Boy meets girl, they fall in love, and are ready for happily ever after. But where’s the turmoil, instability, deceit, despair, misunderstandings, and heartache that precedes every love story?
The classic love stories had it all, and on Valentine’s Day we curate a list of the best romantic reads of all time. The selection isn’t exhaustive, but tries to cover all aspects of love and romance, pleasure and agony, betrayal and loyalty.
So, light some candles, pour yourself a glass of red or white, unwrap some chocolates, and get ready to romance the best Valentine’s Day reads of all time:
Emily Brontë’s first and only published novel has now gained cult status. The brooding Byronic Healthcliff and his beloved rebel, Catherine, may seem more vengeful than loving, but this is a story of love lost and found.
Unbridled passion, destructive love, and psychological realism come together on the unforgiving Yorkshire landscape to create a world that you can't inhabit - or leave.
After her sister’s death, Charlotte Brontë wrote a preface for a new edition of Wuthering Heights: “It is rustic all through. It is moorish, and wild, and knotty as the root of heath.” Said it all!
Top quote: “He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
Pride and Prejudice
The famous opening sentence sets the tone for this spirited tale: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
Sparks fly when the feisty Elizabeth Bennett meets Mr Darcy, but she doesn’t quite take to his standoffishness. “He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again.”
Along with the two main characters, the novel—set in rural England in the early 19th century—follows the Bennet family, which includes four other extremely different sisters.
As we accompany Lizzie from Longbourn and Netherfield to Rosings Park and Pemberley, we can’t wait for the moment when she finds her happily ever after with Mr Darcy.
Top quote: “I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.”
Gone with The Wind
This over-900-page sweeping Civil War saga is “one of the most popular books ever written”. Margaret Mitchell’s 1937 Pulitzer-winning epic novel tells the story of spoiled, headstrong Southern Belle Scarlett O'Hara.
With her family’s fortune and plantation in dire straits, the relentlessly determined Scarlett must choose between the “perfect” Ashley Wilkes and the scandalous, but oh-so-dashing Rhett Butler.
Rhett, who “doesn’t give a damn”, offers her a way out, but how will that pan out?
Scarlett, with her one-track mind, may seem selfish amid the starvation, slavery, and heartbreak that surround her homestead, Tara. But there’s no denying the hope she—and the book—stand for. After all: “Tomorrow is another day.”
Top quote: “Vanity was stronger than love at sixteen and there was no room in her hot heart now for anything but hate.”
The 1938 Gothic novel is what we now call unputdownable. Can you believe that author Daphne du Maurier dissed it as a “literary miscarriage” while she was writing it?
Part mystery, part love story, Rebecca begins in Monte Carlo where our unnamed narrator, a naïve young woman in her 20s, is swept off her feet by dashing widower Maxim de Winter. Orphaned and working as a lady's maid, she’s taken aback by his sudden proposal of marriage, but agrees to marry him.
It’s only when she reaches Manderley, his huge country estate, that she realises the problem she’s grappling with. Her husband’s late wife casts a shadow that may destroy their marriage.
“I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say,” she says.
With a plot that involves two sunken ships, a fire, a costume party, a murder, and complex betrayals, this sweeping tale of love and longing has never gone out of print.
Top quote: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
The Great Gatsby
It’s hard to imagine that F Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 Jazz Age novel started life doomed a failure. It's come a long way since then and has attained cult standing as one of the “greats” of literature.
This slim novel—its fewer than 50,000 words—is a tale that unflinchingly captures the decadent downside of the American dream.
Fitzgerald's hero is a poor farm boy named Jimmy Gatz, who reinvents himself as the fabulously wealthy and slightly eccentric Jay Gatsby. The novel, set in the fictional towns of West Egg and East Egg on prosperous Long Island, is essentially the story of the mysterious Gatsby and his passion and obsession for the gorgeous debutante Daisy Buchanan.
At a time when “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession”, The Great Gatsby explores decadence, debauchery, idealism, social upheaval, excess, and resistance, creating an indelible portrait of the Roaring Twenties.
Top quote: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Looking for more options this Valentine’s Day?
Choose from The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, a 1992 Booker Prize-winning novel; Love Story by Erich Segal, which made the line “Love means not ever having to say you’re sorry” a way of life; Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, a subtle, charming, and profound story of young love bound for tragedy; and Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, often described as “an Australian Gone With The Wind".
You could also peruse The Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, a historical time travel story that’s now a hot series; The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks’ drama of two teenagers who fall in love; and Julie Garwood’s The Bride, which tells the tale of a brave laird and his young wife in medieval Scotland.
We hope this selection of some of the best stories about romance, love, and longing gets you reading and ready for Valentine’s Day. Flowers are optional!
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)