign" her, or how they can be construed as a "blatant misrepresentation." Perhaps you could explain? To give a detailed summary of Pride and Prejudice that did justice to every brilliant nuance within the story would have taken up too much of the list and would have been tedious. I summarised one very small element of a very large story. I'm sorry it wasn't the element you wanted to see summarised.

    Anyway, thank you all for taking the time to read and comment. I'm sorry the list upset so many people but I hope it hasn't stopped anyone from appreciating the great titles that are mentioned here because every one of them is well worth the read.

    Best wishes,

    Ashley

  4. Romeo and Juliet isn't a love story. It's a cautionary tale against the danger of being consumed by greed, jealousy and hatred, as important things are overlooked when one is blinded by these evils. The Capulets and the Montagues are too busy hating each other for trivial reasons to realize the tragedy unfolding before their eyes via the relationship between Romeo and Juliet. Romeo is an easily distracted, hormonal teenage boy and Juliet is young, impressionable and willing to jump at anyone willing to flatter her. The entire story takes place over the course of a few days, which is hardly enough time to devote your life to one another, as Romeo and Juliet do.

    Long story short, it's meant to be (and IS, if you have ever read it) a tragedy and has been grossly misunderstood as an epic love story.

  5. Hi Molly,

    You give a very good summary of your interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. Thank you. It IS classified as a Shakespearean tragedy because the eponymous hero and heroine do die at the end of the play.

    I'd argue that your interpretation of Romeo and Juliet's niavete is somewhat subjective. Just because a person is young doesn't mean they don't know their own mind. I'd also argue that any of us really know what Romeo and Juliet is "meant to be." I have feminist friends who claim it shows the evils inherent in a misogyinst society where women are commodified. I personally believe it is a tragic love story. You have your own opinion that seems to suggest it is the story of two young people who don't know their own minds and make a terrible mistake. I suspect we're all right in equal measures.

    Like all literary romances, Romeo and Juliet is the story of two people who love each other and want to be together and fight against various obstacles to reach that conclusion. Just because Romeo and Juliet don't get to be together in a "Happy Ever After" conclusion, doesn't mean their story does not have love and romance as its core theme.

    Thank you again for taking time to read my list and comment.

    Ashley

  6. Love in the Time of Cholera by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez should definitely be on this list. Greatest love story ever (though, the film is apparently a disaster, I haven't and will not see it).

  7. oh! and for w.heights, there is a more memorable quote. "i cannot live without my life! i cannot live without my soul!"

    😀

  8. I agree with Molly, "Romeo and Juliet" is not a 'love story.' And, it was originally genre-ized as a comedic tragedy.

    The whole point Shakespeare is trying to make is the incredible stupidity of rashness–because that's what Romeo and Juliet were–rash.

    As she said before, the play in its entirity took place over the course of just a few days, again nowhere near enough time to 'fall in love.'

    Rather, Romeo saw a pretty girl and didn't fall in love with her but promptly 'fell in love with love.' Juliet, on the other hand, as also stated, was willing to fall for anyone who flattered her. They were both acting very rashly and Shakespeare shows the literal final resting place at the end of their road of rashness.

    One thought on Romeo being too old for 13 year old Juliet.

    We must take into consideration the historical context of both the play and the author.

    The mean marriage age during Shakespeare's time ranged from 20.6 (1880-89) to 29.6 (1647-1719) years of age . Although it was uncommon for lovers to marry young due to the need of a roof over their head and other reasources, the age of consent was very young–12 for girls and 14 for boys. Thus, Romeo and Juliet both fall within the consent range.

    Seeing the vendetta in which they found themselves ("Wherefore art thou, Romeo?"), Shakespeare is most likely also trying to evince the foolishness and rashness of, in that time especially, marrying young with nothing to live off of and without parental blessing or consent.

    A purely poetic love story that is also immensely humorous is "Cyrano de Bergerac" by Edmond Rostand.

    "She said, 'If you were ugly, I would only love you more.'"

    – Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Act 4

  9. Hi, great list!

    I love tragic romances. Even if some people say they were meant for other reasons, warnings to youth, etc, they still involve love/romance.

    I REALLY like the story of Tristan & Iseult. That's my favorite.

    And also Guinevere and Sir Lancelot!

  10. Wow, as if you didn't have Edward and Bella on here. Their romance is so beautiful and well known you guys already know what I'm talking about. I don't even need to name the book.

    The authour is totally in denail; knows nothing about REAL romance or romance books.

  11. I disagree with almost everything you say here.

    Romeo and Juliet were blind to everything and died rather than live apart. I see this not as romantic but as selfish. They devastated their families instead of telling the truth. Ever wonder what their parents did afterwards? They must have been so upset. Nothing is sadder than losing a child. If you remember, Romeo's mother killed herself over grief that her son was BANISHED, can you imagine finding out he was dead?

    Scarlett is selfish too, Rhett deserved much better. She's just ridiculous.

    So is Cathy from Wuthering heights. She's kind of a bitch, actually. Very selfish, petty, and irrational.

    Jane and Rochester's relationship started with a lie. He lied to her so thoroughly, I can't see how she ever forgave him. They're suited for each other, sure, but if he had come clean with her, it would have been much better all around.

    Quasimodo's story of UNREQUITED love? A romance? Not quite. You say it yourself, it's unrequited. It's also really sad. Not romantic.

    Elizabeth and Darcy almost ruined everything because of their, yes I'll say it, pride and prejudice. They only wanted what they couldn't have. Sure, it developed into something more, but they were not suited at first, not even a little bit.

    Don't get me wrong, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre are two of my favorite books of all time and Romeo and Juliet is my favorite Shakespearean play (Mercutio makes it worthwhile) but I see them as lessons, not as romances.

    I stumbled upon this list while looking for famous romances that aren't really romances for a paper I'm writing, and you helped marvelously, thank you.

    P.S. to the person who was wondering why Twilight isn't on the list? It's because Edward and Bella only want the impossible. It's foolish and childish.

    P.P.S. I just went back and read the other comments, and Ashleigh is right, she doesn't choose between Darcy and Bingley, not even close. And when you (the author) addressed that in your response to her, you STILL made that mistake. Bingley is after Jane, never is there a choice. Maybe between Mr. Collins and certain bankruptcy (which she defiantly takes the latter) but never in the novel does she have to choose. Even between Darcy and Mr. Wickham. She isn't in love with Darcy until after Wickham isn't in the picture anymore. She falls in love with Darcy after she realizes that he's done nice things for her.

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