I didn’t start reading romance novels until a year ago. I’ve always preferred literary fiction and historical fiction. I also read the occasional thrillers and mysteries—think Lee Child and Tana French, respectively.
However, a closer look at some of the books I cherish made me realize that I’m a romance-genre lover at heart. I just didn’t know it because the books I like are not categorized as romance novels but as classic literature.
By “romance,” I’m referring to the most fundamental characteristics of the genre: boy meets girl, they fall in love, they face conflicts and overcome obstacles, but in the end, they live happily ever after. The following classic works have all these basic elements and they convinced me that I should be reading romance novels. Not surprisingly, all seven have been made into movies.
Top 7 Classic Romance Stories
(1) “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen: I would say categorically that Jane Austen is the mother of all romance authors, and “Pride and Prejudice” is the quintessential romance novel. It’s easy to fall in love with Austen’s intelligent and beautiful heroines, Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, and rich and handsome heroes, Darcy and Bingley. Mind you, they have flaws, but even their weaknesses make them so irresistible. Austen engages the reader with enough misunderstandings, miscommunication, and complications. Finally, she rewards the reader with not just one but two happy endings involving the two couples.
(2) “A Room with a View” by E.M. Forster: The romance between Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson is compelling from the start, but what makes this novel intoxicating is the Italian setting. Travel and romance, Tuscany and love—what’s not to like about this book? E.M. Forster, who was decidedly not a romance novelist, admitted that he was wary about writing a “bright and merry” novel, but it was the only way to write it. “Oh Mercy to myself I cried if Lucy didn’t wed,” he wrote in a letter to a friend. I love this story so much that it inspired me to travel to Florence more than 20 years after I first read the book.
(3) “Much Ado about Nothing” by William Shakespeare: This is a play, not a novel, but the interwoven story of Hero and Claudio and Beatrice and Benedick has all the elements of a classic romance novel—the adrenaline rush of love at first sight, the ensuing complications that could have led to tragedy, and the glorious finale of a double wedding.
(4) “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen: Just like “Pride and Prejudice,” this novel focuses on two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, and their suitors. The reader experiences the ups and downs of the romance between Marianne and Willoughby and between Elinor and Edward. The payoff is not as huge as “Pride and Prejudice.” The ending is more subdued, but it’s still a happy and satisfying conclusion: Elinor reunites with Edward, while Marianne ends up marrying Colonel Brandon.
(5) “Emma” by Jane Austen: Only a heroine as charming as Emma can get away with meddling in other people’s love affairs. Even with her failed attempts at matchmaking and her gross miscalculations about who is attracted to whom, she manages to delight readers. She’s too busy playing cupid that she’s oblivious to the affection of Mr. Knightley for her and her own growing attachment to him. Like my two other picks by Jane Austen, this story ends with double happiness: matrimony for Emma and Mr. Knightley and for Emma’s friend, Harriet, and Mr. Martin.
(6) “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott: This is arguably a coming-of-age story, not a love story, but there’s enough romance and complications involving the March sisters and their beaus in this novel for it to merit a spot on this list. More importantly, there’s an abundance of happy endings in this book: for Jo and Professor Bhaer, Amy and Laurie, and Meg and Mr. Brooke.
(7) “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë: Admittedly this is darker than my other picks, but Jane and Rochester do end up happily ever after. He even partially regains his eyesight and is able to see their son at birth. The unambiguously romantic ending makes up for the grim parts of the story.