Romance is a natural human emotion and expression of love. And love is… well… complicated. When we hear sad love songs, listen to poems filled with longing, or watch happy rom-coms, we conjure deep emotional feelings. When we fall madly in love, there’s passion, intimacy and intense attraction. Put all of those spicy ingredients together in a book and voilà! You've got a romance novel.
Romance, in literary form of course, is as old as love itself. The genre has a long history going back to ancient Greece. But the emergence of the modern-day mass-marketed romance novel originated in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The first known romance novel was written by Samuel Richardson, an English writer, in 1740. Pamela or Virtue Rewarded tells the love story between a young, virtuous maid and her wealthy landowner/boss. Without giving away any spoilers, the novel is written through a series of correspondence between the characters. Love letters written on paper with ink was a discreet way for couples to communicate their romantic intentions. Richardson's book is known as an epistolary novel, a format of writing where the story is revealed through a series of letters, diary entries, or other documents. No matter how the story is told, at the heart of all romance novels is love. Does Pamela live happily ever after with her true love? You’ll have to download our e-book copy to find out.
In the Name of Love
William Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet Capulet quoted that romantic line on her balcony while Romeo Montague pined away in Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet. It’s one of the most tragic yet romantic love stories ever written.
Did you know there’s a name for a person who loves books? A bibliophile! The word is taken from Greek, bibilio meaning book and phile meaning lover. Was Shakespeare a bibliophile? Absolutely— Shakespeare was an avid reader of poetry and other literary works. In fact, he invented over 1700 words and one of them is kissing. There’s a clever line after Romeo kisses Juliet, she remarks, “you kiss by the book.” Curious where that quote originates? You’ll have to check out the play.
Shakespeare and Love
Romeo and Juliet - Young lovers from feuding families risk everything for romance.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Shakespeare's popular comedy of love and mistaken identity.
Shakespeare in Love - William Shakespeare has writer’s block and desperately needs a new muse.
Regency and Romance
At the beginning of the 19th century, another English writer would emerge as one of the best romance writers of all time. Jane Austen, like many female authors during the Regency era, published her novels anonymously. In Austen's best-loved novels, romance is kept at a slow simmer in the background. Her characters are portrayed as relatable people living their ordinary, uninteresting lives. Jane Austen’s books are still going strong and exerting a lasting influence on our society and culture. Themes of love, loss, and the irony of life are still relevant and timeless. Though social customs have changed, the characters’ hope and dreams, struggles to find happiness and love never grow old. Have you read a Regency romance lately?
Sense and Sensibility - Two sisters of opposing temperaments share the pangs of tragic love.
Pride and Prejudice - Sparks fly between spirited Elizabeth Bennet and rich, single and proud Mr. Darcy. But despite his rank, he finds himself falling in love with a woman beneath his class.
Mansfield Park - Taken from the poverty of her parents' home in Portsmouth, Fanny Price is brought up with her rich cousins at Mansfield Park, acutely aware of her humble rank and with her cousin Edmund as her sole ally.
Emma - A novel of Regency England that centers upon a self-assured young lady who is determined to arrange her life and the lives of those around her into a pattern dictated by her romantic fancy.
Persuasion - Eight years after Anne Elliot turned down Captain Wentworth's proposal of marriage, they meet again. Ann now recognizes the false values that persuaded her to reject Captain Wentworth, but his heart seems set upon the youth and beauty of the impetuous Louisa Musgrove.
Northanger Abbey - Young Catherine Morland's entry into nineteenth-century English society is attended by the collapse of many romantic illusions.
Other Romance Influencers
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre grows up in the home of her heartless aunt and a charity school, where she endures loneliness and cruelty. This troubled childhood strengthens Jane's natural independence and spirit leading her to accept the post of governess at Thornfield Hall, where both romance and mystery abide.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - A classic novel of consuming passions, played out against the lonely moors of northern England, recounting 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.
Georgette Heyer - Heyer wrote over fifty books during her lifetime and created the Regency England genre of romance novels. She died on July 4, 1974 at the age of 71.
The Duke and I by Julia Quinn - In an effort to keep himself footloose and single in spite of the efforts of the town's matchmakers, Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, begins a sham courtship with Daphne. This book was the inspiration for the Bridgerton television series.
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks - Noah Calhoun, recently returned from World War II in 1946, buys an old plantation home in rural North Carolina, where he contents himself with memories of his first love, a girl he met fourteen years earlier, but then she unexpectedly arrives at his door.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman - A timeless love story between a farm boy named Westley and the beautiful Princess Buttercup.
The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang - A woman struggling with burnout learns to embrace the unexpected and the man she enlists to help her.
How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole - After marrying the newly crowned King Sanyu of Njaza, Shanti Mohapi soon discovers that royal life is not what she expected and goes on the run when turmoil erupts in their kingdom and marriage.
The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa - A Washington, D.C. wedding planner falls in love with her ex-fiancé's brother.
Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston - What happens when America's First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales? What at first begins as a fake Instagram friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the presidential campaign and upend two nations. Can love save the world after all?
When it’s so bad, it’s good. Whether it’s love or revenge, you’ll get caught up in these bad romances.
Danger of Desire by Sabrina Jeffries - A high society darling whose shocking secrets are discovered by an enigmatic rakehell and the game of cat-and-mouse that ensues as she tries to protect her risky plan.
While the Duke was Sleeping by Sophie Jordan - A flower shop girl fantasizes about falling in love with a Duke. When she pulls him to safety from a potential carriage accident, he lapses into a coma and she is mistaken for his fiancée. Not everyone is fooled, especially his handsome half-brother Struan the Hot Scot. Who does she want more?
Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt - Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans. But now with the Lords of Chaos out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.