Category Archives: Classic Romance

top ten classics

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Best Classic Romances of All Time

We’re listing our ten best classic romances for our first Top Ten Tuesday post.

ten best classic romances

Top Ten Tuesday: Genre Freebie Week

We’re dipping our toes into something new here—Top Ten Tuesdays—and if you like it, let us know, and we’ll keep this going as a regular or semi-regular segment.

“Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.”

Each week has a new bookish theme. We figured today was a perfect day to start as the theme for February 28 is “Genre Freebie.” For this week, we decided to choose the 10 Best Classic Romances. As far as we’re concerned, “classic” means at least a century old–when it comes to books, anyway.

Romance Novels Have Must Have Happy Endings, Even the Classics

Happy endings are essential for us to consider a love story a romance. Let’s look at some classic works of literature and see if they qualify.

  • Romeo and Juliet: No, they die by suicide!
  • Jane Eyre: Yes. Mr. Rochester is blind, but he and Jane get married.
  • Wuthering Heights: No, Cathy dies, and Heathcliff mourns her for decades before dying.
  • Anna Karenina: Oddly, this can go either way. Despite the title, Anna Karenina tells two parallel love stories, not just one. After Anna throws herself on the train tracks and dies, Vronsky goes off to war as a suicide measure. However, Levin and Kitty survive and thrive. They live HEA with their family in the countryside, and he finds God.
  • Dr. Zhivago: No. Yuri and Lara are separated and die apart from one another.
  • Nicholas Sparks: Get out of here!

Our List of 10 Best Classic Romances (With Happy Endings)

We’re looking back 100 years and more to pick ten classic romances that we consider some of the best love stories ever written! Because a romance is not a romance unless it has a happy ending!

This list of 10 classic romances is in chronological order, not order of preference.

Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

This legendary story is our favorite romantic fairy tale because the lovers actually have to fall in love. Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s Beauty and the Beast explores the love story between a beautiful young woman named Beauty and a frightening beast. The Beast, despite his fearsome appearance, possesses an unexpected inner beauty.

Through their time together, the two discover that although some may judge outward appearance, true beauty lies within.

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

The Taming of the Shrew is a battle of wills between the two sexes and a romance that will have you laughing. This comedy by William Shakespeare still resonates with audiences today. It follows the story of Katharina, a “shrewish” woman, and her eventual conquest by the loveable Petruchio. We see how two strong-willed people can find common ground and true love through great wit and clever dialogue.

With many memorable moments, there’s no other play that captures the joys and frustrations of romance quite like this one.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

top ten romance classice pride and prejudice

How could this Jane Austen classic not be on our top ten list? Pride and Prejudice follows the Bennets, a family living in early 19th-century England. Daughter Elizabeth must navigate many feelings: love, hate, pride, and prejudice.

The stubborn and sharp-tongued Elizabeth clashes with the elitist and uptight Mr. Darcy in this timeless romance. Along the way, readers see her story of self-discovery and growth as she and her family face complicated issues surrounding marriage, class, social status, money, and family obligations.

Jane Austen’s wit and humor make this an enjoyable reading experience.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

ten romance classics

Jane Austen’s timeless classic, Persuasion, is a stirring romance that follows the fortunes of Anne Elliot, a young woman whose family pressures her to reject her true love, Captain Wentworth. As both characters struggle with their time’s moral and social conventions, they are eventually drawn together in a tale of love overcoming adversity.

A romance with an enduring message about the power of true love and following one’s heart, Persuasion is in some ways better than Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

10 top classic romance noevls

Jane Eyre is not the first Gothic (Castle of Otranto is), but it is the first Gothic romance. Charlotte Bronte’s novel is a haunting masterpiece that should be included in any list of the best classic romances. The story follows Jane as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, confronting and overcoming the many obstacles in her path. Jane is a wonderful heroine, and Mr. Rochester is a bad man we love!

With its powerful themes of female independence and social norms, Bronte’s work is one of the greatest classic love stories ever written that deserves to be on this list.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

10 classic romance stories

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is a classic romance that is sure to make you sigh in delight! Margaret Hale moves from the south of England to the industrial North. There, she meets Mr. Thornton, a powerful mill owner who challenges all her preconceived ideas. As a clash of cultures and values ensue, Margaret and Thornton’s relationship grows in intensity until they are hopelessly in love with one another.

With its captivating characters, engaging plot, and realistic depiction of 19th-century England, this work of literature has earned its place as one of the best classic romances of all time.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

10 best classic romances

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy makes our list because of the wonderful relationship between the independent heroine Bathsheba Everdene and the man she ends up with, her neighbor Gabriel Oak. This Victorian novel presents a heartwarming story with strong undertones of love, loss, and redemption. The plot follows Bathsheba Everdene as she navigates a web of relationships with Gabriel Oak, Sergeant Troy, and William Boldwood, who battle for her affection.

