August is romance awareness month, and what better way is there to celebrate romance than by reading about it? We’ve always held a special fascination with the idea of falling in love, and countless authors have tried their hand at crafting a love story for the ages.
From fun and playful flirtations to complex webs of lies and deceit, courtship and the emotions that result are a rich source of narrative intrigue. No two romantic entanglements are exactly the same, and these seven literary couples encompass a broad range of tropes and perspectives, reflecting on the varied ways that love and all that it entails can impact individuals, those around them, and even the world.
1. Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen was a master of crafting both clever social commentary and compelling love stories. Nearly all of her novels feature at least one relationship that could make this list. However, Pride and Prejudice’s Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet have been captivating audiences with their slow-burn romance for centuries.
After making mutually disastrous first impressions—which was Austen’s original title for the work—Lizzy and Darcy are left to navigate a series of misunderstandings that warp their perceptions. Over time, they must confront their own faults and shortcomings while learning to see the goodness in each other. Ultimately, this epic love story is built on two people’s willingness to grow and change together.
2. Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing
When choosing a great Shakespearean romance, many people may jump to Romeo and Juliet’s tragic, star-crossed love or Antony and Cleopatra’s intrigue-laden courtship. Those people—in this author’s humble opinion—are wrong. Instead, Much Ado About Nothing’s Beatrice and Benedick are much more fun and—spoiler alert—get a much happier ending.
Although they are technically the secondary romantic pairing within the play, their witty banter and overall chemistry often overshadows the primary plot. Beatrice and Benedick prove that laughter is an essential component of a successful and happy marriage.
3. Achilles and Patroclus from The Song of Achilles
The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller expands upon the relationship between the mythological Greek heroes Achilles and Patroclus contained within Homer’s Iliad and other contemporary sources. Miller envisions the two men as childhood friends who evolve into lovers—which the Greeks view as an acceptable dalliance for young men, but a source of shame for adult soldiers.
Theirs is an all-consuming love, and they each make sacrifices in order to remain together in a world that continuously pulls them apart. Over the course of the Trojan war, pride and politics set Achilles and Patroclus increasingly at odds, eventually setting into motion a series of tragedies that claims both their lives. However, their love for one another proves strong and enduring, and even death itself cannot keep them apart.
4. Sue and Maud from Fingersmith
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters is far from a traditional romance. Indeed, it presents itself initially as a Victorian heist novel, with the premise that a poor orphan must help con a wealthy heiress out of her fortune.
However, amidst all of the secrets, lies, scandals, and betrayals emerges a surprisingly genuine romance between two women caught in a world that would turn them both into pawns in other people’s games. For fans of dark, complex characters and nuanced relationships, Sue and Maud’s unconventional tale is a must-read rumination on love, hatred, and the thin line that separates them.
5. Henry and Alex from Red, White, and Royal Blue
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey Mcquiston explores the blossoming relationship between Alex Claremont-Diaz—the son of the president of the United States—and Henry Fox-Mountchristen-Windsor—a British prince.
After an embarrassing incident at the royal wedding, the two boys must pretend to be friends in order to save face with the international community. As Henry and Alex grapple with their mounting feelings for one another, they must also contend with the reality of being high-profile public figures—and the stakes of falling in love in a world where the personal is inherently political.
6. Celie and Shug from The Color Purple
The Color Purple by Alice Walker is, like many of the works on this list, not a straightforward romance. Indeed, Celie and Shug begin their relationship at odds: Shug is the mistress of Celie’s abusive husband. However, as the two women bond, they not only find happiness within each other, but also liberation. Shug teaches Celie to respect herself more, while Celie shows Shug what it is like to be loved for more than just her looks.
Their relationship showcases the transformative powers of unconditional affection. It is through loving someone else and being loved in return that each woman is able to find a sense of contentment and self-worth, breaking free from a culture of male dominance and abuse in order to form a family of choice.
Honorable Mention: Ahab and Moby Dick from Moby-Dick
For fans of nontraditional relationships, may we recommend whatever Moby Dick and Ahab have going on in Herman Meville’s Moby-Dick? Is this relationship romantic? Questionable. Is it healthy? Definitely not. Is it epic and extremely compelling? Absolutely.