Its finally here, the day power couples adore and single spinsters abhor: Valentines. The (rainy) week leading to this cheerful 14th of February is filled with cheesy cliché’s and a stampede of romantic films that make some people nauseous. But, underneath all the heart-shaped origami cutouts and cupcakes, lies a deeper sentiment, the most potent and misunderstood of human emotions: love. This four-letter word has mystified every culture and era because it is different for every person and it cannot be described in any tangible way. This idealized and dopamine induced euphoria often ends with a bang and leaves it’s victims shattered for months. There are some who have attempted to capture the fleeting emotion in films, poems, art or novels. This article will deal with the latter.
The greatest written love stories of all time, both fiction and real, are tragic love stories. Novels like Twilight and First Love are weak, bubbly, contemporary tales of couples who came together and stayed together, and their popularity will fade in time because their protagonists had a perfect ending. I would argue that in those that will be remembered, the best romantic tales of all time, couples do not end up together.
“Grief is the price we pay for love”, said the Queen in 2001. Here is a compilation of grief and love in the top 10 greatest love stories of all time. Each story is unique, thus, their order does not correlate with their value.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights is a classic 19th century novel surrounding the frustrated love of Catherine and Heathcliff. It makes the list because their love transcends generations and impacts upon their descendants as much as it impacted on them. Literary critics would analyze it for more than just this relationship and many would classify it as Emily Bronte’s masterpiece. Get ready to be dragged along by their tragic quarrels and unfulfilled desires.
Next is Margaret Mitchell’s beautifully crafted representation of the American Civil War. Gone With the Wind is one of the most compelling books I have ever read. Scarlett O’Hara and her love for both Ashley and Rhett is infused with passion and realism that shocks readers. In the midst of abolition and the extinction of the American ‘Southern Gentleman’, Scarlett enchants readers with egoism and ultimately, an overwhelming love story.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Another classic British 19th century novel that depicts the love story between a middle class woman and a gentlemen. This narrative is widely recognized and several directors have adapted it into films over the last century. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth share a frustrated love that makes readers crave a happy ending. Unlike other stories in this article, this one does reach a happy one. I included it because, although it is not a ‘tragic love story’ in the classic sense, much of the storyline does contain suppressed desires and love. It makes the list because Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s love gives the general population hope and encourages others to love.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Of course, the most widely known love story of all time is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The timeless classic has enchanted every Western and some Eastern cultures through the centuries. It has been adapted into plays, movies, songs, and other novels, even mime acting. If you don’t want to sit and read the play, I would recommend watching the movie or making a quick trip to London and getting a ticket to the play. There’s nothing says Valentine’s like a good old-fashioned tragic love story.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
A tale exposing mundane struggles in Russia during the 19th century, as Tolstoy weave a tale of a married woman who falls in love with another man, and another who finds her husband unfaithful. Their struggles to keep loving their spouses and ultimately, in one case, leaving them, create a marvelous drama ready to be devoured by readers!
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
You probably know about this novel through the recent 2013 American, Hollywoodesque interpretation starring the gorgeous Leonardo DiCaprio. The love story of Gatsby and Daisy in the American 1920’s will live on through the ages because of its idealization and tragic ending.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
An unconventional romantic tale of a pedophilic British middle-aged man who falls in love with Lolita, a 12-year-old American girl. In Nabokov’s Lolita readers who never considered this strange, unethical sexual preference are seduced through Humbert’s thoughts and desires. It’s a strange and yet timelessly perfect love story filled with innocence and pure love.
The Heart of Jade by Salvador de Madariaga
This novel in not widely known but it’s just as compelling as Anna Karenina or The Great Gatsby. Salvador de Madariaga is a Spanish author who tells the tale of Alonso, a rich Spanish landowner who flees to the America’s with Hernan Cortez when his future is threatened, and, Xuchitl, the daughter of an Aztec King in Mexico. Their love blossoms through dreams and supernatural elements. The beautifully written novel incorporating real historical facts with the strange, unorthodox elements of indigenous traditions and is set in long-gone Mexico before colonisation.
More recently, the Canadian author Michael Ondaatje released a novel that overlooks the love story of an American nurse, an Arab bomb-diffuser, a burned “British” patient and his past lover. The story flashes from past to present and leaves it’s readers dizzy from the effects of World War II. The story is told in a run-down Italian villa and Ondaatje uses language in a fascinating, rhythmic narrative that truly captures the love and loss of the war.
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Finally, a Mexican classic set in the Mexican Revolution tells the story of a man who marries his lover’s sister in order to stay close to her. Tita is a marvelous cook and Mexican food becomes one with the love she feels for Pedro. This novel is an incredible tale that honors Mexican gastronomy and the essence of true love. If you want to learn how to cook with your feelings, I would recommend this novel enormously.
Each one of these novels is filled with love and despair, adoration and betrayal. The great beauty of tragedy is how audiences and characters alike cherish happy moments infinitely. These novels are eternal because their stories are beautifully melancholic. Have fun reading them and appreciate how each author captured their own interpretation of love.