Month: July 2022

What makes a great love story?

What makes a great love story?

GREATEST LOVE STORIES

Love in all its forms, we crave it, need it. But romantic love is the ultimate wish for most of us. Whether we have romance in our lives or not, women enjoy reading romance novels or watching romance unfold on screen. Men do too, apparently, though to a lesser extent, and they prefer a bit of violence and or nudity thrown it to spice it up. Love Actually (2003), the movie, was an all-time block buster showcasing romantic love in its many forms. Something for everyone.

girls hands holding copy of wuthering heights
top love stories ever

In 2007, Richard Kingsbury, channel head of UKTV Drama, commissioned a study to nominate the twenty top love stories ever written. 2,000 readers participated from (I presume) Britain. The details on the actual polling are absent as with many polls. So, the age, gender and demographics are not easy to find. I tried.

The findings were interesting to me back then in 2007, even though I was not yet an author. I saved the article about Kingsley’s survey for future reference. You can read it by following this link.

The List

Below is Kingsley’s list;

The top 20 Love Stories ever.

1 Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë, 1847

2 Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813

3 Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare, 1597

4 Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, 1847

5 Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, 1936

6 The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje, 1992

7 Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier, 1938

8 Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak, 1957

9 Lady Chatterley’s Lover, DH Lawrence, 1928

10 Far from The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy, 1874

11 My Fair Lady, Alan Jay Lerner, 1956

12 The African Queen, CS Forester, 1935

13 The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald, 1925

14 Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen, 1811

15 The Way We Were, Arthur Laurents, 1972

16 War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy, 1865

17 Frenchman’s Creek, Daphne du Maurier, 1942

18 Persuasion, Jane Austen, 1818

19 Take a Girl Like You, Kingsley Amis, 1960

20 Daniel Deronda, George Eliot, 1876

This list honors the classic romance novelists of the past. As a teenage fan of the works of Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and the Bronte Sisters, I appreciate this list. I’ve read all the titles, watched the film versions and love them all. For a tragic romantic, like me, they all deliver the required fix. So, what is the magical combination that makes a romance memorable and captivating?

The Love Formula. What is It?

Do we need a happy ending, beauty, wealth, magnificent mansions for our heroes and heroines?

The answer is ‘no’. Scroll down the list and you will see why that is not necessary at all. In fact, the harder it is for the two lovers to be together, the better the rating. Catherine and Heathcliff, Romeo and Juliet, Darcy and Elizabeth, our top three couples all had barriers to their love. Family, class, wealth, and religion can all make love forbidden. And when something is forbidden, don’t we want it even more?

Great Passion

All the novels capture great passion that defies societal taboos and conventions. Love risks all to be with the other. True love is finding one’s soul mate and no two lovers define that ‘oneness’ as Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff in the winning title. The love story in Wuthering Heights emerges from the vast desolation of the moors. It is a brooding, dark novel, tragic but also stunning in its depth of passion. Heathcliff as our hero is both cruel and aloof, the Byronian hero, yet beneath the surface his passion for Catherine runs hot. These two share a love beyond the grave. Their love is more than a physical love. It is metaphysical, almost religious in nature. It is everlasting.

Romeo and Juliet Love

The same can be said of Romeo and Juliet. They die for each other. Another young love, another tragic ending. But what beauty in the language of Shakespeare, as he writes of such love. “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the East and Juliet is the sun!” They worship each other as do Catherine and Heathcliff. Don’t we all wish that for ourselves? A love that defies all obstacles and transcends time. I include this forbidden love in my historical romance novel, Whispers Through Time.

True Loves Never Runs Smooth

As you can see by scrolling down the list, love stories, unlike fairytales, don’t have to end happily ever after. Some do. Elizabeth and Darcy eventually settle their misunderstandings and ride off into the sunset at the end of Pride and Prejudice. Jane Eyre marries her Mr. Rochester and Sense and Sensibility offers a happy resolution of matters as well. But not without complication, barriers, and torment.

Too easy, and love stories are boring. Boy meets girl followed by an easy path to marriage and happiness. No fun there. This love formula is not what we want in book and film. Shakespeare wrote, ‘the course of true love never did run smooth.’ (Midsummer Night’s Dream. ) The plot of this play is classically riddled with a myriad of misunderstandings, false identities and trickeries before the couples settle with their intended.

Gone With the Wind Love

In Gone with the Wind, we witness another love affair, beset by difficulty even after marriage. Rhett Butler declares to his wife, Scarlett, in the final lines, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’ How was that love story to end? We will never know. Margaret Mitchell did not write the sequel.

The English Patient, a poignant sweeping drama, a beautiful film, also features a tearjerker ending. Great love can be so great that it is destructive. I could go on down the list. But don’t worry, I won’t.

Not Always Happy Endings

Suffice it to say, that these novels, most transformed into films, capture our hearts not because of ‘happily ever afters’,  but because of the passionate love the characters have for each other. Basically, we all want that passion, we want to experience it again and again through film and reading maybe because our own lives have lost the passion. We want to experience the full gamut of emotions, relive it or know it if it never came our way.

Why Do We Love These Love Stories?

As well as nominating their top romances Kingsley’s participants commented on why they read romantic novels.

Forty per cent of women read romantic novels to feel better, 15% for nostalgic reasons and 10% to compensate for their own less highly-colored love lives. This makes total sense. Romance novels are escapism from our own lack-lustre lives. All books are of course, but crime novels and films do not have the same feel-good effect unless you are clever enough to solve the crime before the last chapter.

Historical Dramas Sell

Richard Kingsbury says, “We find that romantic drama is a very powerful kind of escapism for our viewers, and well-made costume dramas like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre have an extra dimension to them. Viewers get caught up in the beauty and language of the period.” This interest in other people’s passions and history still resonates today with the popularity of the Bridgeton period dramas based on Julia Quinn’s novels.

I Wish You Love

Book, film, real life, I wish you love in your life in whatever form you take it. It is the feel-good emotion that nurtures above all others. Women need nurture. Treat yourself to some love today!

Joni Scott has written three novels and award-winning short stories. She co-hosts a women’s blog; Whisperingencouragement.com and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com