Sometimes classic novels provide more poignant love stories than bestsellers. Classic romantic novels are those books that we read over and over, those tales of passion and desire (and maybe just a touch of steam) that have stood the test of time as great manuals of what romance really is.
1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
This massive work of genius, often relegated to the role of a doorstop, encompasses the totality of love. Through the characters search and trails with both God and romantic love, we see many takes on the purpose of life. Anyone looking for a good romantic read will find Natasha’s forays into love, coupled with the depth of the many characters relations the paradigm of romance.
2. Swan in Love (Un Amour de Swan) by Marcel Proust.
Perhaps, the greatest romantic tale of literature hides within Proust’s magnum opus. Swann in Love, a small fragment of his lengthy masterpiece, demonstrates the destruction love ravishes upon us. Swann, a French aristocrat, falls deeply in love with his mistress who holds very little affection for him in return. Unlike the classic fairytale, love mars both his social life and his happiness as his attachment to his mistress increases.
3. Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
The always classic Madame Bovary brings us another example of love’s destructive power. Here we see a woman ruined by flightiness and dreams of happiness. The very fairy tales we secretly devour destroys a simple woman looking for grandeur beyond her means. At the same time, her husband maintains a simple, obtainable love.
4. The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu
trans. into English by Royall Tyler) Some literary types tell us that this text is considered the “first novel”, or at least the first “romantic novel” – it was written sometime between 1002 and 1020 CE by a Japanese noblewoman. The text tells the story of Genji the son of a Japanese emperor, who is relegated to citizen status for political reasons and has to work hard to attract women. There is no traditional “plot”, rather the text simply tells stories over time, in succession. We read about Genji’s early loves, his first unsatisfying romantic experiences, even his marriages and divorces. A powerfully romantic and ancient text, The Tale of Genji is also not very popular or well read. Treat yourself to a unique reading experience, and pick of the translation by Royall Tyle.
5. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
This novel from the mid-19th century is still a classic romantic tale because the story is so powerful, and the characters incredibly vibrant. Featuring many elements of the classic gothic novel (a kind of theme on this list of classic romantic novels) Jane Eyre tells the story of the title character’s life in the form of a simple narrative divided into parts. We see Jane Eyre in her childhood, her education, her first love, separation from love, and reunion. Studied in schools all over the world, there is perhaps no better known example of gothic romance.
6. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
This list would not be complete without including Jane Austen, whose books have stirred our hearts for almost two centuries. This novel follows the romantic adventures of the Bennet sisters, whose relationships grow from flirting and courting to proposal and marriage. This is a “classic romantic novel” by anyone’s definition, and is often considered to be the prolific Jane Austen’s best novel.
7. The Fox by D.H. Lawrence
Set in Berkshire, England during the first world war, this novella by one of the West’s great romantic writers is often overlooked as a wonderful piece of literary romance. The story revolves around two sisters who have taken over a farm – they survive hardship after hardship against all odds. The farm is their entire world and their safe place until a young and attractive soldier walks in and upsets their normal lives. If you’re in the mood for a shorter classic romance, Lawrence’s fascinating novella will satisfy you.
8. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
This is the quintessential tale of obsessive love and jealousy. It's about Gatsby, who loves Daisy, who is married to someone else, and how Gatsby does everything to win back her love. Sad and romantic!!
9. Othello, by Shakespeare.
This one isn't exactly a book, it's a play. This is by far my favorite Shakespeare play- I think it's ten times better than Romeo and Juliet! It's about Othello, who goes crazy with jealously when his frenemy Iago convinces him that his wife Desdemona is having an affair. Tragic! Romantic! Beautiful!
10. 5. Tristan and Isolde, (various)
A classic myth available in many different novels and books (as well as in Hollywood), this tale handed down to us from Celtic traditions centers on chivalry and meditations on doomed love and romance. There is plenty of action, including plenty of jousting and swordfights, and the unforgettable scene of our hero Tristan’s death at the hands of six knights. Looking for a classic romantic romance set in the Middle Ages? Pick up any of the hundreds of versions of the story of Tristan and Isolde.