1) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Most of us are familiar with the story of Jane Eyre, thanks to the many film adaptations of this novel that exist, and the story of a lonely orphan who becomes a governess at a huge, gloomy manor and falls in love with her employer is a timeless one. Fun fact: Bronte used a male pseudonym when she published the book in 1847 because she felt that as a woman, her work would not be taken seriously.
2) Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Gone with the Wind is well-known as a classic Hollywood film featuring the famous line: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn; did you know that it was based on an award-winning novel published in 1936? If the length of this tragic tale of a spoiled, heartless Southern belle seems daunting, check out the stunning film adaptation starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.
3) The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
In this 1846 novel, Laura Fairlie is pressured into an engagement with a rich man almost twice her age to respect her dying father’s wishes, but she is in love with the humble Walter Hartright, her art teacher. To amp up the suspense and keep the reader hooked, a strange woman appears in Laura’s neighbourhood, warning her that her betrothed husband has an evil secret. Don’t those sound like the ingredients for a thrilling love story?
4) The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
This novel, set in 1890s New York, is a classy, spectacularly detailed drama about Ellen Olenska, an exotic woman who is estranged from her abusive husband and finds an unexpected friend in her cousin’s husband. The narration’s incisive, perceptive commentary on social relationships and the enormous pressure to fit in, makes this far more than your average period romance. Check out the film adaptation, starring Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis.
5) Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Perhaps better known as a film from director Roman Polanski, this is a classic Victorian novel describing Tess, a young, innocent dairymaid who is brutally taken advantage of by her charming, sophisticated cousin. Though Tess later meets the love of her life, she finds that this early experience haunts her forever. This novel is particularly timely for its unrelenting exposure of the Victorian double standard towards female sexuality.
6) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This one might be a review for some of us, as high school English teachers often put this one on the curriculum. But it’s still worth a reread”think about it. Jay Gatz is too poor to be a worthy match for Daisy, so he completely remakes himself into one of New York’s nouveaux riches so that he can buy the spectacular house across the bay from hers, even going so far as to change his name to purge his old, lower-class identity. Pretty romantic.
7) By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart
This heart-wrenching, semi-autobiographical work comes from a Canadian author. Published in 1941, this short novel describes a woman’s affair with a married man and the societal pressures that find them out. Based on the author’s own entanglement with a married man, the book was banned in Canada for 20 years before its reprint in 1961, and is a stunning depiction of loving with utter abandon.