17 Essential and Irresistible Romantic Novels

Here are just a few books to read this Valentine’s Day. I know some  of you may be holed up alone tonight, and I hope these give you the hope to find happiness and love in the near and distant future. The novels are not all above the professorial brow of high literature, but they will all hopefully do what literature does best–give you perspective on one of life’s most difficult mysteries.

Thomas Hardy – Tess of the D’Urbervilles

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The love story of two English ruralites captures is both idyllic and tragic, but Hardy paints two genuine characters who find love in spite of a number of social and geographical obstacles. Think Austen with far less dinner parties.

Ernest Hemingway – A Farewell to Arms

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A novel that brings out the best and worst of Hemingway’s stoic prose is also, admittedly, a great love story. Fred, an ambulance driver fighting in Italy during the First World War, falls in love with Catherine, a nurse who tends his wounds after a battlefield injury. Great for a relaxing Saturday.

John Green – Looking for Alaska

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John Green is arguably the king of the YA genre, but that doesn’t stop him from depicting young love at its best and worst. A young man called Miles who seeks adventure at a rural boarding school and finds Alaska Young, a manic teenage girl who will change his life forever.

Roland Barthes – A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments

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In Barthes typical meta style, A Lover’s Discourse breaks down the mysteries of love into a set of terms, invoking enough literature and theory to be a grad student’s wet dream. Recommended for the kind of partner who will analyze your love poems to death.

Nicole Krauss – The History of Love

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Love comes all shapes and sizes, but for bibliophiles, the line between person-love and book-love can sometimes blur. Krauss’ novel is about the devotion for an imperfect book that was once thought lost. The History of Love resurfaces the magic of being a young, stalwart poet in love

 

Michael Chabon – Mysteries of Pittsburgh

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Before HBO’s Looking brought the queer romance to the mainstream, Michael Chabon wrote Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a novel that combines Chabon’s sharp plotting with a tale of young love set around a family of Jewish criminals.

Jane Austen – Emma

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They didn’t need to remake this novel into Clueless to remind us that it’s one of the great love stories of the English language. Over two hundred years ago, Austen wrote what most self-indulgent romances these days lack. Sharp, witty, and hilarious, Emma uses the lofty English countryside to teach us all about the universal rules of love.

 

Susan Sontag – The Volcano Lover

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When Sontag wasn’t adding to her prolific repertoire of critical essays, she dabbled in romance, notably, the historical romance. Set in Naples during the 18th century, the novel is about the wife of a British diplomat and her relationship with Admiral Lord Nelson, hero of the Napoleonic wars. A smart a detailed entry into a distant past.

John Fowles – The French Lieutenant’s Woman

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What word better describes the pains and pleasures of love than ‘postmodernism’? Fowles novel about the forbidden relationship between a Darwinian intellectual and a woman exiled by adultery. Unlike most love stories, Fowles does not spoonfeed us a simple plot, but rather leaves us guess to the end and beyond.

Francoise Sagan – Bonjour Tristesse

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If anyone is looking for an ideal French romance, skip over your pharmacy’s Parisian section of Harlequin paperbacks and read this, a short but punchy foray into young love in coastal French. Sagan, who wrote this when she was only 18, remains true to the blueprints of her youth.

Michael Ondaatje – In The Skin of a Lion

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Set in Toronto during its bloom into a major city, Ondaatje captures the poetic mystique of the town with fluid and lyrical descriptions of a bygone era. It’s also a love story, as Patrick Lewis, the main character, falls in love while searching for the infamous Ambrose Small.

Ravinder Singh – I Too Had a Love Story

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A modern love story about falling in love and losing it, Singh’s novel is an easy read but a rather emotional work. Like Sagan’s novel, it captures young love in all its simplicity and complexity.

Yasunari Kawabata – Snow Country

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A love story between an older man and a Geisha in a small town in Northern Japan is great for those who like to reflect deeply on the nature of love. Filled with uncertainty and a rich, detailed landscape, Kawabata’s novel is the love story for the all-too serious thinkers.

Ha Jin – Waiting

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“Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu” , begins Jin’s story about love within the Chinese military. Richly crafted, the novel’s alluring sentences draw us in as intently as love itself.

Amor Towles – Rules of Civility

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About the daughter of a Russian immigrant who falls in love with a man named Tinker Grey (no relation, we hope), Rules of Civility is a fresh take on the classic, Manhattan love story. Towles combines the zeitgeist of the late 30’s with a keen eye for romance and nostalgia.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Love in the Time of Cholera

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Marquez’s floral prose and magical realist style emerge in this historical take on the challenges of falling in love in Colombia’s gorgeous but disease-ridden port cities. The novel takes a really good look at the heroism of loving beyond all circumstances, no matter how difficult they may be.

