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Valentine’s Day Classics

By Megan Powell, Magali Prel, Natasha Smith and Mia Walby

There are a plethora of classic novels that will satisfy your romantic desires this Valentine’s Day. It is without a doubt that classic works of literature have a way of encapsulating the power of love, with many instigating centuries-old traditions and gestures, from William Shakespeare to Jane Austen. 

However, classic literature is also special in that it details the reality of love, containing some of literature’s most poignant reads that are also unashamed to describe all aspects of romantic connection. Here are a range of texts to read this Valentine’s Day. 

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert was first published in 1857 and is considered both a masterpiece of literary realism and one of the most influential novels in Western literature. The novel recounts the story of Emma Bovary, a young woman with romantic and extravagant ideals, who marries a gentleman named Charles Bovary, a simple country doctor. However, Emma is dissatisfied with her provincial life and desires a more exciting and passionate existence, which leads her to engage in a series of ill-fated romantic affairs. 

The novel explores the consequences of Emma’s actions; how her pursuit of passion and extravagance leads her into financial ruin, and how her affairs bring her a life of scandal and tragedy. The novel has further been described as a critique of bourgeois society, exploring themes of disillusionment, the pursuit of unattainable ideals and the consequences of living inauthentically. 

Madame Bovary is often celebrated for its psychological depth and its exploration of the complexities of human desire, with Emma’s character becoming an important figure that represents the dangers of unrestrained romanticism and delusion. 

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved works, where the titular characters’ romance is set against their family feud. The play takes place over a three-day period, during which time Romeo suffers unrequited love for Rosaline, yet, once he meets Juliet Capulet, all is forgotten: the lovers are infatuated. 

This play offers a break from the modern world as well as an opportunity to view it in a structured and rational way, allowing the reader to immerse themselves within the emotional sphere of love, conflict and hope. The tragedy is alleviated through comedy, which also exacerbates the tension between the “star-crossed lovers.” Both Romeo and Juliet’s fates at the end of the play serve as a reminder of their intense love and cements the end of the Montague and Capulet feud, with both families experiencing the ultimate tragedy. 

Despite this, the play is drenched in beauty and passion and the reader will be entranced by its imagery. This is the ultimate timeless play, and one you can read time and time again.

Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence

Written in 1920, Women in Love is the sequel to D. H. Lawrence’s earlier novel, The Rainbow. In this classic, Lawrence continues to follow the Brangwen sisters as they venture along their paths of love. Both sisters embark on contrasting relationships. Gudrun’s relationship with Gerald Crich is as tumultuous as Ursula’s relationship with Rupert Birkin is romantic. 

While depicting the differences in their relationships, Lawrence portrays themes of social politics, cleverly interweaving the parallels to expose the concerns of the time in English society, with the character of Rupert closely mirroring Lawrence himself. As the relationships develop, with Ursula and Rupert approaching marriage as Gudrun and Gerald face difficulties, a relationship between Rupert and Gerald buds in the background.

Letters from Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple 

As you read these letters, written in the 1650s, it is easy to forget that they are real correspondence and not a romance novel. Able to control her courtship with Sir William Temple through these letters, Osborne teeters between playfulness and earnestness, between sincere affection and coquettish teasing. Her letters thwart notions of the subservient woman – instead, she forges a partnership, controlling the courtship and bridging the geographical distance between them.

While cast in the rosy filter of the romances, the trials and tribulations preceding the marriage of Temple and Osborne may seem romantic, but what Osborne had to endure in the lead up to their union can hardly be described as such. Yet, her letter-writing helped her to snatch back a semblance of control from her family, especially her brother, who attempted to dictate who she should marry. Osborne is able to create satirical versions of the array of awful men her brother brings to her, but at the same time she may tease and flirt with Temple, conveying that, despite the slew of suitors at her doorstep, he is the one for her.



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