Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and while I don’t have anyone to celebrate this holiday with, I do love a good romantic book now and again. Since Jane Eyre happens to be my favorite book of all time (and certainly one of the most romantic), I thought I would share ten other novels we can read instead. From the Gothic to memorable love stories, here are 10 great novels to check out (sorry but no Wide Sargasso Sea):
#1: Villette by Charlotte Bronte
“Bronte’s finest novel.” — Virginia Woolf
Summary: “Loosely based on her own experiences, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette is the story of a destitute, young Englishwoman who travels abroad to escape a family tragedy and find her way in the world. The novel follows Lucy Snowe as she moves to the city of Villette, in the fictional kingdom of Labassecour, to take up a job as a teacher at a school for girls.
The bright but secretive Lucy soon thrives in her new position and is soon reconnected with an old friend, Dr. John Graham Bretton, whom she finds herself falling in love with, though he has eyes for someone else. Charlotte Bronte’s last novel, a gripping tale of love and disappointment that has been praised for its portrayal of Lucy’s inner struggles, is considered alongside Jane Eyre as her best work.”
Why you should check it out: While not comparable to Jane Eyre (in my book that is), this is almost as romantic with two separate love stories to enjoy. The writing is masterful and once you reach Villette, quite captivating to read, with a mystery in the plot as well.
#2: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” ― Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
Summary: “With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew.
For in every corner of every room were phantoms of a time dead but not forgotten—a past devotedly preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers: a suite immaculate and untouched, clothing laid out and ready to be worn, but not by any of the great house’s current occupants. With an eerie presentiment of evil tightening her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter walked in the shadow of her mysterious predecessor, determined to uncover the darkest secrets and shattering truths about Maxim’s first wife—the late and hauntingly beautiful Rebecca.”
Why you should check it out: This is a personal favorite because of the wonderfully Gothic atmosphere and fabulously crafted out mystery. For those who love Jane Eyre, I don’t see how you could go wrong with this one. Maxim also makes for another fantastic Byronic Hero.
#3: Dragonwyck by Anya Seton
“Her lips were drawn to his like a moth to a flame.” ― Anya Seton, Dragonwyck
Summary: “In the spring of 1844 the Wells family receives a letter from a distant relative, the wealthy landowner Nicholas Van Ryn. He has invited one of their daughters for an extended visit at his Hudson Valley estate Dragonwyck. Eighteen-year-old Miranda, bored with her local suitors and commonplace life on the farm, leaps at the chance for escape.
She immediately falls under the spell of the master and his mansion, mesmerized by the Gothic towers, flowering gardens, and luxurious lifestyle -unaware of the dark, terrible secrets that await. Anya Seton masterfully tells the heart-stopping story of a remarkable woman, her remarkable passions, and the mystery that resides in the magnificent hallways of Dragonwyck.”
Why you should check it out: Originally published in 1944 (I know there is a Vincent Price film adaptation somewhere too), this is another gripping Gothic classic worth checking out. Like Jane Eyre, this is NOT your typical love story and maybe even might go in a direction you would not expect…
#4: The Emily Books (Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest) by L.M. Montgomery
“You see,” she concluded miserably, “when I can call like that to him across space–I belong to him. He doesn’t love me–he never will–but I belong to him.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Emily’s Quest
Summary: “EMILY OF NEW MOON Emily Starr never knew what it was to be lonely until her beloved father died. Now Emily’s an orphan, and her mother’s snobbish relatives are taking her to live with them at New Moon Farm. She’s sure she won’t be happy Emily deals with stiff, stern Aunt Elizabeth and her malicious classmates by holding her head high and using her quick wit. Things begin to change when she makes friends: with Teddy, who does marvelous drawings; with Perry, who’s sailed all over the world with his father yet has never been to school; and above all, with Use, a tomboy with a blazing temper.
