The topic of love is a timeless one, and the feeling is a universal experience. All the best classic romance novels do a wonderful job of encapsulating what it means to be in love, the beauty of human connection, and the all-encompassing passion that love often evokes in us.
Whether you’re a hopeless romantic in search of a lighthearted tale of two star-crossed lovers or a lover of classic literature who’s in the mood for a tragic, epic love story, this ultimate guide has something for everybody!
So, get ready to fall into the rabbit hole with these 30 classics!
About Classic Romance Novels
For centuries, romance has been one of the most popular genres, and readers have consistently had their hearts stolen, broken, and mended again by poignant stories filled with passion, ecstasy, betrayal, heartbreak, pure, sweet love, and the nature of human love as a whole.
The 30 novels in this ultimate guide include all of those elements and more. They’ve also influenced several generations of writers and readers alike, as well as being deemed some of the greatest love stories to ever be written.
From well-known classics to those that are lesser-known and wildly underrated, and stories of queer romance, morally gray affairs, and soulmates who were meant to be, here are just 30 of the best classic romance novels to date!
The 30 Best Classic Romance Novels – Ultimate Guide
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Austen is one of the most famous romantic novelists to date. She published her first novel a little over two centuries ago and is even more relevant now than she was back then!
Most people have heard of her infamous novels: Sense and Sensibility–an incredible debut!–Emma and Persuasion, but her most well-known book by far is the ever-prominent Pride and Prejudice.
This acclaimed novel follows Elizabeth Bennet as she has a tumultuous relationship with rich aristocrat Fitzwilliam Darcy. They both soon come to learn the difference between superficial virtue and actual virtue.
The novel heavily focuses on both their character development as well as the growth of their relationship as they begin to bloom and prosper as individuals.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Considered by most to be one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written, Anna Karenina explores contemporary life in Russia at the time (1874). It explores the lives of two women.
Anna is a twenty-seven-year-old woman who is married to a much older man. She feels empty as his wife and soon turns to Count Vronsky to explore the passionate side of herself in a heated affair–but not without tragic consequences.
Kitty is Anna’s sister-in-law, a newly-turned eighteen-year-old who is in love with and expecting to be proposed to by Count Vronsky any day now.
Anna soon goes on a downward spiral due to her guilt and jealousy.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Even those who aren’t a fan of reading romance–or reading at all–have likely heard of the iconic novel; The Great Gatsby. Set in the Jazz Age of New York, the story follows Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan.
Jay has been in love with the wealthy young woman for years, but when he’s forced to leave for war, he misses his chance with her. By the time he comes back, she’s married to someone else–but it’s only a matter of time after Daisy and Jay reunite before the two begin to see each other again.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
We all know this tragedy! The Montague and Capulet families have been feuding for ages. Juliet slips into a Capulet party, and Romeo spots her, immediately falling in love. Juliet is soon to marry the man her father chose for her, but her heart belongs to Romeo.
When Romeo is banished, Juliet is determined to reunite with him and fakes her death in order to make an escape, but news travels fast, and believing that she truly is dead, Romeo finds her and commits suicide.
When Juliet wakes to see his corpse lying beside her, she too commits suicide. The Montagues and Capulets, grieving, agree to end their rivalry.
It’s a heart wrenching story no matter how many times you read it, and a tale of true love if there ever was one.
A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
Both a romance and a comical critique of English society in the early 1900s, A Room with a View takes place in England and Italy. Englishwoman Lucy Honeychurch witnesses a murder, and overwhelmed, she faints.
Right into the arms of George Emerson, a free-spirited and dashing man who is also entirely unsuitable. Lucy is conflicted about her feelings for him and struggles to choose between her desire for him and the ostentatiousness of her class.
Indigo by Beverly Jenkins
One of the most prominent African American writers of historical and contemporary romance, Beverly Jenkins, has written plenty of classic romances involving Black protagonists . One of her most famous, Indigo, follows Hester Wyatt.
As a child, Hester was a slave, but she’s now a member of Michigan’s Underground railroad. When she’s given the task of hiding an injured man, she accepts, but she comes to question her decision when she realizes how arrogant he is.
