If there’s one thing we all enjoy, it’s a decent love story. One that fills our hearts with the joy, hope and despair of human attraction. One that inspires us with wonderful characters and a gripping plot. One that we’ll read time and again, just to inhabit the author’s amazing world.
But how do you choose the best? It’s impossible to do so, of course, but that hasn’t stopped us trying. So, without further ado, sit back and enjoy our guide to the best love stories ever told.
1. Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
Okay, so it’s a bit over-done nowadays. But that doesn’t detract from the ability of Shakespeare’s heartbreaking tale to tell us all we need to know about human longing. Sit before the star-crossed heroes at the play’s end, their arms entwined in a deathly embrace, and you see with utter clarity that true love is impossible to control. Then wipe your eyes and return to daily life, knowing that nothing will ever be the same again. No matter how clichéd it is to choose Romeo and Juliet as our winner, no other love story comes close.
2. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Set against the panoramic backdrop of 19th-century Russia, Tolstoy’s tale operates at many levels. At its heart is the adulterous relationship between the title character and the dashing Count Vronsky. That doesn’t end well, with Anna throwing herself before a train and her suicidal lover heading off on a death mission to fight the Turks. But there’s a parallel romance for those who like their love stories less tragic: Anna’s sister-in-law’s sister Kitty eventually falls in love and marries the likeable Levin, who himself undergoes a journey of self-discovery that many critics regard as Tolstoy’s real purpose for writing Anna Karenina. Worthy of second place for sheer ambition alone.
Charlotte Riley and Tom Hardy in Wuthering Heights
One-hit wonder: Wuthering Heights CREDIT: REX
3. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Have you noticed the link between love and anguish? No one understood this better than Emily Bronte, whose one and only novel is an absolute corker. Heathcliff loves Cathy, and Cathy loves Heathcliff. But as with all good Victorian novels, class snobbery gets in the way of their passion. To cut a long story short, pretty much every character in the book ends up bitter, twisted and heartbroken. But the love never dies, and that’s what makes this a tale to be reckoned with.
4. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Talking of snobbery, Jane Austen’s deceptively comedic tale of Georgian manners is a masterclass in social commentary. At its heart is a good old-fashioned love story – or a few of them, to be precise. The most striking one is between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, whose relationship is established along the now-standard lines of initial coldness, mutual attraction, large-misunderstanding-that-leads-to-more-coldness, and eventual happily-ever-after-union. Too trope-filled to be the winner, Pride and Prejudice nevertheless deserves a place in our top five.
Rachel Ward and Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds
Catholic tastes: The Thorn Birds CREDIT: ALAMY
5. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough
No other book does longing like Colleen McCullough’s epic tale of ambitious Roman Catholic Priest Ralph’s forbidden love for one of his parishioners, Meggie. When the two eventually kiss, it is one of the most spine-tingling moments in literature. Sadly, there’s no happy ending, showing that love stories don’t always turn out how we want them to. Worthy of its place on our list for this reason alone, The Thorn Birds is distinguished by its readability, grand scope, and atmospheric Antipodean setting.
Do kids know more about love than adults?
We asked an adorable group of children about the meaning of love. Just watch their responses without cracking a smile…
By Tim Gibson