The 7 most romantic love stories of all time

“The course of true love never ran smoothly,” Lysander tells us in Shakespeare. Dream of a summer night. AAnd while that might be a frustrating truth in real life, it serves literature well. The most romantic love stories involve a compelling plot, which means conflict. After all, would it Romeo and Juliet to be half as loved if the two passed out teenagers lived happily ever after?

The best love stories are those where the characters are painfully flawed humans. They stumble over their words or their advances; they break hearts and do not always mend them; and they leave us frustrated, but also relieved that we’re not the only ones making mistakes. But ultimately, the greatest stories reveal the transformative power of love and its ability to triumph over missteps and mistakes, whether in a world like ours or in the author’s imagination. While that triumph doesn’t always equal the erasure of past heartaches or pains, these love stories show that love is still worth it, at least as a partnership against life’s tragedies.

Happy or sad, the greatest love stories of all time deliver the kind of noble love we long for in our own lives. Here are some of the best and most romantic.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Nothing is more classic than our favorite verbal sparring partners Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. At first mismatched and even dismayed by each other, Lizzy and Darcy find themselves surrounding each other in fits and starts, tactfully flirting with their best Regency-era manners. Which makes Pride and Prejudice so satisfying is the tension created by family misunderstanding, class separation and, of course, their own feelings, swimming just below the surface.

War and peace by Leo Tolstoy

Don’t let the page count scare you off; Within Tolstoy’s dizzying 1,400-page epic lies one of the greatest love stories of all time. Andrei Bolkonsky and Natasha Rostov fall in love, only to be separated by Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia and Natasha’s unhappy affair with Anatole. Betrayed and angry, Andrei throws himself into battle again, only to be injured. Floating in and out of consciousness, he realizes that love is greater than any human emotion or feeling. And in a twist worthy of your favorite soap opera, Natasha becomes his nurse. While a happy ending eludes them, their reunion may send you through a tissue box.

The purple color by Alice Walker

Trapped in an abusive marriage, Celie’s chances of finding true love seem impossible – until she meets Shug Avery, one of her husband’s former lovers. Shug radiates confidence as an individual and a singer, and she knows how to take charge of her own destiny. Celie finds herself attracted to her and they embark on an affair. The love between them allows Celie to stay strong in who she is and claim her own happiness. Celie and Shug’s relationship illustrates the possibilities of a love that defies expectations and leads to self-discovery and empowerment.

Blame it on our stars by John Green

I know, seeing Blame it on our stars on the same list as classic tomes like War and peace may sound a bit wrong, but here’s my point: the love between Hazel and Gus has swept readers around the world into a story filled with hope, affection, and ultimately loss. Despite their young age and illness, Hazel and Gus remind us of the power of love to support us during our time here on Earth.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The only non-fiction selection in the list, The Year of Magical Thinking requires an exception. Joan Didion reflects on the loss of her husband John Dunne, just as her daughter Quintana Roo has fallen seriously ill. A heartbreaking reflection on grief and loss, Didion’s prose details the difficulties of suddenly losing a partner, a lover and ultimately a friend, and the big and small changes that occur in your own life. Keep the tissues nearby for when Didion writes about her last birthday with John.

Never let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

While initially resembling a story of unrequited love and a boarding school crush, Kathy and Tommy’s eventual mating and happiness are undone by forces greater than themselves. Their commitment to each other, while strong and transformative, speaks more of the attachment to each other in a turbulent world, where changing society is next to impossible.

A little life by Hanya Yangihara

Widely considered the “it” book of 2015, Jude’s horrific abuse often overshadows the rest of the plot of A little life . But it’s the painful, hopeful love that forms between Jude and his roommate Willem that drives the emotional core of the novel. Their deep love grows out of a platonic friendship, illustrating the depth of their bond. But with the tragic nature of A little life, Willem’s love for Jude can’t take away from a past filled with neglect and abuse. While redemption of any kind is hard to come by, the love between Willem and Jude shows that the effort and work put into a relationship is its own kind of victory.

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