Galen Vachon is a member of one of the wealthiest free Black families in New Orleans, but he left them to assist with providing freedom for slaves in the South. When he wakes up wounded in Hester’s care, he’s unprepared for the feisty yet intelligent woman who steals his heart.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Written by the acclaimed author James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room is an LGBTQ+ and psychological fiction novel that takes place in 1950s Paris and tells the story of David and a bartender named Giovanni.
David is an American emigrant who’s just proposed to his girlfriend, but while she’s away on a trip, David meets Giovanni, who he’s immediately drawn to. They soon have an affair, and when David’s girlfriend returns, it ends in tragedy.
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
Best known for her children’s romance and Bildungsroman novel Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montogomery also wrote the stunning 1920s novel, The Blue Castle.
Twenty-nine-year-old Valancy Stirling realizes that she’s never been happy in her life when she’s diagnosed with a terminal illness that she hides from her family. Her existence has been dull and gray, and she’s never experienced a love of her own.
She spends her time fantasizing about living in an exciting blue castle where everything is perfect–and where she has plenty of beaus.
Soon, Valancy encounters an unfortunate circumstance that leads to her experiencing her very own love for the first time. And ultimately, she realizes that her fate may not be what she once thought it was.
Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
This somewhat autobiographical debut novel follows Agnes, who lives with her mother, father, and older sister in England. When they lose their accumulated fortune to a bad investment, eighteen-year-old Agnes volunteers to become a governess.
Her family doesn’t believe she’s ready to leave home, but she does anyway, working for the Bloomfield family. It’s not what she thought it’d be like. Mr. Bloomfield is cold, and the three kids are unruly.
She soon leaves to work with another family, and the novel follows her experiences with them. Throughout the book, topics such as oppression, abuse of women, and empathy come up, as well as a tame yet beautiful romance with Edward Weston.
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Another tragic romance in the Gothic and Horror fiction genres, The Phantom of the Opera follows the disfigured musical genius who haunts the Paris Opera House. He terrorizes the performers and staff, but when new management takes over, they quickly brush off the rumors of the opera ghost.
Meanwhile, the phantom becomes mesmerized by the beauty and talent of the soloist, Christine, and soon falls head over heels in love with her.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Considered to be one of Wharton’s finest pieces of work, The Age of Innocence follows a young lawyer named Newland Archer who’s engaged to the gorgeous May Welland. But when May’s cousin, Ellen, arrives, Newland finds himself falling for her.
His frigid relationship with May and the failed marriage that has disgraced Ellen force him to make a decision about whether he wants to abide by societal norms or break free of expectations.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Emily Brontë’s only novel, Wuthering Heights, is more than just a romance. It’s a tragic tale of life and a glimpse of the ugly side of love.
An orphan boy named Heathcliff falls in love with an arrogant and selfish girl named Catherine. Then he loses her and devotes the rest of his life to exacting his revenge on her family.
The story is just as much about hate as it is about love.
Gone to Earth by Mary Webb
Only Mary Webb’s second novel, Gone to Earth, follows the innocent beauty Hazel Woodus, who lives happily in a little cottage out in the woods. She loves living out in nature, surrounded by beautiful scenery and the wild animals that love her.
But soon, she meets two men–Jack Reddin and Edward Marston–who fall in love with her. From there, she is drawn into a new world full of passion.
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy is a diplomat and must travel to South America on business, so he leaves his spirited daughter, Sophy, with his sister and asks her to help Sophy find a man.
Instead, Sophy hilariously ends up helping her cousins with their own problems–and finds herself falling in love with the person who despises her the most.
Memoirs of Emma Courtney by Mary Hays
This 1796 novel is made up of a series of letters that Emma sends to Augustus Harley, a young man who has been asking her for details about her life.
Throughout the letters, Emma tells her life’s story–and focuses on sharing the details of her various relationships with men for the sake of trying to encourage Augustus to act on his own desires.
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
Most of us have already come to know the story of Noah and Allie through the wildly popular 2004 film, but if you haven’t already read the book, you should!
