Top Ten Literary Romances

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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