Margaret Mitchell – Gone With the Wind

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The great love story of the Antebellum south is as gripping a read as it is on the big screen. The love story of Scarlett and Rhett during the Civil War is a story about the conflicts between love and ambition, and how one may so easily fail the other. Great for a long winter break.

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day. Please share and post your favorite love stories in our comments section.

Phil James is the founder of qwikit, and is currently a Master’s Candidate the Berkeley School of Journalism

Five Minute Study Guide | Jane Austen – Emma

As we approach the 200-year anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, it is still difficult to deny that she stands in a league of her own. Emma is perhaps the best of her six novels, but such an assumption ignores the fact that any of them can be considered her best, and those who have tirelessly read all six over and over again will come up with poignant arguments about each novel’s merits. It is hard to deny, though, that Emma is one of her most unsentimental treatments of budding Romance in the quarters of wealthy, rural England that she knew so well.

the novel is about Emma Woodhouse, a wealthy young woman living in rural England who spends most of her time and attention on matchmaking and maintaining her public figure. At the beginning, Mr.Weston, a prominent businessman, has married her governess, so she spends her time attending to Harriet Smith. Impressionable and naive, Emma loves showing her the ropes, and she attempts to get her together w/ the Reverend Elton, but a local farmer soon propositions her hand in marriage.

This soon turns on Emma, though, as she now must deal with the courtships of Mr.Elton. Emma, though, soon rejects him and he goes off and finds another woman in marriage. Emma is anxious for a romance to flourish between her and a suitable man, but as Frank Churchill suspiciously flirts with her, her old friend George Knightley must take care of her and make sure she does not revert to idiocy or maliciousness as she attempts her social climbing. He also insists that she do more good and not impede in Harriet’s life, nor treat Miss Jane Fairfax, a less wealthy woman supporting herself as a governess, with derision. But when she makes a fool of Miss Bates, Fairfax’s mother, during a social outing, Mr.Knightley immediately calls her out for it, forcing her to change for the better. By this time, many have confirmed rumors of marriage, and Emma will make the decision to either do what is right or continue to burn bridges with the people in both the lower and higher rungs of society.

A lot be said about the style that Jane Austen employs in her novels, as there is much rhyme and reason to it. I’d like to first place her style within a historical context; at the time of its publication, England’s obsession with the gothic novel was still in full swing, and just as the irksome Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight series have shaped many people’s ideas of tumultuous Romance, fiction was arguably being sold out to baser ideas for the sake of sales and popularity. Austen, on the other hand, views these idealisations of Romance with skepticism. The narrator is omniscient and separate from the story, but they garnish the narrative with an ironic tone. Consider the opening lines and how they establish who Emma is and how the narrator sees her:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

On the first reading, the three adjectives may suggest wholly positive qualities, but if they are considered with respect to the plot itself, they say more about her shortcomings than her virtues. She is clever but not wise, wealthy but not useful, and the narrator knows she would enjoy being described by these characteristics while also knowing that they represent what she lacks. So based off of this disparity, we can read into how she succeeds in actually making herself a better person. Jane Austen has the sublime ability to make dinner conversation a combative proving ground for socialites, and I think that each of these interactions demonstrates what she lacks and eventually gains in decorum.

One superfluous observation many make about Austen is that it suffers from a lack of action. But I think that what it lacks the most is an audience for close reading; Austen’s Highbury is not just a playground for the wealthy. Some people, like Miss Bates, will barely make it out alive, and Emma will at many times threaten to destroy her own social standing without even realizing it. On that topic, Austen will often satirize the disparity between social classes, but her unsentimental view of life does not necessarily make her a Socialist. She knows that wealth, as well as a connection with people in the same social stature, is important. To become a fully-functioning member of this society, Emma must learn how to read it and not just make false assumptions. She must also realize that she may be a pawn in someone else’s game, and that such social complexities are enacted to reward those most acutely aware of its mechanisms. Frank Churchill’s red herring to distract people from his paramours with Jane Fairfax is commonplace and should be treated as such.

Most authors squander the opportunity to treat the themes they deal with by choosing exoticism and Romanticism over Jane Austen’s proverbial “Sense and Sensibility”. What I want to tell readers, especially those who think Austen is only for women, or Austen’s exploration of Rural England is outdated, that it doesn’t really matter where and when this occurs. the high school rom-com Clueless, a loose adaptation of Emma, proves that the story is very malleable, and so long as there is social decorum and marriage in this world, the rules of engagement will serve as a slate upon which people can make themselves in society. Austen’s novels are actually quite redeeming, then, as they conclude at least two things: that a close reading will not only make this particular book better, but it will help those who feel clueless gain safe passage through life.