Explore the best classic romance books every lover of literature needs to read in February for Valentine’s Day and beyond. From Austen to Shakespeare, you need to cross all these books off your list!

heart in book

These novels are both very old and newer (because I like to push past the idea that a classic book must be old), and they contain some of the most famous literary characters and the most notorious love stories of all time. True love knows no bounds in these timeless works of art!

This great book list is partially inspired by the Gilmore Girls book list, on which many of them appear, and can be read as part of my Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge, in which we read books referenced on the popular show, on which love and romance also feature heavily.

First, I share the top 3 picks you really can’t miss, followed by my picks for the best classic romance books of all time. Then, since I personally haven’t yet read all the most popular classic romance novels, I list even more options that readers worldwide generally consider to be the best.

Top 3 Classic Romance Books

Arguably the most classic romance novel of all-time

The classic everyone loves about unrequited love in the Jazz Age

The famed play about star-crossed lovers that has withstood centuries of time

The Best Classic Romance Books

Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe

I know Annabel Lee is technically a poem, but it’s such a memorable classic love story with well-known lines by an absolute legend in literature that I simply had to include it on this list. You can read it as part of a compilation to explore even more of Poe’s ruminations on romance.

Related Post: Best Edgar Allan Poe Love Quotes

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina is widely considered one of the best classic romance novels. An absolute giant in Russian literature, it tells the tragic love story of a married woman having an affair with absolutely dire consequences.

Don’t let the length scare you — it’s not extremely difficult to read, and it’s well worth exploring its themes of familial versus romantic love amidst a 19th-century Russian backdrop in detail.

Related Post: Best Quotes from Anna Karenina

Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villenueve

A “tale as old as time,” Beauty and the Beast is the classic fairy tale romance of a young book-loving maiden and the seemingly vicious beast imprisoning her.

You’ll especially love this illustrated, interactive version of the original text.

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

The Bridges of Madison County is one of the most widely read modern classic romance novels. A small-town romance, it centers on the secret affair of Francesca, a repressed wife and mother in a rural town, with a travel photographer who visits to shoot local bridges.

Their passionate love affair causes reverberations that are felt for decades to come. It’s a short modern classic and a quick read that tends to elicit strong reactions of either total adoration or total disdain. Personally, I enjoyed it, and I think it will remain memorable for years to come.

Related Post: The Bridges of Madison County Controversy

Cinderella by Charles Perrault

Cinderella is one of the best classic romance books for beginners, with only a few dozen pages of text written for children.

As you may know, it follows a young woman, who is treated poorly by her stepmother and stepsisters, but is able to win the heart of a prince with the help of a fairy godmother. You’ll love indulging in the luxurious original text.

Emma by Jane Austen

Emma is one of readers’ favorites from the Jane Austen book collection, beloved for the witty heroine of the same name. She steers clear of love for herself while acting as a matchmaker to those around her.

But, there are consequences to her meddling in the love life of the young and impressionable Harriet Smith, including sabotaging her own growing affection for Mr. Knightley. You can’t help but love this arrogant, yet kind, heroine who just may find love herself too.

Related Post: Best Emma Quotes

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

I originally picked up The End of the Affair after hearing book lover Reese Witherspoon recommend it and seeing that it was not very long.

Taking place in World War II-era London, it centers on an affair between a passionate writer and a bored housewife. Tortured by guilt, she ends the affair, but it’s only later that the writer can fully explore the consequences of the affair.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is a popular Jazz Age novel in which an outsider watches as a rich and extravagant man falls in love with the very the beautiful, and very married, Daisy Buchanan.

It’s an unrequited love that ultimately consumes him, as this beloved novel offers so many poignant themes, including the American Dream, and it’s just one of those books everyone needs to read.

Related Post: Best Quotes About Love in The Great Gatsby

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

You may not think of Little Women as a love story primarily, but rather a cozy family story of four sisters and their matriarch at home during the Civil War, coming of age and exploring their unique creativity.

But, it’s hard to deny that much of their coming-of-age involves Meg’s marriage and Jo’s and Amy’s love triangle with their beloved neighbor, Teddy (as well as how each of their unique personalities affects this love).

It’s my personal favorite easy classic that always warms my heart, and that includes these romantic storylines.

Related Posts: Best Little Women Quotes | Best Little Women Book Covers | How to Have a Merry Little Women Christmas | Little Women Gift Guide

Love Story by Erich Segal

Love Story is a more modern romance you may have already watched, as the movie adaptation is classic Americana at its finest.