EMILY CLIMBS Emily Starr was born with the desire to write. As an orphan living on New Moon Farm, writing helped her face the difficult, lonely times. But now all her friends are going away to high school in nearby Shrewsbury, and her old-fashioned, tyrannical aunt Elizabeth will only let her go if she promises to stop writing! All the same, this is the first step in Emily’s climb to success. Once in town, Emily’s activities set the Shrewsbury gossips buzzing. But Emily and her friends are confident — Ilse’s a born actress, Teddy’s set to be a great artist, and roguish Perry has the makings of a brilliant lawyer. When Emily has her poems published and writes for the town newspaper, success seems to be on its way — and with it the first whispers of romance. Then Emily is offered a fabulous opportunity, and she must decide if she wants to change her life forever.
EMILY’S QUEST Emily knows she’s going to be a great writer. She also knows that she and her childhood sweetheart, Teddy Kent, will conquer the world together. But when Teddy leaves home to pursue his goal to become an artist at the School of Design in Montreal, Emily’s world collapses. With Teddy gone, Emily agrees to marry a man she doesn’t love … as she tries to banish all thoughts of Teddy. In her heart, Emily must search for what being a writer really means….”
Why you should check it out: While immensely different from Jane Eyre, the inspiration still clearly exists. Even in L.M. Montgomery’s journals (which I have read a bit of), she talks about her intense love for Bronte’s classic love story and her influence really shines in this trilogy of books. For fans of Anne of Green Gables, this is a great read for you too but it IS darker and has just a touch of the supernatural (VERY subtle) akin to Jane Eyre; a wonderful, romantic trilogy of books that gets better each time I return to the world of Emily.
#5: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
“Nelly, I am Heathcliff .” ― Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
Summary: “Classic novel of consuming passions, played out against the lonely moors of northern England, recounts the turbulent and tempestuous love story of Cathy and Heathcliff. A masterpiece of imaginative fiction, the story remains as poignant and compelling today as it was when first published in 1847.”
Why you should check it out: If you haven’t read Wuthering Heights yet, it definitely deserves to be read. While not classically romantic (and Heathcliff is TRULY a villain), the soul connection between Cathy and Heathcliff is beautiful to read. Heathcliff’s vengeance agenda also makes for quite an exciting one as well. This is a work of art. Plus, together, Emily and Charlotte really did redefine what it was to be a Byronic Hero in literature.
#6: Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt
‘“There are two courses open to gentlewoman when she finds herself in penurious circumstances,’ my Aunt Adelaide had said. ‘One is to marry, and the other to find a post in keeping with her gentility.”’ ― Victoria Holt, Mistress of Mellyn
Summary: “Mount Mellyn stood as proud and magnificent as she had envisioned…But what about its master–Connan TreMellyn? Was Martha Leigh’s new employer as romantic as his name sounded? As she approached the sprawling mansion towering above the cliffs of Cornwall, an odd chill of apprehension overcame her.
TreMellyn’s young daughter, Alvean, proved as spoiled and difficult as the three governesses before Martha had discovered. But it was the girl’s father whose cool, arrogant demeanor unleashed unfamiliar sensations and turmoil–even as whispers of past tragedy and present danger begin to insinuate themselves into Martha’s life.
Powerless against her growing desire for the enigmatic Connan, she is drawn deeper into family secrets–as passion overpowers reason, sending her head and heart spinning. But though evil lurks in the shadows, so does love–and the freedom to find a golden promise forever…”
Why you should check it out: Originally published over 40 years ago, and comparable to both Jane Eyre and Rebecca, this is a great example of an escapist Gothic romance.
#7: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine…” ― Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
Summary: “Young, sheltered, and naive Catherine Morland is whisked away on a luxurious holiday to a country resort where she happens upon the handsome and charming Henry Tilney. But she is not the only one discovering summer love.
Her dear friend Isabelle soon finds herself swept into the arms of a suave young man, leaving Catherine to fend off the advances of Isabelle’s arrogant and dull brother, John. Summer flings turn into more involved romances and it grows more and more difficult and Catherine’s schemes grow ever more difficult. Mistaken affections, fickle hearts, and bitter rivalries all come together in a sweeping romance in Northanger Abbey.”
