For the first time since I started this blog Valentine’s day was approaching. Despite being very single and in love with multiple fictional characters, I was in a great mood. Therefore, I and sensed an opportunity to write a post that’s lovely and romantic. I wanted to look at my favourite romances and couples in literature and talk about why they are my favourite. But the more I thought about it, the less of an answer I was coming up with.
I am a hopeless romantic and love a good romantic subplot. I don’t make romance the main focus in the novels I read. But if there isn’t any at all, I find the story lacking something exciting. I don’t even mind what someone might consider overused tropes, like the love triangle. Even these can be written in a new, exciting and believable way. So having read about a developing romance a thousand times, I could name a few of my favourites. But what I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out was WHY. Why do I like these relationships the most? What made them more exciting to read than others? Why was I so invested in them?
Which lead to the ultimate question: ‘What makes a good love story?’
In an effort to figure this mystery out, I took a look at the most famous love stories in literature throughout time. I tried to figure out what they have in common and if they could help me find out what makes me love a good romantic plot so much.
Romeo and Juliet
“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare early in his career about two star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families. The story belongs to a tradition of tragic romances stretching back to antiquity. Even today it resonates with audiences all over the world, the title characters being regarded as archetypal young lovers. It is sometimes considered to have no unifying theme, save that of young love.
The cornerstone of the plot can be narrowed down to the moral dilemma facing the two lovers: loyalty to family or loyalty to love. Their decision to choose love has tragic consequences for them both. They fight to make their love last forever. But in the end, the only way they seem to defeat time is a death that makes them immortal through art.
Times have moved on and the story of Romeo and Juliet is hardly the ultimate love story of today. The fact that they are both barely teenagers, have known each other an entirety of one whole day before getting married and their impulsive behaviour in everything makes it even slightly problematic. But it’s the sentiment of choosing to die for true love rather than to live without it is one that makes it timeless and tragically beautiful.
Pride and Prejudice
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”
Pride and Prejudice is a romantic novel by Jane Austen. It describes the emotional development of Elizabeth Bennet, who learns the error of making hasty judgments and judging a book by its cover. It has long fascinated readers and is generally considered one of the “most-loved books”. Some even say it’s the best romance novel of all time. It paved the way for many archetypes present today in modern literature and gave birth to the first ultimate book boyfriend – Mr Darcy. Darcy signified a change in what was considered to be a romantic hero and gave us manliness itself. The uncompromising, dark and sexy hero we all love in our favourite books to this day.
Again, the novel revolves around the moral dilemma facing the main characters: marrying for money and social status or marrying for love. In the society of 18th century, the only way for a woman to lead a prosperous life was to marry a wealthy husband. So Elizabeth’s dilemma lies in her desire to marry for love and not for money. Darcy’s dilemma lies with Elizabeth’s social status. He even cites their economic and social differences as an obstacle he had to overcome when he proposes to her.
Things are very different from the 18th century. Women can make their own money and choose their own husbands. But what makes Pride and Prejudice a timeless love story and gives Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s romance such charm is the idea that love doesn’t care about social status or wealth. In the end, Darcy overcomes his pride, and Elizabeth overcomes her prejudice. They both surrender to their love for each other, despite societies expectations.
“Every great love starts with a great story…”
When I ask the women in my life what they think is the most romantic story they know, at least 80% of the time the answer is The Notebook. They mean the movie. Most of them don’t know that originally, it was the first published novel by Nicholas Sparks. The book begins in the 1940s and tells a story of Noah and Allie. They meet as teenagers and share a brief but passionate summer romance. Allie is a daughter of a wealthy family visiting Noah’s town for the summer. He works as a labourer in a lumberyard.
They are separated by class and by the actions of Allie’s mother. This results in them both going their own ways for 14 years, thinking the other one has forgotten them. When they meet again after all this time, they realize they still have feelings for each other and Allie has a decision to make. Either she will follow her heart, take a risk and stay with Noah. Or she can stay with her fiance and live a life of comfort and privilege. The story is told by Noah as an old man and it expresses a romantic love that conquers all obstacles and lasts an entire lifetime.
There are different kinds of love that are often represented in literature and all make a great plot device. It can revolve around the love between family members, friends, love for animals, things, ideas and ideals. But no theme is quite as common as the romantic love. And it seems that no matter the time, cultural setting and the outcome, all the greatest love stories I looked at today have one thing in common:
It seems that the answer to my question about what makes a great love story is the stakes. The bigger the sacrifice a hero has to make for love, the more intense and ultimately, romantic the romance is. In these most popular love stories, the protagonists have to choose love over their family, money and status, everything they thought they wanted and even being alive. In my book, the greatest love is the kind that makes the hero change, see the world differently and become better for it.
What would you sacrifice for true love?