Valentine’s Day, with its over-commercialised and unsentimental sentiments, is a day that I usually allow to pass unmarked and uncelebrated and I am going to continue with this tradition by ignoring my own non-existent love life and delve into the romantic worlds that I can only fantasise and imagine that I am a part of.While real-everdyday romances never seem to live up to the imagined romance of the fictitious world and the mind of the writer, I am going to celebrate five of my best loved tales of romance, heartbreak and enduring love, novels that captivated my mind and imprisoned my heart from the opening pages:
1. Wuthering Heights (1847) by Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights is the tale of the hauntingly demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. Catherine is a beautiful and wilful young woman, but she is torn between the expectation to marry soft-hearted and indifferent Edgar and Heathcliff, the passionate but bitter young man she has adored fervently since her childhood. The strength of their bond creates a maelstrom of cruelty and violence, chaos and order, misery and elation, which will leave one of them dead and cast an unremitting shadow over the life of the other for all eternity. Wuthering Heights is a dark tale of tortured but enduring love and the obsessive passion that provokes self-annihilation; it is undoubtedly my favourite romance novel.
2. The Time Traveler’s Wife (2004) by Audrey Niffenegger
The Time Traveler’s Wife is the extraordinarily epic love story of Clare and Henry who meet when Clare is six and Henry is thirty-six, and who marry when Clare is twenty-two and Henry is thirty. Henry suffers from a rare genetic condition that forces him out of time. His disappearances are spontaneous and unpredictable which lends a desperate urgency to Henry and Clare’s love. It is their struggle to lead normal lives that makes the novel extremely haunting and moving and entirely unforgettable. At its very core The Time Traveler’s Wife is an old-fashioned love story that acts as a reminder of how short both life and love can be, while Henry and Clare obsessively attempt to transcend the vicissitudes of time.
3. Persuasion (1818) by Jane Austen
Eight years before Persuasion begins Anne Eliot despondently succumbs to the pressures of society and her rank and makes the decision not to marry the man she is hopelessly and fervently in love with, Captain Wentworth. Their separation produces within Anne a deep and enduring sense of regret that threatens her future happiness, but, as fate conspires to bring him back into her world, all of her old feelings for him are reignited with as much ferocity as an Austen novel would allow. Their reunion is shrouded in misery as Captain Wentworth behaves as if they are strangers and is more interested in Anne’s friend. As Anne struggles to right the wrongs of her past, Persuasion becomes a tender, humorous and enduring story of a love that endures the tests of time and a society where their match is unworthy. Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited?
4. The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby is first and foremost a portrait of the roaring twenties, a shattering exposé of the Jazz Age in all its decadence, excess and self-destructive glory, but it is also a devastating love story: it is the narrative of Jay Gatsby’s quixotic obsession for Daisy Buchanan. The pair meet five years before the novel begins when Gatsby is an impoverished young officer and Daisy is a mythologised Louisville beauty. They instantly fall in love, but while overseas Daisy marries the brutally cruel and extremely rich Tom Buchanan. Misery, despair and heartbreak ensues as Gatsby blindly devotes his melancholic years after the war pursuing the woman he has loved since youth. The events of the novel unfold with tragic inevitability and an eerie despair that trouble the glittering pages of Fitzgerald’s mysterious novel.
5. Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) by Thomas Hardy
The chance discovery by a young peasant girl, Tess Durbeyfield, that she is a descendent of the noble d’Urberville’s is set to change the trajectory of her life beyond redemption. As she sets out on her fateful journey, her encounter with her cruel, manipulative and deceptive cousin Alec, leads her on a path that is beset with suffering, misery and betrayal. Tess sees the potential to escape from the horror of her past, as she begins to fall in love with Angel Clare, but only if she can tell him her shameful secret. Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a thrilling tale of seduction, murder and cruelty, an impassioned tale of hope and disappointment, rejection and enduring love, that is bound to break even the hardest of hearts.
I wish you a very happy Valentine’s Day, whether you be with or separated from the one you love.