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