With its vivid descriptions of rural England, Far From the Madding Crowd is filled with unforgettable characters and timeless romance that will remain etched in readers’ hearts. It’s a rare Thomas Hardy book with a happy ending,

A Room With a View by E.M. Forster

10 classic romances a room with a view

E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View is an Edwardian-era romance. Beginning in Florence, Italy, in the early 1900s and follows Lucy Honeychurch as she visits the Italian city, where she learns to embrace life and love. She resists societal stiff-upper-lip expectations and instead seeks a life of empathy and passion with the free-spirited George Emerson. Through her blossoming relationship with the unconventional George and other characters, Lucy discovers a newfound freedom and courage to follow her heart against all odds.

The Sheik by Edith Maude Hull

the sheik

We will never stop shouting our praise for this wonderful desert romance. The Sheik by Edith Maude Hull is a classic romance novel first published in 1919. The story follows Lady Diana Mayo, an Englishwoman who is kidnapped in North Africa, where she encounters the mysterious Sheikh Ahmed Ben Hassan. With both of them determined to resist their feelings for one another, they fight against their growing love while struggling with cultural clashes.

Rich in exotic detail and filled with adventure and excitement, The Sheik is an absolute must-read for all fans of classic romance novels.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

10 best classic romances

Although banned in many nations upon publication and excoriated as pornographic filth, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is actually a beautiful romance classic. D.H. Lawrence’s novel is set in 1920s Britain and follows the bold and beautiful Lady Constance Chatterley. After her husband returns home from the war paralyzed, Connie forms a bond with their gamekeeper, Mr. Mellors. Then they embark on a passionate and forbidden affair.

The novel deals with class and sexual politics. Its stirring portrayal of true love amidst impossible odds, combined with erotic imagery, places it among our top classic romances.

(Okay, so, we broke our rule or this one. Lady Chatterly’s Lover is 95 years old. But in five years [hopefully, we’ll still be around!] if/ when someone comes upon this article, it will be accurate then.)

Your Opinion

These classic romantic stories all feature happy endings, which makes them essential reading for any romance fan. What do you think of our picks for the top ten classic romances? What are your choices?

As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance!

the sheik

Classic Romance Review: The Sheik by Edith M. Hull

 classic romance
The Sheik by Edith Maude Hull
Rating: five-stars
Published: November 10, 1919
Illustrator: N/A
Book Series: Sheik Duo #1
Genres: Classic Romance, Contemporary Romance, Bodice Ripper, Harem Romance, Forced Seduction
Pages: 296
Format: eBook, Hardcover, Paperback
Buy on: Amazon
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Classic Romance Review: The Sheik by Edith M. Hull


The Book

The Sheik by Edith M. Hull, published in 1919, is as influential to the modern romance genre as Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps, more so.

The salacious book was a blockbuster of a success, despite its many detractors. While some modern readers may cringe at its depiction of women, sexual roles, and racial attitudes, The Sheik remains a compelling read one hundred years after its publication.

the sheik

The Sheik: The Grandmother of Bodice Rippers

“Shall I make you care? Shall I make you love me? I can make women love me when I choose.”

This year, 2022, is the 50th anniversary of Kathleen E. Woodwiss’ the Flame and the Flower, the first “modern romance novel.” The roots of modern romance go back further than 1972, however.

Although Pride and Prejudice and other works by Jane Austen were critiques of manners and social mores, the love stories were at the heart and center. For that reason, her books are considered both as literature and among the first romance novels.

As far as I’m concerned, Jane Austen and all her imitators–Georgette Heyer included–didn’t influence the modern historical genre as The Sheik did.

Oh, I liked the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy just fine. I don’t obsess over it as many do. Charlotte Bronte’s tale of Jane Eyre was far more to my liking, anyway. Jane Eyre, however, is more of an ancestor to Gothic romance.

the sheik grandmother of the bodice ripper.

The First Modern Romance Novel?

“What I have I keep, until I tire of it–and I have not tired of you yet.”

For the kind of romances I enjoy, their roots lie with Edith Maude Hull’s masterpiece, The Sheik. It is the grandmother of the bodice ripper. If not for the closed-door bedroom scenes, this book would have fit right in with the romances penned in the 1970s.

In 1921, the silent film adaptation of the novel starring Agnes Ayres came out. It catapulted Rudolph Valentino’s career into movie stardom. I recall watching the film as a teen and practically swooning over the fantastic tale.

