Valentine’s Day is coming up next week (if you’re anything like me, you’ve only just remembered!), so we thought it would be a great time to feature some of the greatest love stories ever told. Many of these are also core GCSE English texts, so check out our GEM display in the Information Store for quotes and more, and make sure to keep an eye out for study guides and critical essays, which should be shelved right next to the texts!
Romeo & Juliet
We’ve covered Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare before in The Many Faces of Romeo & Juliet, but this story is the best example of two people torn between their duty and their love for one another. In Verona, a city divided in a power struggle between the Montague and Capulet families, Romeo Montague and his friends break into a party being thrown by House Capulet – but when he falls in love with the daughter of Lord Capulet, Juliet, they must keep their relationship secret for fear that they will be punished and separated. The classic story of star-crossed lovers (and the origin of that phrase), Romeo & Juliet continues to speak to audiences through the centuries.
Check out any of our adaptations – my personal favourites include Zeffirelli’s luscious adaptation with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, Baz Luhrmann’s groundbreaking Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes, and Carlo Carlei’s recent version with Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth.
Find the play, adaptations and more at NORFOLK HOUSE 822.33.
Pride & Prejudice
Our review of Pride & Prejudice might be from a couple of years ago, but its relevance never fades. Jane Austen’s novel is the perfect combination of witty social satire and genuine heartfelt romance. Elizabeth Bennet is a book-reading, rainy-day-walking oddity in Regency society. Her mother is determined to marry her and her sisters off – and when the charming Mr Bingley moves to the area, along with his reserved friend Mr Darcy, it seems like the perfect opportunity. However, Elizabeth finds Darcy to be rude and prideful – there’s no way two such mismatched people could find love together, right?
Pride & Prejudice has been adapted many times, from the 1940 adaptation with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson to the 1995 BBC adaptation which introduced the concept of Colin Firth taking a half-dressed dip in an ornamental pond to the 2005 film with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyn. Also check out The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube, a modern-day video vlog adaptation. Many of Austen’s other novels have led to fantastic adaptations as well, including the teen rom com Clueless (adapted from Emma).
Find Pride & Prejudice and Jane Austen’s other novels such as Emma and Persuasion in the BOOK ZONE at 823.7.
One of the great Gothic romance novels, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is a love story between Catherine and her foster brother Heathcliff, set in a creepy house isolated on the Yorkshire Moors, not unlike the house where Emily Brontë and her sisters grew up. Catherine and Heathcliff’s love affair is definitely not a model of a healthy relationship, but it makes for a charged and dramatic novel.
Check out the ITV adaptation of Wuthering Heights starring Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley, or the feature film adaptation Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights with Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche.
Find both Wuthering Heights and its adaptations in the BOOK ZONE at 823.8.
Another novel from the same talented family, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is a less wild but perhaps more lasting romance. Again there is a Byronic and somewhat cruel male love interest contrasted with more pleasant but less interesting people, but this has a much less tragic ending. Jane, a plain but intelligent and creative young woman, travels to a remote house to teach a young girl, the ward of the mysterious Mr Rochester. From the get-go, Rochester and Jane challenge and surprise each other, but he has skeletons in his closet that he dares not admit.
Compare two TV adaptations made nearly ten years apart, one starring Ciarán Hinds and Samantha Morton and one starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson.
Find both Jane Eyre and its adaptations in the BOOK ZONE at 823.8.
Not based on a novel, but on an unproduced play, Casablanca is a film you’ve heard of even if you haven’t seen it. ‘Play it, Sam, play “As Time Goes By”’, ‘I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship’, ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’ and ‘Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine’ – classic quotes from one of the most romantic films ever, even though, as many critics have pointed out, the plot doesn’t actually make much sense. Bitter Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, runs a nightclub in Casablanca during World War II, staying out of the war. However, when his old flame Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) walks in with her husband, a resistance fighter, suddenly he can’t keep out of it any more. This story of the cynical Rick giving up everything for love is heartbreaking every time. If you haven’t seen it before, this Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity!
Find Casablanca in the DVD LOBBY at 791.43.
