There’s nothing like getting lost in a good love story, and while it may be tempting to settle for watching a Netflix adaptation or movie, there’s really no substitute for reading an old-fashioned hard cover or paper book. However, with so many written over hundreds of years, deciding which are the best romance books ever written can be a daunting task.
Everyone likes a happy ending, right? Actually, that may not always be the case. A recent study shows that revenge is more enjoyable to audiences than forgiveness in a plot. That being said, stories that are centered around forgiveness tend to be more meaningful and thought-provoking. “We like stories in which the wrongdoers are punished and when they get more punishment than they deserve, we find it fun,” comments lead study author Matthew Grizzard, an assistant professor of communication at OSU. Romance stories might not always be ones for vengeance, but forgiveness is definitely a theme you can find throughout their drama-soaked plots.
If you’re not much for reading, audiobooks are a great way to hear the goods of a story. Plus, you can do this with someone else. Listening to a tale of romance could rekindle the flame with your other half. In fact, a study shows that when people listen to stories together, their heart rates synch. Talk about a deep connection.
We’re drawn to romance novels for different reasons, though the drama, intrigue, and passion that permeate most love stories are almost universally present. The very best can make us feel like we’re falling in love or remind us how certain relationships seem doomed from the outset. So, while it may seem like an impossible task to choose a new read off the shelf, you’re in luck. StudyFinds consulted 10 expert websites to write this list of the best romance books of all time to read next. Tell us which one is your favorite – or which ones you plan on reading next – in the comments below.
The List: Best Romance Books of All Time, Per Hopeless Romantics
This book’s enduring popularity and influence make it perhaps the overall greatest tale of two lovers ever written. It tops Goodread’s list of top love stories, as it has been making readers the world over swoon since its publication in 1813.
Famous Authors writes, “When Elizabeth Bennet comes of a suitable age she has her own ideals of love, marriage, manners and relationships which clash with 19th century English society. Given her independent mindset she has a series of unpleasant encounters with many including Mr. Darcy-a proud and class conscious bachelor – with whom she gradually develops an odd chemistry.”
“It might now be a rom-com trope, but Pride and Prejudice is one of the oldest and greatest examples of the thin line between love and hate,” notes Reedsy. “Elizabeth and Darcy’s romance is as honest as it is unexpected, and Austen’s characters are so vividly realised and so utterly believable that you’ll be gasping, cringing, and crying along with them.”
Reedsy also says, “Pride and Prejudice is also the most famous Jane Austen book with flowery, romantic prose about the infamous love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, which teaches that first impressions aren’t everything. It’s a must-read for all lovers of classic literature and, particularly, the most romantic classics.”
2. “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë
A tale of an average, naïve young woman who learns about love and longing still tugs at readers’ heartstrings today. Considered a classic romance novel, it’s also notable for its forward-thinking takes on class, feminism, and sexuality of the time.
Reader’s Digest calls it a “Gothic masterpiece,” writing, “With its unyielding heroine, dashing love interest Mr. Rochester, creepy manor house and foggy English countryside, has become synonymous with 19th-century romance.”
“With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte’s innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers,” states Travelling Book Junkie.
“When you’re looking for a classic romance, this is the perfect book to pick up if you haven’t read it yet,” writes Bona Fide Bookworm. “The tale follows a young orphaned Jane as she grows from childhood into adulthood, and ultimately as she arrives to be a governess at Thornfield Hall—home of the brooding Edward Rochester! She finds herself drawn to him, but soon she discovers that there are alarming secrets here at Thornfield Hall.”
3. “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë
Published in 1847 under the pen name Ellis Bell, it was Emily Brontë’s first and only novel. Her gothic romance explores the good and bad that comes with blindly following your heart to pursue an unconventional romance.
“Initially criticized and largely ignored for its inappropriate depiction of blind love, this romantic classic is today one of the best-known love stories ever written in English Literature,” writes Famous Authors. “Brontë’s protagonist, Heathcliff is a foster child who develops an unconditional love for his foster sister, Catherine but a little rumor in town will soon destroy them both.”
“Emily Brontë’s only novel is certainly a standout,” states Best Life. “[It] tells the story of lonely Heathcliff, an orphan whose true love, Catherine, is kept from him first by social status and then death. However, despite the myriad tragedies that permeate every page of this novel, the romance between Catherine and Heathcliff remains one of the most iconic love stories of all time.”
“Amid the bleak and feral atmosphere of the Yorkshire moors, the novel revolves obsessively around the tempestuous course of Cathy and Heathcliff’s self-destructive love affair,” adds Reedsy. “A gothic novel of intense passion, betrayal, and bitter vengeance — underpinned by the quiet beauty of Brontë’s lyricism — Wuthering Heights is an iconoclastic masterpiece that has inspired film-makers, novelists, poets, and song-writers for generations.”
4. “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks
Based on a real-life romance, it’s a story that reminds us that true love always triumphs, no matter how many years pass. The book inspired the hit movie – starring Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling – of the same name. Published in 1996, Reader’s Digest writes, “Noah and Allie’s tear-jerking, decade-spanning story remains the wonderfully escapist romantic read it was 25 years ago.”
“The Notebook is the #1 New York Times bestselling romance novel that continues to tug at the heartstrings of readers worldwide (along with watchers of the popular movie adaptation),” says The Literary Lifestyle. “It’s one of the great classic romance novels for beginners since it’s a modern writing. It’s about the memory of one’s own love story after decades of time, as the reader learns of the love triangle of yesteryear that started it all.”
5. “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy
This epic Russian love story is regularly counted as one of the best romance novels of all-time. Published in 1878, Tolstoy’s touches on seemingly everything from love, passion, and jealousy to the constraints of 19th century social classes. “An absolute giant in Russian literature, it tells the tragic love story of a married woman having an affair with absolutely dire consequences,” states The Literary Lifestyle.
Famous Authors notes that, “Anna Karenina is Tolstoy’s masterpiece and according to him, his first true novel. Stuck in the societal reigns of 19th century Russian upper class society, Karenina falls in love with Count Vronsky for whom she is willing to leave her marriage and be shunned by Russian society. However, her decision proves to be more life-altering than she may have expected.”
“In what is considered by many to be the best romance novel of all time (and, we think, one of the best books to read in a lifetime), Tolstoy tells the story of an extramarital affair and its fallout in Imperial Russian society,” notes Reedsy. “When Anna runs away with the handsome Count Vronsky, excitement gives way to paranoia, isolation, and regret, as we witness the unravelling of their relationship, and of Anna herself. As much a cautionary tale as it is a romance novel, Anna Karenina is a richly imagined portrait of both the agonies and ecstasies of love.”
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- Reader’s Digest
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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.