Valentine’s Day needn’t be a cause for stress when there are so many great literary romances to get lost in. Happy ending or otherwise, love in literature is beautiful and intense – the perfect distraction on this much-maligned day of devotion. Here are the Seren team’s top ten literary romances – in no particular order.
- Jayne Eyre and Edward Rochester – Jayne Eyre
Unassuming and lacking in contemporary beauty, Jayne is perhaps not the convential heroine figure, yet her honesty and intelligence captures our hearts as well as that of wealthy Edward Rochester, whose impulsiveness and secrecy derails their budding romance. Rekindled much later after great suffering, their love seems all the more pure.
- Claire Abshire and Henry DeTamble – The Time Traveler’s Wife
‘I am at a loss because I am in love with a man who is standing before me with no memories of me at all’. Claire and Henry’s romance is unconvential and at times agonising, but each moment time-travelling Henry is brought back to Claire is cherished by both.
- Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley – Emma
Like a slow burn, Emma’s imperceptible love grows out of friendship for the frank and critical Mr Knightly – the only character whose genuine concern and care for Emma is strong enough to prompt such well-meaning rebukes. Their romance is compassionate and selfless, and each improves the other through their genuine affection.
- Catherine Ernshaw and Heathcliff – Wuthering Heights
Both strong, wild and passionate, Catherine and Heathcliffe fall prey to an obsessive kind of love, all-consuming in its intensity, to the ruin of both. Heathcliff is not our typical romantic hero – his coarse brutality turning him into something monstrous – yet his enduring love for Catherine, which dominates him even after her death, makes for a captivating and unforgettable story.
- Beatrice and Benedick – Much Ado About Nothing
The will-they-won’t-they romance between Beatrice and Benedick begins with the two on equal footing – both clever, witty and utterly opposed to marriage. Throughout the play they continue to be evenly matched, their heated linguistic duels blossoming into love. Each has the power to turn the other into the best (or worst) version of themselves, and the “merry war” of witty insults between Beatrice and Benedick ends with a romance we will remember always.
- Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew – One Day
This much-loved contemporary romance opens with Emma and Dexter’s one-night-stand, which unbeknownst to both characters will define the tragectory of their lives. Though ultimately tragic, the love between Emma and Dexter endures over decades of separation, and is captivating in its intensity.
- Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters – The Fault in Our Stars
A short and hearbreaking romance, Hazel and Augustus stole hearts in the book and on the big screen as we followed them in their battles against cancer, love and loss. Embodying Tennyson’s phrase, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”, the story ends with neither character regretting having pursued their doomed relationship.
- Pip and Estella – Great Expectations
Arguably one of Dickens’ strongest female characters, Estrella is cold and cruel to Pip as a child, rejecting the notion of romance and warning him to stay away from her. Pip, passionately in love, continues to pursue Estrella even after her marriage to the repugnant Drummle, and as the novel draws to a close, we are teased with the notion that Pip and Estella may finally be united.
- Margaret Hale and John Thornton – North and South
An intelligent and wealthy mill owner, Mr Thornton represents all that genteel Margaret Hale is prejudiced against. He comes to love Margaret both because and in spite of her pride, and this passionate love persists even after she refuses his preposal and he comes to (wrongly) believe she has another lover. Margaret’s prejudices against the North and about social class slowly alter and when re-introduced to Thornton much later, the two finally declare their love.
- Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy – Pride and Prejudice
How could we leave off this most famous of literary romances? Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy both have their flaws – quick to jump to conclusions, Elizabeth misjudges Darcy from the start and he, falling prey to his pride, looks down upon her socially inferior family. Through hatred, to begruding respect and finally love, the two overcome their initial failings, and eventually embark upon a joyous marriage.
We hope you enjoyed this short list of great literary romances – though there are plenty more out there we haven’t mentioned. Happy Valentine’s Day, book lovers!
And before we go, a couple of honorary mentions from the Seren list:
Sophia and Hajo – Dark Mermaids
In Sophia’s struggles to investigate her friend’s murder and come to terms with her own abusive childhood as a young swimming star, fellow police officer Hajo begins as a wishful fantasy, his thick dark curly hair something coveted from a distance. But by the novel’s close, we see the two united, Sophia’s torment dulled by the reciprocated feelings from one whose love is patient, gentle, and pure.
Christine and The Phantom – Masque
In her pursuit of artistic perfection, young opera singer Christine encounters the Phantom, whose mentorship and murderous control of the theatre propel her to new heights. Much unlike Gaston Leroux’s original story, in Masque the Phantom is a complex character with great emotional depth, and ultimately Christine comes to recognise, despite his monstrous faults and physical deformity, that she admires and loves him.