It’s the tear-jerking relationship between a rich jock and future Harvard lawyer from a conservative family at a sharp, creative, music student. Get your tissues out for this romance for the ages.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a mythological love story of love triangles and love spells in the woods. It’s a one-of-a-kind Shakespearean tale I never forgot for its unique, mystical plot.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

The Notebook is the #1 New York Times bestselling romance novel that continues to tug at the heartstrings of readers worldwide (along with watchers of the popular movie adaptation).

It’s one of the great classic romance novels for beginners since it’s a modern writing. It’s about the memory of one’s own love story after decades of time, as the reader learns of the love triangle of yesteryear that started it all.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion is a “second chance” romance that tells the story of single 27-year-old Anne Elliot, who was persuaded not to marry a man she loved, Captain Frederick Wentworth, eight years earlier, due to his lack of social status.

She’s still reeling from the heartbreak surrounding her poor decision when he returns from war with money and rank, looking for love. But, while Anne remains interested in him, he still hasn’t forgiven her.

It’s a powerful classic romance novel about the consequences of choosing to adhere to societal expectations versus your own heart. You won’t soon forget this timeless literary couple and their emotional love story.

Related Post: Best Persuasion Quotes

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

-Jane Austen

This opening line remains one of the most popular literary love quotes from one of the most classic love stories of all time.

Pride and Prejudice is also the most famous Jane Austen book with flowery, romantic prose about the famous love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, which teaches that first impressions aren’t everything.

It’s a must-read for all lovers of classic literature and, particularly, the most romantic classics.

Related Post: Pride and Prejudice Book Covers | Best Pride and Prejudice Quotes

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca, a PBS Great American Read Top 100 pick, is one of the most unique classic love story books, and that’s because it’s a thriller.

It’s moody and atmospheric, uncovering the truth about the mysterious death of the first wife of a wealthy man to his new, lower-class wife, who impulsively falls for him. It’s super indulgent and intriguing to learn what happened to Rebecca and how the truth will impact the newly married lovers.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

The ill-fated lovers, Romeo and Juliet, just may be the most famous, and most timeless, one of these classic romance books.

You likely know the story of these young lovers, who have fallen madly in love but are kept apart by feuding families, with tragic consequences. But, have you read it?!

It’s one of the easier works of Shakespeare, well worth the effort.

Related Post: Best Romeo and Juliet Quotes

A Room With A View by E.M. Forster

In the short novel A Room With a View, Lucy travels to Florence, Italy, with her cousin, assured they would get “a room with a view” of the River Arno. But, when they are given a room overlooking a courtyard, Mr. Emerson and his son George offer their own room with a view.

This opening sequence thus begins the journey of young Lucy as she comes of age by navigating through the proprieties of Edwardian-era society ultimately seeking to find true happiness as she considers the ultimate question of convention versus passion in love.

It’s one of those classic romance books that remains popular to date, and it’s definitely worth the quick read to learn its lessons and cross it off your bucket list. While it may seem a bit stuffy, its principles ring true today.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first novel. And, as far as the classic love novels go, it’s essentially a “double whammy,” with two unique love stories at its core.

It’s the story of two different sisters, Elinor Dashwood and Marianne Dashwood, who must leave home after the death of their father and attempt to have good marriages. But, naturally, there’s so much standing in their way as they each learn to balance restraint and impulse in order to find their own versions of living “happily ever after” in love.

It’s definitely a must-read for fans of the best romance novels of all time.

Related Post: Best Sense and Sensibility Quotes

Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault

Sleeping Beauty is the classic fairy tale that teaches the lesson of waiting for true love, as she awaits a prince to break the spell under which she remains asleep.

Original texts of childhood classics like these are always worth a quick read.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of the classic love books of which you may not have heard, but I’m here to tell you that when it was adapted into a Broadway musical, I loved it so much I went back to see it multiple times.

Set amidst the French Revolution, “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is a Batman-like figure who mysteriously breaks the condemned out of prison. In his marriage, however, it’s a story of love and loyalty tested and courageousness vindicated.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I’m including The Time Traveler’s Wife on this list of classic romance books because it’s easily one of the most popular love stories in modern times. (Though, admittedly, the book felt odd to me personally. I did enjoy the movie adaptation.)

You’ll have to read it for yourself to see where you stand on this tale of a librarian’s and artist’s love that is tested by time and space.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights is a dark, violent, and intense gothic love story about an orphan and the girl with whom he grew up. Kept apart by social status and circumstance, their tale twists and turns in directions you can’t imagine, including ghosts.

If you want a classic romance novel that’s really titillating, this may be the one for you. I still recall reading it decades ago in high school.

More of the Best Classic Romance Books to Read

Those are the best classic romance books of all-time worth reading.

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