Some of romance fiction’s most iconic and endearing tales were written in years past, making classic romance an often overlooked subgenre that’s full of can’t-miss reading material. From ballgowns and petticoats to wartime action and adventure, the following list of the twenty best old romance novels is one you won’t want to overlook. Get your romance fiction fix and your historical fiction fix — all in one captivating book!
The Best Old Romance Novels
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Classic novelist Charlotte Bronte delighted readers with Jane Eyre, a moving love story that has stood the test of time.
The novel’s heroine, Jane Eyre herself, grew up orphaned and alone, surviving one tough situation only to be thrown into another. Her spirit and independence kept her afloat until she is grown and employed as a governess for the brooding Edward Rochester.
Jane and Rochester develop feelings for each other, but the dark secrets that Rochester has been keeping threaten to tear them apart forever.
You can buy Jane Eyre here, and experience for yourself the elegant, engaging writing of this timeless classic.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
No list of classic romance is complete without mentioning the brilliant Jane Austen and her most popular novel Pride and Prejudice.
Pride and Prejudice introduces one of literature’s most iconic heroines: the plucky Elizabeth Bennet, a witty and bold individual who speaks her mind — even to the eligible bachelor, Fitzwilliam Darcy, who she considers arrogant and rude. The more Elizabeth discovers about Darcy, the more she is determined to despise him. But Darcy doesn’t hate Elizabeth, not one bit, and he’s not afraid to tell her how he really feels.
You can purchase Pride and Prejudice here, and prepare to be wooed by this hilariously romantic comedy of errors.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is a grippingly dark read, considered to be one of the first and finest gothic romances per its original publication in 1847.
Set on an estate in the bleak Yorkshire moors, a new tenant is driven to seek shelter at Wuthering Heights — the haunting home of his landlord. There he discovers the home’s tempestuous history: from the passionate love between the impoverished orphan Heathcliff and the well-bred Catherine Earnshaw to the tragedy that ensues when Catherine marries Edgar Linton, a man of good breeding and class.
You can buy Wuthering Heights here, and you’re sure to be enthralled by this twisting, deceptive romance like no other.
Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Well-renowned English novelist Thomas Hardy is known for his realistic depictions of love and hardship, and Far from the Madding Crowd is no exception.
Meet Bathsheba Everdene: she’s a beautiful and headstrong young woman who moves to the country, living with her aunt and working on a farm. She attracts the attention of three vastly different suitors, who complicate her life in many ways, teaching her love and tragedy the hard way.
You can purchase Far from the Madding Crowd here, and prepare for a captivating slow-burn romance that you won’t be able to forget.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is a classic, family-friendly novel of love, life, and loss that has been charming readers of all ages for generations.
Centered around the lives of four sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy — Little Women follows these sisters through their individual coming-of-age stories. From pining best friends, to second-chance lovers, there’s no end to the cutesy chemistry between these four young women and their relationships.
You can buy Little Women here, and you’re bound to fall hard for this endearing tale of family, friendship, and romance.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a lesser-known old romance novel, which nonetheless made a powerful impact on the feminist scene of the 1800s.
Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by the elusive Helen Graham, a beautiful woman who moved into the nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. As he gets to know Helen, he begins to hear rumors and speculation from the townspeople — but all will be revealed when he reads Helen’s diary, learning for himself the shocking truth of her past marriage.
You can purchase The Tenant of Wildfell Hall here, and prepare to be swept up by this mysterious story of fierce independence and courageous love.
Middlemarch by George Elliot
Hailed by many as the greatest English novel ever written, George Elliot’s Middlemarch is an epic, sprawling tale of provincial life and love.
Dorothea Brooke is a bright young woman who marries a much older man by the name of Edward Causabon — she is charmed by his scholarly ways, but soon realizes her error, as Casaubon is not a nice man nor a good husband.
At the same time, a progressive young doctor named Tertius Lydgate is equally disillusioned by the realities of marriage, and eventually, the paths of him and Dorothea collide, as life does what it does best: twists and turns when we least expect it.
You can buy Middlemarch here, and see for yourself why this novel has gained such adoration and critical acclaim.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Notably winning the first ever Pulitzer Prize awarded to a female author of fiction, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence is a must-read classic novel that’s both tantalizing and thought-provoking.
Set in the glitz and glamor of 1870s-era New York, readers are introduced to Newland Archer, a young lawyer who is engaged to marry the innocent socialite May Welland. But when Newland meets May’s cousin, the scandalous Countess Ellen Olenska, he’s forced to choose between what he wants and what has always been expected of him.
You can purchase The Age of Innocence here, and prepare for a shockingly sensual tale of societal convention and morality.
Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore
R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone is a timeless historical romance full of page-turning action and heart-warming romance.
Lorna Doone was raised as a beautiful aristocrat until she was kidnapped by the outlawed Doones of Exmoor while still a child. Now grown up and still in captivity, Lorna Doone has been wooed by an unsophisticated farmer named John Ridd, and he’s determined to whisk Lorna away from the dangerous Doone family — no matter what it takes.
You can buy Lorna Doone here, and brace yourself for an unputdownable love story that will have you reading late into the night.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
It would be remiss not to mention William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet — a classic romance that has inspired hundreds of other love stories with its timelessness.
The love between Romeo and Juliet is strictly forbidden — not only do their families disapprove but they are engaged in a violent feud with one another. This classic play follows Romeo and Juliet’s doomed romance from its affectionate start to its bittersweet end.
You can purchase Romeo and Juliet here, and experience the iconic tale in its original written form.
Howards End by E. M. Forster
E.M. Forster’s Howards End is a witty, class-conscious novel that makes a charming case for romantic love in a time of shallow arranged marriages.
