When it comes to literary lovers, Romeo and Juliet, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, and Rhett and Scarlett get a lot of (well-deserved) press. In honor of Valentine’s Day—which is Friday, in case someone still needs to make a dinner reservation—we’re paying tribute to ten other memorable romances from classic and contemporary fiction. Not every couple on this list gets a happy ending, but sometimes love hurts, right?
(Warning: plot spoilers ahead.)
Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, Love in the Time of Cholera: Florentino and Fermina fall passionately in love as youths, but Fermina’s father is having none of it. The lovers are torn apart, years pass, and Fermina marries someone else. Still Florentino vows to stay faithful, and that’s when things get…interesting. Gabriel García Márquez owns a spot on nearly every literary “best of” list, and one pass through this lush treatise on love, marriage, and fidelity reveals why.
Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth, Persuasion: Anne was young and impressionable when she first fell for Wentworth, a dashing nobody whose marriage proposal she rejected under pressure from her family. Nine years later, Anne is a “spinster” stuck living with her insufferable father and sister when Wentworth reappears, now a rich, eligible war hero. He does his best to give Anne the cold shoulder, but his pride is no match for the woman who’s as wonderful as he remembers—and finally strong enough to stand up for what she wants.
Robbie Turner and Cecilia Tallis, Atonement: They grew up together on the Tallis family’s English estate, though class differences create barriers between them as adults. When Robbie and Cecilia come together again one summer weekend, a charged encounter leads to a brazen declaration of love and a library scene so erotic it’s a wonder the books on the shelves don’t catch fire. But when Cecilia’s younger sister misreads the situation unfolding between the pair, all hell breaks loose. Our hearts bleed.
Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska, The Age of Innocence: New York society lawyer Newland Archer is all prepared to marry sweet, socially acceptable May Welland. But when her scandal-plagued cousin, the beautiful Countess Olenska, sweeps into town, everything Archer thought he wanted out of life is called into question. Driven by desire, he seems poised to risk it all for love—until he doesn’t. And, oh, how it hurts!
Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster, The Fault in Our Stars: As “meet cutes” go, a cancer support group isn’t exactly romantic. But unlike most of us, teens Gus and Hazel know for a fact that their first love will be their last. And damn if they don’t make the most of it. Tender, funny, smart, and, yes, heartbreaking, their story will cost you an entire box of tissues, but it’s worth every one.
Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe, Anne of Green Gables series: He calls her “Carrots,” she breaks a slate over his head. So begins one of fiction’s most heartwarming love stories. It’s no mystery to us why good-hearted Gilbert falls so hard for Anne-with-an-e, but she’s so caught up with her romantic ideal of the perfect man that she fails to see that her perfect man is standing right beside her. Fortunately, time, maturity, and a convenient bout of typhoid fever finally open her eyes.
Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights: If you’re looking for a healthy, functional relationship, you’d best move on down the shelf. Cathy and Heathcliff are selfish, occasionally brutal people, with little regard for the effect their drama has on the lives of others. But, frankly, if these two aren’t soulmates, we don’t know what soulmates are. This Gothic novel earns bonus romance points for its heartrending deathbed scene and a ghost who torments its one true love.
Meggie Cleary and Ralph de Bricassart, The Thorn Birds: Years before Richard Chamberlain put on that priest’s cassock, this epic tale of forbidden love was causing readers’ pulses to quicken. As a priest, Ralph is clearly off-limits, but that doesn’t stop him and beautiful Meggie from torturing us and each other with their all-consuming passion.
Beatrice and Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing: There is a fine line between love and hate, and never is that more evident than when these two jokers clash in William Shakespeare’s beloved comedy. But while they’re busy one-upping each other with flirty one-liners, their long-suffering friends set out, in classic Shakespeare style, to push B and B together once and for all. Sure, things get a little dicey when Beatrice asks Benedick to prove his love by murdering a guy, but it all works out in the end.
Orpheus and Eurydice, Metamorphoses: Because are you brave enough to follow your true love into hell?