Decades later, I finally got around to reading the novel.

the sheik

The Characters and the Plot

He had seen her, had wished for her, and had taken her, and once in his power it had amused him to break her to his hand.

British-born Diana Mayo has it all: fashionable looks, wealth, and a multitude of male admirers. She’s young, thoroughly modern, and fiercely independent. If someone tells her not to do something, she considers it a dare.

Filled with boredom, the wild Diana travels to Algeria to seek adventure.

And she finds it in the powerful Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, who kidnaps her and whisks her off to his desert oasis.

Between the two will be fierce, passion-filled clashes filled. Diana is a contemporary-minded woman who demands equality from her peers. Even so, she cannot resist the allure of the savage, almost primitive male who seeks to dominate her.

When first published, there was nothing like this book.

the sheik

Intriguing Gender Dynamics

Some historians have noted that during “conservative” eras, the idealized feminine form becomes more “traditional.” Typically, in times of social transformation, she is perceived to be more fluid.

In the 1960’s natural hair, short skirts, and slim figures, a la model Twiggy or Mia Farrow, reigned.

In the 1980s, the style was big hair, full lips, and 36-24-36 figures like Kelly LeBrock and Cindy Crawford.

The 1920s was a post War society with women in politics and the popularization of the motion picture. Ideas of sex, gender, and sexual mores were radically changed from the rigid Victorian/Edwardian and Gilded Age Eras on both sides of the Atlantic. Hair was bobbed, hemlines were raised, and large breasts were out-of-fashion.

The Sheik is a product of its time, with Hassan noting:

But the emotion that this girl’s uncommon beauty and slender boyishness had aroused in him had not diminished during the months she had been living in his camp.

The omniscient narrator constantly refers to Diana’s boyish figure and her as a splendid example of a “garcon manque,” a French term for tomboy. That was the old-fashioned term for girls who “behave” like and hang around boys.

It made for a fascinating sexual dynamic that was only flirted with and never really delved deeply into.

the sheik

The Sheik, A Controversial Novel

To say this is a controversial book is an understatement. Because it was such a phenomenal hit, critics could not ignore it, and they were divided in their opinions. Unlike, say, Fifty Shades of GreyThe Sheik cannot be dismissed for lack of quality.

The New York Times labeled the book as “shocking” but written with “a high degree of literary skill.” It was considered “salacious” and “tawdry.”

“What do you expect of a savage? When an Arab sees a woman that he wants he takes her. I only follow the customs of my people.”

If there was contention about this book 123 years ago, it’s practically obscene today and viewed as problematic. It has been accused of promoting part of rape culture, and it reeks of colonial attitudes.

There may be merit to discussing those arguments, as nothing exists in a vacuum. Nevertheless, I say, “Yes. And?” Fiction demands the freedom to write from any perspective. If it is a story worth telling, the story will be told.

the sheik

My Opinion

“If he killed me he could not kill my love!”

From its initial publication continuing to this day, The Sheik remains scandalous. It was an immediate bestseller, yet it received no respect from critics. The novel was labeled “poisonously salacious” by the Literary Review. It was even banned from some communities.

And it was a huge sensation, launching a subgenre of desert romances, several sequels, film adaptations, and Rudolph Valentino’s career.

The influence of The Sheik on romance is undeniable. For many readers, it still strikes a chord today. Despite Diana’s position as a kidnapping victim, there is a strong theme of female power and independence.

Even so, The Sheik gives a picture of the social order of its time. It captured the contemporary attitudes toward colonialism. Perhaps worse, The Sheik portrayed sexual dominance as a means to love.

the sheik

Final Analysis of The Sheik

E. M. Hull’s desert epic made me feel like a 12-year-old young girl discovering romance. For me, The Sheik was a thrilling experience! It’s pure entertainment, a rush from start to finish. I loved the film; the book was even better.

Without this romance, I don’t know if bodice-rippers or Mills & Boon romances, or the Harlequin Presents line would have ever existed. As stated, The Sheik is grandmother of the bodice ripper.

As for the naysayers?

Perhaps it’s good advice not to take fiction so seriously.

The Sheik is unreality. A dark fantasy. An erotic nightmare. Perhaps a little of both.

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 4.7


Diana Mayo is young, beautiful, wealthy–and independent. Bored by the eligible bachelors and endless parties of the English aristocracy, she arranges for a horseback trek through the Algerian desert. Two days into her adventure, Diana is kidnapped by the powerful Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan, who forces her into submission. Diana tries desperately to resist but finds herself falling in love with this dark and handsome stranger.

Only when a rival chieftain steals Diana away does the Sheik realize that what he feels for her is more than mere passion. He has been conquered–and risks everything to get her back. The power of love reaches across the desert sands, leading to the thrilling and unexpected conclusion.