The greatest love stories ever told are numerous. Romantic love stories reveals love in all its forms. We crave it, we need it. But romantic love is the ultimate wish for most of us.
Whether we have romance in our lives or not, women enjoy reading romantic love stories, or watching romance unfold on the screen. Men do too, apparently, though to a lesser extent and they prefer a bit of violence and or nudity thrown it to spice it up. Love Actually (2003), the movie, was an all-time block buster showcasing romantic love in its many forms. Something for everyone.
The Greatest Love Stories Ever
In 2007, Richard Kingsbury, channel head of UKTV Drama, commissioned a study to nominate the twenty greatest love stories ever written. 2,000 readers participated from – I presume – Britain. The details on the actual polling are absent, as with many polls. So, the age, gender and demographics are difficult to find. I tried.
The findings were interesting to me back then in 2007, even though I was not yet an author. I saved the article about Kingsley’s survey for future reference. You can read it by following this link. Below is Kingsley’s list;
The List Of The Greatest Love Stories
1 Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë, 1847
2 Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813
3 Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare, 1597
4 Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, 1847
5 Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, 1936
6 The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje, 1992
7 Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier, 1938
8 Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak, 1957
9 Lady Chatterley’s Lover, DH Lawrence, 1928
10 Far from The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy, 1874
11 My Fair Lady, Alan Jay Lerner, 1956
12 The African Queen, CS Forester, 1935
13 The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
14 Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen, 1811
15 The Way We Were, Arthur Laurents, 1972
16 War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy, 1865
17 Frenchman’s Creek, Daphne du Maurier, 1942
18 Persuasion, Jane Austen, 1818
19 Take a Girl Like You, Kingsley Amis, 1960
20 Daniel Deronda, George Eliot, 1876
This list honours the classic romance novelists of the past. As a teenage fan of the works of Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and the Bronte Sisters, I appreciate this list. I’ve read all the titles, watched the film versions and love them all. For a tragic romantic, like me, they all deliver the required fix. So, what is the magical combination that makes a romance memorable and captivating?
The Love Story’s Formula
Do we need a happy ending, beauty, wealth, magnificent mansions for our heroes and heroines?
The answer is ‘no’. Scroll down the list and you will see why that is not necessary at all. In fact, the harder it is for the two lovers to be together, the better the rating. Catherine and Heathcliff, Romeo and Juliet, Darcy and Elizabeth, our top three couples all had barriers to their love. Family, class, wealth, and religion can all make love forbidden. And when something is forbidden, don’t we want it even more? All the novels capture great passion that defies societal taboos and conventions. Love risks all to be with the other.
True Love is Everlasting
True love is finding one’s soul mate and no two lovers define that ‘oneness’ as Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff in the winning title. The love story in Wuthering Heights emerges from the vast desolation of the moors and from the pen of a young and inexperienced woman.
It is a brooding, dark novel, tragic but also stunning in its depth of passion. Heathcliff as our hero is both cruel and aloof, the Byronian hero, yet beneath the surface his passion for Catherine runs hot. These two share a love beyond the grave. Their true love is more than a physical love. It is metaphysical, almost religious in nature. It is everlasting.
Romeo and Juliet Love
The same can be said of Romeo and Juliet. They die for each other. Another young love, another tragic ending. But what beauty in the language of Shakespeare, as he writes of such love. “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the East and Juliet is the sun!” They worship each other, as do Catherine and Heathcliff. Don’t we all wish that for ourselves? A love that defies all obstacles and transcends time.
True Love Never Runs Smooth
As you can see by scrolling down the list, love stories, unlike fairytales, don’t have to end happily ever after. Some do. Elizabeth and Darcy eventually settle their misunderstandings and ride off into the sunset at the end of Pride and Prejudice. Jane Eyre marries her Mr. Rochester and Sense and Sensibility offers a happy resolution of matters as well. But not without complication, barriers, and torment. Too easy, and love stories are boring.
Boy meets girl followed by an easy path to marriage and happiness. No fun there. This love formula is not what we want in book and film. Shakespeare wrote, ‘the course of true love never did run smooth.’ (Midsummer Night’s Dream. ) The plot of this play is classically riddled with a myriad of misunderstandings, false identities and trickeries before the couples settle with their intended.
Gone With The Wind Love
In Gone with the Wind, we witness another love affair, beset by difficulty even after marriage. Rhett Butler declares to his wife, Scarlett, in the final lines, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’
How was that love story to end? We will never know. Margaret Mitchell did not write the sequel. The English Patient, a poignant sweeping drama, a beautiful film, also features a tearjerker ending. Great love can be so great that it is destructive. I could go on down the list. But don’t worry, I won’t.
Not Always Happy Endings
Suffice it to say, that these novels, most transformed into films, capture our hearts not because of ‘happily ever afters’, but because of the passionate love the characters have for each other. Basically, we all want that passion, we want to experience it again and again through film and reading maybe because our own lives have lost the passion. We want to experience the full gamut of emotions, relive it or know it if it never came our way.
Why Do We Love Love Stories?
As well as nominating their top romances, Kingsley’s participants commented on why they read romantic novels.
Forty per cent of women read romantic novels to feel better, 15% for nostalgic reasons and 10% to compensate for their own less highly coloured love lives. This makes total sense. Romance novels are escapism from our own lack-lustre lives. All books are, of course, but crime novels and films do not have the same feel-good effect unless you are clever enough to solve the crime before the last chapter.
Richard Kingsbury says, “We find that romantic drama is a powerful escapism for our viewers, and well-made costume dramas like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre have an extra dimension to them. Viewers get caught up in the beauty and language of the period.” This interest in other people’s passions and history still resonates today with the popularity of the Bridgeton period dramas based on Julia Quinn’s novels.
A Woman’s Voice in Love Story
But we would not have half of these love stories if it were not for the voice of women novelists who wrote when women had little power and freedom. Writing gave them some power and freedom. They dared to raise their voice through the pen to reach and inspire other women.
Emily Bronte and her sisters wrote their passionate sweeping novels despite never travelling beyond Yorkshire, and if they experienced great romance, it was all in their imagination. The three sisters all died young, Anne at 29, Emily at 30 and Charlotte at 39, yet their unique, beautiful voices still resonate today, centuries later. Women have a voice despite their situation, a voice to inspire and nurture other women.
I Wish You Love!
Book, film, real life, I wish you love in your life in whatever form you take it.. It is the feel-good emotion that nurtures above all others. Women need nurture. Treat yourself to some love today!
Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The last Hotel. She co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.
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