The 1996 novel follows Noah and Allie’s relationship over the course of fifty years. Through thick and then, from beginning to middle to end, The Notebook is a sentimental story that spotlights a passionate and enduring love.
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
An underrated classic based on a true story of Highsmith’s life, The Price of Salt tells the story of a romantic obsession.
Carol Aird is a suburban housewife who is trapped in a restrictive marriage. Therese Belivet is a stage designer who is trapped in a boring day job at a department store.
When the two meet, there’s an instant connection that results in them falling in love and going on a road trip across the US, but the disapproval of 1950s society sets their relationship off course even as they become more and more besotted with one another.
Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve
Of course, there are a few beloved fairy tales that belong on any classic romance list!
While most of us have watched the movies, it’s safe to say that many of us haven’t read the original books yet, but I’d certainly recommend them!
The youngest of 12 kids, Beauty, and her family experience some unfortunate circumstances that force them to move across the country. Beauty, unlike her siblings, is happy with the change of scenery.
Two years later, her father learns that one of his ships wasn’t lost as they’d thought and travels to reclaim his items. His kids all ask for lavish gifts, while Beauty only asks for a rose.
When he’s unable to retrieve any lavish items, he decides to at least get the rose for Beauty when he spots a magical castle with a garden, but the Beast catches him and demands that he or one of his children pay the debt for the rose he’d taken.
Beauty feels it’s her duty to repay the debt since she wanted the rose and thus agrees to stay with the beast forever.
Cinderella by Charles Perrault
Originally written in French and published in 1697, Cinderella once contained even more magical elements than what we’re used to seeing in the retellings!
When her evil stepmother and stepsisters are invited to a ball that they refuse to let Cinderella attend, Cinderella’s fairy godmother grants her a wish to go to the ball and provides her with a stunning dress, gorgeous slippers, and a majestic pumpkin-turned-carriage.
Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault
Ten years before Cinderella, there was Sleeping Beauty!
Seven fairies attend the princess’ christening after she’s born. While six of the fairies gift the princess with beauty, grace, goodness, song, dance, and wit, the seventh fairy–who was originally forgotten about–curses the princess in retaliation for being forgotten.
Because of the curse, the princess will one day prick her finger and fall into a deep sleep for one hundred years–unless her true love presses a kiss to her lips.
Maurice by E. M. Forster
This coming-of-age novel and love story follows Maurice Hall, a middle-class English boy who is mostly unremarkable aside from one little thing–his sexual orientation.
After being given a talk about the birds and the bees, he’s left feeling confused and alienated. When he meets Clive Durham, he’s drawn to the upper-class boy, and the two of them soon become friends.
Clive has known that he was gay since he was a young boy, so he eventually confesses his feelings for Maurice, which sends Maurice on a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance.
The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann
This novel is a sequel to Invitation to the Waltz, which tells the story of seventeen-year-old Olivia, who attends her first ball and falls in love with a charming man named Rollo Spencer.
Now ten years later, in The Weather in the Streets, Olivia and Rollo meet again on a train and start up a love affair that is doomed from the start.
Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer
Published in 1972, Heyer’s last regency romance novel and her final novel to be published during her lifetime, Lady of Quality, centers around a wealthy spinster named Annis Wychwood and a rude man named Oliver Carleton.
Annis takes a troubled girl under her wing, and Oliver happens to be that girl’s guardian. While helping a young couple work through their issues, Annis and Oliver find themselves falling in love.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
First published in 1936 and told from the point of view of the confederacy, Gone with the Wind takes place in Georgia during the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era.
Scarlett O’Hara is heartbroken when she learns that the man she loves, Ashley, is engaged to another woman named Melanie. She confesses her feelings to him, and he rejects her. She makes a scene and is soon confronted about it by a man named Rhett Butler.
She ends up marrying Melanie’s brother, but he passes away two months after the civil war begins, leaving her with their child. Scarlett soon moves to Atlanta and begins a tumultuous, unofficial relationship with Rhett.
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
This complex novel takes place between the 1905 Russian Revolution and World War II and follows Yuri Zhivago, who is torn between two women. The intricate novel is hard to summarize in just a few words.
