Literature is full of some of the greatest love stories of all time. Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights; Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare’s play; Cecilia and Robbie in Atonement – they’re just a few examples of literature’s most famous romances, which strike right to the core of how it feels to be deeply in love.
Whether it’s the temporary madness of falling for somebody, or the pain of unrequited love, romantic novels help us to navigate love and understand the heart – as much as that’s possible – while offering pure escapism. Most of all, they remind us of the power of love – how it can creep up unexpectedly and change your world.
Professing love doesn’t always come easily in real life, but brought to life on the page by authors such as Leo Tolstoy, the Bronte sisters, and, of course, the master himself, William Shakespeare, we can instantly relate to the turbulence of matters of the heart.
We’ve picked out some of the most romantic quotes in literature below.
“It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same…” Catherine to Nelly – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, 1847
“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” Romeo – Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, 1597
“He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.” Levin – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, 1878
“I love you, I mouthed silently into her mouth.” Rachel to Miriam – Milk Fed by Melissa Broder, 2021
“One thing she’s learnt is that falling hopelessly, helplessly in love is actually a highly selective process.” Carol – Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, 2019
“I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest – blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully is he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do of the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together. To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company.” Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, 1847
“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” Darcy to Elizabeth – Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen, 1813
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.” Wentworth to Anne – Persuasion by Jane Austen, 1817
“I’ve never had a moment’s doubt. I love you. I believe in you completely. You are my dearest one. My reason for life.” Cecilia to Robbie – Atonement by Ian McEwan, 2001
“He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.” Nick on Gatsby and Daisy – The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
“When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are to become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the desire to mate every second of the day. It is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every part of your body. No … don’t blush. I am telling you some truths. For that is just being in love; which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? But it is!” Dr Iannis to Pelagia – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières, 1994
“All was over in a moment. I had fulfilled my destiny. I was a captive and a slave. I loved Dora Spenlow to distraction! She was more than human to me. She was a Fairy, a Sylph, I don’t know what she was – anything that no one ever saw, and everything that everybody ever wanted. I was swallowed up in an abyss of love in an instant. There was no pausing on the brink; no looking down, or looking back; I was gone, headlong, before I had sense to say a word to her.” David Copperfield on Dora Spenlow – David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, 1849
“I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.” Florentino Ariza to Fermina Daza – Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, 1985
“You and I, it’s as though we have been taught to kiss in heaven and sent down to earth together, to see if we know what we were taught.” Doctor Zhivago to his mistress Lara – Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, 1957
“I thought an hour ago that I loved you more than any woman has ever loved a man, but a half hour after that I knew that what I felt before was nothing compared to what I felt then. But ten minutes after that, I understood that my previous love was a puddle compared to the high seas before a storm.” Buttercup to Westley – The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman, 1973
“We are asleep until we fall in love!” Denisov to Sonya – War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, 1867
“I cannot let you burn me up, nor can I resist you. No mere human can stand in a fire and not be consumed.” Christabel LaMotte to Randolph Ash – Possession by A S Byatt, 1990
“This was love: a string of coincidences that gathered significance and became miracles.” Olanna on Odenigbo – Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2006
“Now, I’m not going to deny that I was aware of your beauty. But the point is, this has nothing to do with your beauty. As I got to know you, I began to realise that beauty was the least of your qualities. I became fascinated by your goodness. I was drawn in by it. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. And it was only when I began to feel actual, physical pain every time you left the room that it finally dawned on me: I was in love, for the first time in my life. I knew it was hopeless, but that didn’t matter to me. And it’s not that I want to have you. All I want is to deserve you. Tell me what to do. Show me how to behave. I’ll do anything you say.” Vicomte Sébastien de Valmont to Madame Marie de Tourvel – Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos, 1782
“All hopes of eternity and all gain from the past he would have given to have her there, to be wrapped warm with him in one blanket, and sleep, only sleep. It seemed the sleep with the woman in his arms was the only necessity.” Olivier Mellors on Lady Chatterley – Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence, 1928