Timeless Love Stories

Moving shadows write the oldest magic word.
I hear the breezes playing in the trees above
while all the world is saying you were meant for love.

-Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, in their song “Isn’t It Romantic?”

February 14th was first associated with romantic love during the High Middle Ages, as Chaucer wrote “For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate." Valentine’s Day, as we know it, is a huge commercial success but love stories are no less compelling now than they were in the 1400s. Why do we enjoy reading love stories? What exactly is their appeal? Perhaps it is that love stories offer us a retreat from reality and escapist fiction can definitely be a stress-reliever in our overly busy lives. Love stories may allow us to experience romance vicariously, feed our idealistic notions about relationships, and may well be invigorating as we journey with our hero and heroine to a satisfying and blissful conclusion. Many of our formative years were filled with the “happily-ever-after" fairy tales, making it impossible for us not to have a penchant for happy endings. But, just like any other genre, love stories come in all shapes and sizes and can be grouped into different categories. The love stories mentioned here are not to be confused with the predictable, formulaic, romance novels (i.e. bodice-rippers, featuring half-dressed women with flowing locks swooning over brawny men with equally flowing Fabio-esque locks) or risqué, pop culture sensations such as Fifty Shades of Grey. The love stories that I like best may or may not have a happily-ever-after ending, some may be full of ambiguity, and they definitely do not have a clichéd, unrealistic story. The best love stories that I have read are timeless, with well developed characters, remarkable storylines set against larger-than-life backdrops and go beyond the basic romance novel. Below are some of my favorite love stories that make for very satisfying reads.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The precursor to all love stories...Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, a charming romantic tale that also lampoons 19th century English mores. Handsome and moneyed,Mr. Darcy meets feisty opinionated Elizabeth Bennet and sparks fly. If you have not read it, or read it only because it was on your school's reading list, give it another try and you will discover it is still quite a page turner.
Wuthering Heights; Jane Eyre - Bronte Sisters
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte? Hard to choose. Both novels are timeless romances with moody, misunderstood heroes, eerie manor houses and smart heroines who know just what to do in times of crises. I was a fan of Wuthering Heights in my younger days but later came to prefer Jane Eyre. Read both and see which sister's novel you like better.
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene; The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene and The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough are both romantic tales with the overriding theme of forbidden love. One story is set in war-torn London and the other in post-war Australia. One story is about a passionate and adulterous love affair while the other is about an obsessive love between a young girl and a priest. Both books portray extraordinarily moving stories about doomed relationships. Equally enthralling, both books are hard to put down!
Atonement by Ewan McEwan; Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
A resonant mix of romance and history makes the following two books compelling reads: Atonement by Ewan McEwan and Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. War plays a seminal role in determining the fates of the lovers in both books. The star-crossed lovers in Atonement and in Doctor Zhivago never get a chance to live happily-ever-after. The lovers’ relationship in both books lasts for a brief moment in time, yet their love story is poignant and haunting.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
Do you only prefer your love stories to have happy endings? Then this love story may be just right for you. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles is a fascinating story about a beautiful and mysterious woman and the man who forsakes all for her. Set in Victorian England, the hero finds the love of his life, loses her and goes on a quest to find her. Much more than just a love story, the book concludes with multiple endings. The ambiguous ending leaves the choice of whether the lovers lived happily-ever-after in the hands of the reader. So feel free to decide on the fate of the lovers, after you read the book.

Love Story by Erich Segal
Remember the famous opening line, "What can you say about a twenty-five-year old girl who died?" Yes, the book is Love Story by Erich Segal. I am not embarrassed to admit that when I first read that book as a teenager, I loved it and found it very moving. Rich boy, misunderstood by his parents, meets poor girl, who loves Bach and Brahms; poor girl dies but not before she teaches rich boy some valuable life lessons such as "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Of course, upon rereading this book, I find that line totally banal and eye-roll-worthy but that does not take away from the fact that this is still an enduring love story. This novel was published as a preview to the movie which premiered ten months after the book was published. The movie was a huge hit so, if you have not seen it then do so - after reading the book, of course.

-Rina B.

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