There are a multitude of characters, plots, and parts–but to keep things simple, just know that the relationship between Yuri and his lover, Lara, is heartbreaking, intense, and filled with passion!
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre is an outstanding novel beloved by many for its wise and headstrong protagonist, who tries to keep her head high even as she faces adversity. Despite an abusive aunt and horrible conditions at Lowood school, Jane continues to persevere.
She falls for a man named Rochester, who ends up being an even bigger obstacle, but admittedly, he’s the love of her life.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
A mystery and gothic romance novel with a protagonist who’s already dead by the time the book starts, Rebecca tells the story of a young woman who married a widowed man and is haunted by the ghostly presence of the man’s former wife, Rebecca.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
Originally written in Spanish and taking place between the late 1870s and the early 1930s, Love in the Time of Cholera tells the love story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza.
Florentino and Fermina fall in love at a young age, and their lives remain intertwined even as they are separated for a large period of time. They continue their relationship through letters, at first, and then Fermina ends up married to someone else whom she grows old with.
All the while, Florentino has affairs with hundreds of other women despite telling Fermina that he will never love anyone else. The two of them reconnect in old age, and after Flo declares his love for her, the two have a second chance at love.
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
This coming-of-age tale is set in 1890s England. Nancy Astley is an eighteen-year-old girl who falls hopelessly in love with a performer at the local theater. The performer, Kitty Butler, is a male impersonator who soon leaves to perform in London.
Nancy is more than happy to follow her. The two start a relationship that ends in betrayal and heartbreak, but Nancy soon finds her true love in a girl named Florence.
Villette by Charlotte Brontë
Last on the list is the third and last book published by the iconic Charlotte Brontë during her lifetime. In Villette, protagonist Lucy Snowe experiences a family tragedy and relocates to the fictional town of Villette, where she becomes a teacher.
Her path crosses with a childhood friend of hers–Dr. John–but he has his eyes on a selfish girl named Ginevra. Eventually, he turns his attention to Ginevra’s young cousin instead.
Meanwhile, a man by the name of M. Paul has his eyes on Lucy, but only to criticize her for not behaving in a ladylike manner. The two soon go from being enemies to close friends–or maybe something a little more–but their relationship is complicated due to their two differing religions.
Whether you’re an avid reader of romance who’s looking to brush up on the classics or a newcomer to the genre looking to start with the beloved stories that many have already come to love, these intense, thought-provoking, and masterful love stories are the perfect pick for you!
What is the greatest classic love story of all time?
It’s hard to give an exact answer! It’s all a matter of opinion, but arguably, the greatest romance novel of all time is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The novel is one of the most well-known romances and is renowned for its beloved characters and incredible writing.
Which novel is the most selling romantic book in the world?
Pride and Prejudice. Another reason it’s deemed to be one of the best-It’s still constantly selling out to this day despite being published in 1813!
Who is the most famous romance novel writer?
Nora Roberts is one of the most famous romance writers. She is known as the Queen of romance. She was also the first writer in the Romance Writer of America Hall of Fame!
What is the most tragic true love story?
Perhaps Romeo and Juliet. It’s also the most well-known and definitely one of the most quintessential tragic love stories of all time!
What was the first romance novel?
It seems to depend on who you ask, and there could be a number of correct answers. However, Samuel Richardson’s Pamela – or Virtue Rewarded is said to (probably) be the first romance novel. Also, it was the first English novel to have a heroine who worked for a living!
Why is Jane Eyre so popular?
Jane is one of the few examples of a strong woman in Victorian literature. She has a strong personality and acts as the ultimate female heroine, which is refreshing when reading novels from the Victorian time period.
Is Love in the Time of Cholera a difficult read?
It can be a difficult read for most people. The events of the novel don’t occur in linear order, so it can be hard to follow. The characters are also prone to changing their opinions about certain things suddenly, which can be startling.
However, it is interestingly challenging, and strong readers will likely enjoy it.
What is special about Anna Karenina?
It’s an all-around intriguing novel. The characters are some of the most memorable to have ever been written, and the problems they face are different from today’s issues yet still relevant. The novel’s world is also astonishingly engrossing!
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