Why you should check it out: What is Valentine’s Day without Jane Austen? Perfect for those looking for a more light-hearted fare, you can’t go wrong with Austen’s satirical look at the Gothic romance novel. This is both romantic AND funny…
#8: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
“Hear me, Emily: I come not to alarm you; no, by Heaven! I love you too well- too well for my own peace.” ― Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho
Summary: `”Her present life appeared like the dream of a distempered imagination, or like one of those frightful fictions, in which the wild genius of the poets sometimes delighted. Reflections brought only regret and anticipation of terror.’
Such is the state of mind in which Emily St. Aubuert – the orphaned heroine of Ann Radcliffe’s 1794 gothic Classic, The Mysteries of Udolpho – finds herself after Count Montoni, her evil guardian, imprisons her in his gloomy medieval fortress in the Apennines. Terror is the order of the day inside the walls of Udolpho, as Emily struggles against Montoni’s rapacious schemes and the threat of her own psychological disintegration.
A best-seller in its day and a potent influence on Walpole, Poe, and other writers of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Gothic horror, The Mysteries of Udolpho remains one of the most important works in the history of European fiction. As the same time, with its dream-like plot and hallucinatory rendering of its characters’ psychological states, it often seems strangely modern: `permanently avant-garde’ in Terry Castle’s words, and a profound and fascinating challenge to contemporary
Why you should check it out: While the first 100 hundred pages or so are difficult to get through (same problem I had with The Lord of the Rings), stick with it because it is well worth continuing to read the best book of the QUEEN of Gothic novels. Udolpho is romantic, terrifying, and engrossing.
#9: Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
“Perhaps loneliness had nothing to do with place or circumstance; perhaps it was in you; yourself…” ― Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting
Summary: “A governess in a French château encounters an apparent plot against her young charge’s life in this unforgettably haunting and beautifully written suspense novel. When lovely Linda Martin first arrives at Château Valmy as an English governess to the nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy, the opulence and history surrounding her seems like a wondrous, ecstatic dream. But a palpable terror is crouching in the shadows.
Philippe’s uncle, Leon de Valmy, is the epitome of charm, yet dynamic and arrogant—his paralysis little hindrance as he moves noiselessly in his wheelchair from room to room. Only his son Raoul, a handsome, sardonic man who drives himself and his car with equally reckless abandon, seems able to stand up to him. To Linda, Raoul is an enigma—though irresistibly attracted to him, she senses some dark twist in his nature. When an accident deep in the woods nearly kills Linda’s innocent charge, she begins to wonder if someone has deadly plans for the young count.”
Why you should check it out: If you love a good romantic suspense of the Gothic variety, you just can’t go wrong with Nine Coaches Waiting! One of those books that will keep you up late into the night…
#10: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
“I cannot love a man who cannot protect me.” ― Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Summary: “The Tenant of Wildfell is the story of Heather Graham, a spirited and independent woman, who seeks to rebuild her life after a disastrous marriage to an abusive alcoholic. Unheard of for the time, Heather flees from her husband and attempts to support herself and her young son while tentatively forging a friendship with a young farmer, Gilbert Markham.
Because it featured a successful, liberated woman and contained stark depictions of alcoholism, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was considered scandalous when first published in 1848, but quickly became a best-seller and has since been recognized as one of the first feminist novels.”
Why you should check it out: Anne took a much more realistic approach to her novels than Charlotte and Emily but The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is almost as mesmerizing as Charlotte and Emily’s books. This is a fantastic, romantic read (I really like Gilbert), and a great choice for someone not looking for a Gothic romance at this point in time. Plus, I love how this book really stands up for the rights of women, unheard of during this time period.
Find any good books to read on this list? Jane Eyre like suggestions of your own? Sound off in the comments…
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