Romance Literature Through the Ages

Romance Literature Through the Ages

Photo Credit: Benjamin McEvoy

A diverse list of love stories to read for Valentine’s Day

Aramayah Ocol, Contributor

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, here are five books that challenge and bring into focus the idea of love. Each novel ponders the questions of what makes love work, and what its ultimate function is. 

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy:

The novel has the reputation of being about an adulterous love affair between a married woman and an army officer. Tolstoy’s central idea is that love is not enough of a vocation to bring purpose to life. Anna, a captivating woman with a vivid imagination, is brought into contrast with graceless Levin as they both pursue love to fulfil their lives. However, love, with all its complications, proves to be inadequate. At a crossroads, both Anna and Levin must decide how to move forward with this realisation. 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scot Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald offers an interesting flipside to Anna Karenina. Where Anna and Levin obtain love, readers meet Gatsby, who has already obtained the epitome of monetary success, but with no one yet to share it with. While Gatsby’s imagination focuses particularly on Daisy Buchanan, who motivates his ambition, he realises that she falls short of his imagination. Disaster brews. Fitzgerald leaves readers wondering if tragedy is a resurrection of all the flaws in preconceived notions of love.    

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Taking place in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan, this novel follows the intertwined lives of two women who are coerced into marrying the same man. While this novel also has some romantic intrigue, Hosseini focuses more on the platonic love shared between Miriam and Laila despite unusual and trying circumstances. Where some types of love fail, there is always space for unexpected connections to flourish. The deepest connections that we all yearn for can often develop from a common challenge we must face. 

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden 

This modern novel set in pre-WWII Japan follows the growth of a little girl who wants to be noticed in a world where she feels invisible. A single act of kindness sparks the love of this little girl and gives her a very clear objective. This novel challenges Anna Karenina, and offers the conclusion that all types of love can thrive. Sometimes love can clarify and allow aims, goals, and ambitions to develop. 

A Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich
A Dream of a Common Language is a short work of poetry that explores the romantic love between women. In its essence is the fact that we all desire the need to be understood. Rich develops this idea from the atomic level of the individual word: sometimes the words we use have different meanings to different people. However, this idea is further developed to the level of common ideas and understandings. I highly recommend this to people who are in relationships in which their first language isn’t the one used to communicate with their significant other.