From tear-jerkers to the warm fuzzies, the New York Public Library shares with YourTango their top 10 picks for the greatest love stories of all time. They can melt your heart, make you laugh and leave you longing for a Kleenex. Whether you are looking for that special someone or blissfully in love, these ageless classics know just how to pull on those heartstrings. So, jump under the covers, turn down the lights and tuck into the most sought-after romantic novels of all time.
1. Wuthering Heights: A total eclipse of the heart.
In one of the oldest heart-wrenching classics in the "lost love can turn a good man evil" scenario, Emily Brontë’s novel takes us back to 1802 at the Wuthering Heights estate. In this timeless love story, our leading man Heathcliff grows to become best friends with his adopted sister, Catherine, his life-long crush. But an offhand comment, overheard at the Heights, changes the course of both of their lives.
Fun Fact: The 1983 Bonnie Tyler power ballad "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was inspired by Wuthering Heights.
2. Anna Karenina: Love can be a train wreck.
Frequently a top author’s choice, this Tolstoy novel is a literary soap opera. Set in the highest circles of Russian society, Anna Karenina visits her brother Stiva in Moscow to help him save his marriage. While there, she falls in love with Count Vronsky. A married woman, Karenina fights off her desires until they overwhelm her and she leaves her husband, Alexei. Denied a divorce, Anna spends her life looking for acceptance in her relationship. When the strain of their love life becomes too much, Anna leaves Vronsky in a rage and well, if you haven’t read it, do! We won’t give away a heart-wrenching ending.
Fun Fact: Anna Karenina became a best-seller all over again in 2004 after Oprah put it on her list.
3. Romeo and Juliet: Wherefore art thou, Romeo?
In one of William Shakespeare's most celebrated works, this tale of "star-crossed lovers" has been told and interpreted time and time again (from film classic West Side Story to teen flick Romeo + Juliet). A story all lovers can relate to, Romeo and Juliet focuses on the tragedies that accompany the loss of true love. Lovers Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, two of the most famed clans in literature, come from opposite sides of the Verona tracks and their family's disapproval of their love eventually leads to their demise.
Fun Fact: In the popular computer game The Sims 2, there is a neighborhood called Veronaville in which two characters named Romeo Monty and Juliette Capp fall in love.
4. Casablanca: Play it again, Sam.
Made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, this love story was originally a play by Murray Burnett. The play was turned into a script by writers (and brothers) Julius and Philip Epstein and their friend Howard Koch. In the story, American Rick Blaine is the owner of a gambling club "Rick's Cafe Americain" in the Moroccan city of Casablanca. Set during World War II, Rick is a bitter man having been scorned by ex-lover Ilsa Lund. When she walks back into his life suddenly, now married, with her husband in tow, Rick is forced to come face-to-face with well-aged heartache.
Fun Fact: In a 2005 poll by the American Film Institute, the Casablanca line "Here's looking at you, kid" was ranked the fifth most memorable line in cinema history. (Six other lines from the film are also in the top 100.)
5. Midsummer Night's Dream: Dream a little dream.
A romantic comedy by William Shakespeare, this play takes place in Athens as Duke Theseus plans a large festival around his marriage. During this time, Theseus' daughter, Hermia, is refusing to marry her fiancé. Due to a true-love-in-the-wings named Lysander. Against her father's wishes, she flees the nuptials for the woods. And guess who? While there, they befriend fairies who cause a bit of mischief. Cue a new love triangle and surprise ending!
Fun Fact: In the 1989 blockbuster film Dead Poets' Society, the character Neil Perry (played by Robert Sean Leonard), was cast as Puck in the a local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
6. Doctor Zhivago: Boy meets girl meets girl.
This Noble Prize-winning Russian novel by Boris Pasternak is the ageless classic of one man torn between two women. Yuri Zhivago is a medical doctor and poet during the 1917 Russian Revolution. While married to aristocratic Tonya, he falls in love with nurse Lara. Set during a war time, Zhivago's love triangle falls prey to a twist of fate, and becomes a tale of protagonist versus an achy, breaking heart.
Fun Fact: Doctor Zhivago's first film version was a made-for-TV version produced in Brazil in 1959.
7. Sense and Sensibility: Sisters and soul mates.
Another Jane Austen classic from 1811, this love story focuses around the Dashwood sisters – Elinor and Marianne. When their father dies, they lose their family estate and are reduced to a life of poverty. The story follows the sisters as they move in with a distant relative, leading them to equal parts heartache and romance.
Fun Fact: In Ang Lee's 1995 remake of Sense and Sensibility, there are six actors who went on to play parts in the Harry Potter films: Emma Thompson (Sybil Trelawney), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Gemma Jones (Madam Pomfrey), Robert Hardy (Cornelius Fudge), Elizabeth Spriggs (The Fat Lady) and Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge).
8. Dangerous Liaisons: Les Liaisons dangereuses is a novel composed of letters.
The classic eighteenth-century novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos is the ultimate dark tale of lust, greed, deception and romance, featuring the Marquise de Merteuil, who requests that her partner, the Vicomte de Valmont, seduce the young daughter of her cousin. Meanwhile, young Cecile has the hots for her teacher, Chevalier Danceny. Love affairs, deception and lies aplenty unfold.
Fun Fact: The 1999 cult movie hit Cruel Intentions was a modern adaptation of the novel Dangerous Liaisons.
9. Pride and Prejudice: A literary game of cat and mouse, widely known as Jane Austen’s most famous novel.
Charles Bingley is new to town and has leased an estate with his sisters and close friend Fitzwilliam Darcy. Named a "catch" by all the single ladies in town (due to surprise . . . his looks and money), Darcy is also known as snob. Neighbor Elizabeth Bennet finds herself repulsed by Darcy’s ego. The resulting pas de deux between the feisty twosome makes for a quite a page-turner.
Fun Fact: Helen Fielding’s book Bridget Jones's Diary was inspired by Pride and Prejudice.
10. Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame: Oh Quasimodo!
Victor Hugo’s story, set in Paris in 1482, centers around Norte Dame cathedral. In this "true love comes from within" story, Gypsy dancer Esmeralda is longed for by Quasimodo, Notre Dame's kind-hearted but deformed bellringer. Upon order of Archdeacon Frollo, Quasimodo attempts to kidnap Esmeralda, but is caught. Standing trial, Quasimodo is humiliated by the public and his victim Esmeralda has pity on him. Soon after Esmeralda is blackmailed and sentenced to death for the murder of her crush Phoebus. On her sentencing day, Esmeralda is saved from death by her dear Quasimodo. But can true love overcome her distaste for his looks?
Fun Fact: Hunchback of Notre Dame has been adpated to the screen numerous times and cast two famous Anthonys in the leading Quasimodo role - Anthony Quinn in 1956 and Anthony Hopkins in 1982.
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