This is more of a personal pick because I think Richard Linklater’s series of romance films deserves more attention. Before Sunrise is the first of a trilogy of films, each film moving the story on by nine years. Jesse, played by Ethan Hawke, meets Céline, played by Julie Delpy, on a train going to Vienna. He convinces her to get off the train at Vienna and they wander the streets for a night, falling in love. The story was inspired by director and writer Richard Linklater’s own experience of running into a woman in Philadelphia and spending the night walking and talking.
Before Sunrise is understated and quiet, no great declarations of love or races to airports, but it’ll make you root for these two young strangers who met by chance. The sequel, Before Sunset, shows Jesse and Céline meeting again in Paris when Jesse has become a famous author, and the third film, Before Midnight, is an exploration of the real struggles for a couple trying to stay together for years once they’ve got their happy ending. Low-key and sweet, this trilogy is a very real love story that doesn’t stop at the final kiss, and is all the better for it.
Find Before Sunrise and Before Sunset in the DVD LOBBY at 791.43.
Gone With the Wind
Like Casablanca, Gone With the Wind is heavily quoted but still totally worth a watch, and like Wuthering Heights, is not a great model for relationships. However, this sweeping epic film based on Margaret Mitchell’s equally powerful novel is definitely a great love story. Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is a Southern belle born in privilege in Georgia. She’d headstrong and spoiled but when the man she loves, Ashley, proposes to someone else, she marries his fiancee’s brother Charles even as the American Civil War begins. Scarlett has to do whatever she can to keep her family alive while torn between Ashley and cad and bounder Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) who has long been in love with her.
Like many of the stories on this list, Gone With the Wind is difficult to engage with at times for a modern audience: Scarlett and her family own a slave plantation and Rhett is a despicable character in many ways. However, with a film poster torn from a bodice-ripping novel and lead actors who manage to make Scarlett and Rhett genuinely sympathetic, Gone With the Wind will sweep you away this Valentine’s Day!
Find Gone With the Wind in the DVD LOBBY at 791.43.
Most of us don’t really associate Charles Dickens with great romantic stories: our image of his work focuses more on grinding poverty and cutting social commentary. However, Great Expectations is one of his more romantic novels: the story of a young man called Pip who is taken into the household of the reclusive Miss Havisham and falls in love with her ward Estella, but struggles to make his fortune in London. While Great Expectations has Dickens’ sense of gloomy morality, it is also a story of love that endures heartbreak and loss. How can you not fall for Pip’s assertions that he ‘loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be’, or his declaration of love for Estella: ‘You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read…’ Pip might be a fool sometimes, but he’s a romantic one!
Three major adaptations of Great Expectations have drawn attention: David Lean’s classic 1946 film starring John Mills, Alec Guiness, Jean Simmons, Valerie Hobson, and Martita Hunt; a 2011 BBC miniseries with Douglas Booth, Vanessa Kirby and Gillian Anderson (in a lauded turn as Miss Havisham); and a 2012 big screen version with Jeremy Irvine, Holliday Grainger and Helena Bonham Carter.
Find both Great Expectations and its adaptations in the BOOK ZONE at 823.8.
Leo Tolstoy is best known for his epic novel War and Peace, but many people prefer Anna Karenina, the tragic tale of Princess Anna’s affair with Count Vronsky, a cavalry officer. Anna wants to leave her husband but he will not divorce her, leaving her trapped in a loveless marriage while trying to maintain her position in society. A rich and sumptuous novel of Russia before the Revolution, Anna Karenina is a feast for the mind and emotions.
Other similar stories of passionate women trapped by society’s mores include Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence (823.91), Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, Middlemarch by George Eliot (823.8), The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (823.91) and The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (823.91).
Find Anna Karenina in the BOOK ZONE at 891.733.
The Great Gatsby
As you’ve probably seen, we love The Great Gatsby here, and who could write a list of classic love stories without F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel? Nick Carraway becomes embroiled in the dramatic love lives of his cousin Daisy Buchanan, her cheating husband Tom and their mysterious neighbour, Jay Gatsby. Gatsby has a history with Daisy and with Nick’s help they reunite, but when two people have changed so much, can they ever recapture what they once had?
Baz Luhrmann’s sparkling adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan is filled with Jazz Age decadence mixed with modern hiphop and Luhrmann’s distinctive visuals.
Find both The Great Gatsby and its adaptations in the BOOK ZONE at 823.91.