Romantic novels offer pure unadulterated escapism. Getting “lost in a book” is an understatement with the best stories, which capture the heart, twist a dagger into it (well, sometimes anyway) and make us yearn for a happy ending. They capture our attention and hold it until the very last word. They’re our guilty pleasure.
Some stories are better than others, of course. Man meets woman, man woos woman, man marries woman… that’s been done, again and again. What makes a love story great is a twist, something that makes us go “ooh!” and “ah!”.
Agree? Well, I’ve prepared a list of for you below. Some I like, some I’m still on the fence. These are however, considered by many to be the 10-best love or romance stories ever written.
Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare, 1595
Don’t roll your eyes at this one - we know it’s obvious. But come on. It was written by Shakespeare and it’s easily the most famous love story ever. Shakespeare’s poetic structure and mix of tragedy, conflict, fate and duality make this a classic from a literary sense. But it’s how it makes you feel that’s the real genius.
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, 1847
English writer Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece, Jane Eyre, is the best love story you’ll probably ever read. It follows our beloved heroine Jane Eyre and her affections for the master of Thornfield Hall, Mr. Rochester. We track Jane’s growth to adulthood and become one with her personality. A beautiful, poetic story.
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy, 1877
Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina, is arguably one of the finest works of fiction ever - never mind the romance genre. It’s set in late-19th-century Russia, a place few of us know much about. This captivating world is brought to life by Anna Karenina’s life-changing affair with the handsome and charming Count Alexei Vronsky.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813
Pride and Prejudice is a classic love story set during the Georgian era. It takes the reader back to a more romantic time and is utterly captivating. It’s got a few love stories, but none are more prevalent than Elizabeth and Darcy’s. Their love for each other grows and grows to a point both surrender to it - despite their prejudice and pride.
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, 1936
Gone with the Wind was made famous in 1939 by the same-titled romance film starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. But the original novel was published in 1936 by Margaret Mitchell, and it’s better than the film. The story is set during the American Civil War and follows Scarlett O'Hara’s romance with Rhett Butler.
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë, 1847
Wuthering Heights is the only novel written by Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë’s sister. It’s a masterpiece with a controversial subject matter. It depicts mental and physical cruelty and (at the time it was published) unpopular notions of morality and social classes. Some say it isn’t a love story, but the passion of Heathcliff and Catherine and various others makes it so.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, 1782
A tale of lust, power, revenge and seduction, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a period epistolary novel you’ll love. It’s the story of two ex-lovers called Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont who use seduction and cruel games to control others. Complex moral ambiguities and scandal make this romance novel a must read.
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, 1856
Regarded by some as the best romance novel ever written, and certainly one of the most controversial for sparking prosecution for obscurity, Madame Bovary takes place in provincial northern France and follows the dull life of the Charles Bovary who marries a girl called Emma out of convenience. It’s a story of love, anguish and unfortunate circumstance.
The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks, 1996
The Notebook is a modern classic. It was later adapted for film, but the novel is much better. It follows two North Carolina teenagers, Noah and Allie, who fall in love. It’s set in the pre and post-World War II era. They spend a glorious summer together but are forced to separate. Will Noah’s undying, eternal love bring them back together?
Fifty Shades of Grey, E L James, 2011
Here’s one for those of you who dislike historical fiction. I’ve stuck here to be deliberately controversial as I personally wasn’t too fond of the book and I’m not sure it should in any way be described as a love story.
I know many who would argue that it should be nowhere near this list, however, Fifty Shades of Grey (the first instalment in the Fifty Shades trilogy) has arguably been one of the best-selling romance titles of recent years.
It follows the deepening relationship between college graduate Anastasia Steele and businessman Christian Grey. It’s an ‘erotic romance’ novel full of sexual fantasy. Love it or hate it, it kick-started its own genre and inspired its own film series.
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