The greatest love stories in literature

22:41, Mar 07 2013

I found this list of the 10 Greatest Dystopian Love Stories in Literature - which incidentally, has some of my favourite dystopian novels including Kazua Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

As the list writer said of Ishiguro's novel: "pity the grown-up Hailsham students for wasting precious moments of their too-short lives on jealous squabbles - and on filling their days with anything but love...then close the book and pity ourselves for exactly the same reasons". What a great quote. 

I thought we could expand on the subject further and think of some of the greatest love stories in ALL of literature, regardless of genre.

What are some of the ingredients that make up a truly great love story? Well, I think it combines all the things readers adore most about books. A great love story, one that stands out from others on the crowded bookshelf, will make you ache, cry, dream, long, wish and remember the characters long after the final page is turned. 

A great love story tells you something true. Even if it's set in a post-apocalyptic earth where tribes of cyborgs are warring against humans and the two people who fall in love are a human and a cyborg (like sci-fi Romeo and Juliet) - the relationship between the two, the emotions evoked and the conversations carried out will ring true.

Most novels, I think, deal with love - even if it's just about the lack of love. Here are my top three picks for the greatest love stories in literature. I'll try to choose novels that I haven't mentioned here on the blog before, though some repeats are inevitable!


Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
It isn't exactly the most romantic sentiment in the world to compare love to cholera - a disease which causes uncontrollable diarrhea - but what Marquez is trying to say here is that romantic love is a kind of sickness. The love between Fermina and Florentina is the ideal kind of "big Hollywood love" everyone dreams of finding, and yet it gains its power from the fact that it's unconsummated for most of the novel - just like how in movies the credits roll soon after the main characters hook up. Yet what I think most people overlook is the more realistic love in the narrative, that between Fermina and the man she was ultimately married to for most of the book - medical doctor Juvenal Urbino. Best opening line ever: "It was inevitable : the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love".

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
Tomas is a dirty, dirty dawg...and in real life, women would be well advised to stay away, far, far away. He's the kind of man your mother warned you about and your father would take out a rifle and shoot on sight, but the beauty of literature is the ability to experience secondhand situations that would be soul-destroying in real life. What makes this a great love story is that Tomas is truly devoted to Tereza, who resigns herself to his frequent womanising because she loves him too. She's not without her own baggage, Tereza has some weird ideas about the body. Best quote: "Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory".

Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell
I know, I've mentioned this title several times before. But you cannot have a list of the greatest love story in literature and NOT have Rhett and Scarlett - the woman who spends much of the book oblivious to who her true soulmate was. Though this is one tale where there's no happy ending for everyone, I'm sure more than one reader has privately wished they could trade their hapless partners for Rhett, flaws and all. Awesome quote: "I was never one to patiently pick up the broken fragments and glue them back together and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken, and I'd rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as long as I lived".

What do you think are some of the greatest love stories in literature?

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