As regular followers of my blog will know I am not a lover (excuse the pun) of the romance novel genre. However, as today is Valentine’s Day I thought I would share with you six of the greatest love stories of all time, and which I fully intend to bite the bullet and read, or reread as in the case of Bronte, to review at a later date. As always this list is in no particular order.
One of the most passionate and heartfelt novels ever written, Wuthering Heights tells of the relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, the orphan boy her father adopted and brought to Wuthering Heights when they were children.
While Catherine forms a deep attachment to Heathcliff, her brother Hindley despises him as a rival. Heathcliff becomes torn between love for Catherine and the rage and humiliation he suffers. Finally he can stand it no longer and, in the violence of a summer storm, leaves the Heights for three years. During his absence Catherine has married, but her tormented heart belongs eternally to Heathcliff who is now prepared to exact his tyrannical revenge.
With its freedom from social convention and its unparalleled emotional intensity, Wuthering Heights is a highly original and deeply tragic work.
Married to a powerful government minister, Anna Karenina is a beautiful woman who falls deeply in love with a wealthy army officer, the elegant Count Vronsky. Desperate to find truth and meaning in her life, she rashly defies the conventions of Russian society and leaves her husband and son to live with her lover. Condemned and ostracized by her peers and prone to fits of jealousy that alienate Vronsky, Anna finds herself unable to escape an increasingly hopeless situation.
Set against this tragic affair is the story of Konstantin Levin, a melancholy landowner whom Tolstoy based largely on himself. While Anna looks for happiness through love, Levin embarks on his own search for spiritual fulfillment through marriage, family, and hard work. Surrounding these two central plot threads are dozens of characters whom Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together, creating a breathtaking tapestry of nineteenth-century Russian society.
From its famous opening sentence — “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”—to its stunningly tragic conclusion, this enduring tale of marriage and adultery plumbs the very depths of the human soul.
This epic tale about the effects of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath on a bourgeois family was not published in the Soviet Union until 1987. One of the results of its publication in the West was Pasternak’s complete rejection by Soviet authorities; when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 he was compelled to decline it. The book quickly became an international best-seller.
Dr. Yury Zhivago, Pasternak’s alter ego, is a poet, philosopher, and physician whose life is disrupted by the war and by his love for Lara, the wife of a revolutionary. His artistic nature makes him vulnerable to the brutality and harshness of the Bolsheviks. The poems he writes constitute some of the most beautiful writing in the novel.
‘The more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!’
Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.
The complex moral ambiguities of seduction and revenge make Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782) one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. The subject of major film and stage adaptations, the novel’s prime movers, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, form an unholy alliance and turn seduction into a game – a game which they must win. This new translation gives Laclos a modern voice, and readers will be able a judge whether the novel is as “diabolical” and “infamous” as its critics have claimed, or whether it has much to tell us about the kind of world we ourselves live in. David Coward’s introduction explodes myths about Laclos’s own life and puts the book in its literary and cultural context.
In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmerelda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmerelda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her that only Quasimodo can prevent. Victor Hugo’s sensational, evocative novel brings life to the medieval Paris he loved, and mourns its passing in one of the greatest historical romances of the nineteenth century.