Howards End centers on two sisters, Margaret and Helen Schlegel, who are both wealthy and unmarried. The two of them experience romance, heartbreak, and danger at the hands of the well-off Wilcox family and a poor young clerk named Leonard Bast.
The sisters stick together no matter the cost — but will either of them discover true love and happiness?
You can buy Howards End here, and you’re sure to be impressed by this deeply moving book that’s brimming with tense relationships and rich societal commentary.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a one-of-a-kind, haunting romance novel that has inspired many horror romances throughout the years.
The story begins in a hotel in Monte Carlo, where an orphaned lady’s maid is shocked and swept away by a marriage proposal by the handsome widower Maxim de Winter. She excitedly accepts and travels with him to his estate in the country, where she learns that Maxim’s late wife still holds great influence — even from beyond the grave.
You can purchase Rebecca here, and prepare for a fascinating, slow-burn read that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Considered by many to be the quintessential British novel, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is as much a love story as it is a coming-of-age story.
The novel’s hero, Pip, is a young orphan with his whole life ahead of him — and a lot of learning to do. Amongst run-ins with convicts and criminals, Pip falls for Estella, a beautiful woman of high social standing. She is considered “too good” for Pip, which inspires him to become a gentleman in the hopes of winning her heart.
You can buy Great Expectations here, and you’re sure to be charmed by this enduring narrative of doting, daring, and growth.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is an American romance of epic proportions, brimming with hope against all odds and love despite all heartache.
Meet Scarlett O’Hara: she’s as privileged and self-centered as they come and has little in common with the rakish Rhett Butler. The two of them marry despite their differences, but with the Civil War on the horizon and lost loves threatening to return, they face a struggle that could get the best of them — and their relationship.
You can purchase Gone with the Wind here, and see for yourself what the literary hype is all about.
Emma by Jane Austen
Everyone’s favorite “friends-to-lovers” trope began with Jane Austen’s Emma, a lighthearted romance with a whole lot of heart.
Emma Woodhouse has no desire to fall in love herself — but she’s determined to arrange a match for her protegee, Harriet Smith. The friendly Mr. Knightley attempts to warn Emma that this could have disastrous consequences, yet she moves forward with her plans nonetheless.
Disaster, of course, is waiting, and Emma is about to find herself having fallen in love before it’s too late!
You can buy Emma here, and prepare for a read that’s laugh-out-loud funny and seriously unputdownable.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is a classic romance that’s as politically charged as it is full of passion.
In this poignant tale of class and character, the heroine Margaret Hale has been whisked away from her life of comfort and into a new life in a small, impoverished town. She meets the local mill owner John Thornton and develops deep feelings for him, which he shares — but will the two be able to overcome their weighty differences and express their love for one another?
You can purchase North and South here, and you’re sure to fall for this realistic and moving love story in no time.
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
If you’re looking for a well-written slow-burn romance, then look no further than The Portrait of a Lady by the beloved American novelist Henry James.
The novel’s heroine, Isabel Archer, was recently orphaned and has set out to find her sense of purpose in life. Having come into a large sum of money, Isabel is pursued by many men — some who want her for her money, and some who are attracted to her beauty — but will anybody pursue her for her heart?
You can buy The Portrait of a Lady here, and you’re sure to find yourself swept up by the deeply descriptive storytelling and well-written characters.
Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery
L. M. Montgomery’s eight-book Anne of Green Gables series was written for children but appeals to older readers, too, with its spirit and wit.
Meet Anne Shirley: she’s an imaginative and feisty redhead who was adopted by the Cuthberts, only to discover that the Cuthberts don’t want her after all. There was a mix-up, and they had meant to adopt a young boy to help with the farming. But before they’re able to send Anne back, she wins them over with her energy and her charm.
You can purchase Anne of Green Gables here, and make sure to check out the rest of the series to watch the budding romance between Anne and her schoolmate Gilbert develop.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is easily one of the most successful literary works of all time, and it’s evident why that is once you begin reading.
Set in America’s lux and lavish Jazz Age, The Great Gatsby is the story of the wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy Buchanan. Told from the perspective of Daisy’s naive cousin, Nick Carraway, readers are privy to an unflinching tale of love and life in the 1920s.
You can buy The Great Gatsby here, and be prepared for a read that’s seductively glamorous at times and shockingly tragic at others.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was banned after its initial publication and continues to shock readers with its bold take on women’s sexuality to this day.
Emma Bovary is married to a dull, well-meaning doctor, and hoping to escape dissatisfaction with her life, she engages in extramarital affairs. This is only the beginning of the scandals present in Madame Bovary, the story of a woman who seeks out happiness in all the wrong places.
You can purchase Madame Bovary here, and you’re sure to be enchanted by this provocative and passionate non-traditional love story.
What are the classic romance novels of our times?
The above-named twenty old romance novels are considered to be some of the best classic romances ever written.
What counts as classic novels?
Classic novels are timeless, well-written stories that deal with universal themes. Typically classic novels are novels that have been in circulation for at least 100 years.
What is the best romance novel to read?
The twenty above-named books are well-written, swoon-worthy, moving romance novels that you are sure to enjoy.
What is considered a romance novel?
A romance novel is a book where a romantic pairing between at least two lead characters is a primary focus of the story.
What is the greatest classic love story of all time?
It’s difficult to pick just one, but the above twenty love stories are some of the most popular and beloved romances ever written.
What is considered old-fashioned romance?
Old-fashioned romance is a story told with classic, chivalrous romance tropes at its center. This includes confessions of love, dancing, and romance where the emotional connection takes priority over the physical connection.