This story was first published on The Reading Room.
Nothing says Valentine’s Day quite like a romantic tale. And while there are plenty of great modern romances in bookstores today, there’s always room on your shelf for the classics. Long before Fifty Shades of Grey was a bestseller, authors like Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë were penning these classic romance reads. Start one today!
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina is a classic romance from the era of the Russian Empire. In a loveless marriage with an older statesman, Anna seeks love elsewhere and sparks a massive scandal. This classic romantic tragedy is considered one of the greatest novels ever written.
Emma, by Jane Austen
You probably assumed that Pride & Prejudice would be on this list, but we’re throwing you curveball. Emma is one of Jane Austen’s better-known novels, but it still lives in the shadow of Pride & Prejudice. Give it a chance this Valentine’s Day.
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
The Age of Innocence is Edith Wharton’s tragic, romantic masterpiece. Like many of her novels, it’s set in New York City during the Gilded Age. The fantastic novel won Wharton the Pulitzer Prize, making her the first woman to receive the esteemed award.
Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Gone With the Wind was a sensation, but Margaret Mitchell never wrote another book after its publication. Maybe she didn’t need to—Gone With the Wind stands up well enough on its own. It’s aged well, and remains a classic of the romance genre.
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre is the story of an orphaned girl who finds love, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a revolutionary work of literature—Jane Eyre is one of the first books ever to really let us into the mind of the characters. Every time you read a romance that does this, you can thank Ms. Brontë.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
Love is messy, and Lawrence recognizes that. This novel’s descriptions of adultery led many to consider it obscene at the time, but it’s since been established as a classic of English literature. Just think of it as history’s more literary version of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Alcott’s novel is one of the cheerier romances on this list, but it was still revolutionary for its time. It’s a coming-of-age story that shows its female characters as multi-dimensional and as needing (and deserving) true love.
Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare
We had no choice here—Romeo and Juliet just has to be on this list. Shakespeare’s most famous romance is a must-read (or must-see) play for any romance fan. Of course, Shakespeare wrote plenty of other great romances. If you’ve already read Romeo and Juliet, we recommend reading The Tempest next.
A Room With a View, by E.M. Forster
Forster’s A Room With a View sets a romance against the culture of Edwardian England. It manages to critique the culture of the times without getting quite as depressing as some of the other books on this list. That’s no easy task—Edwardian England was sensually repressive—but the book accomplishes it, which is why many consider it to be among the greatest romances ever written.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
Charlotte wasn’t the only talented Brontë! Her sister Emily was also an accomplished novelist. Wuthering Heights is another classic romance. It’s relatively blunt depictions of cruelty earned the novel mixed reviews in its own time, but it’s since become a favorite of critics and readers alike.