Love and Literature

How different writers have considered the topic of love, and its many nuances.

Romance novels
19th century
The Left Hand of Darkness

Love in Literature

For as long as humans have been telling stories, there have been stories about relationships and love. Love poetry has been around since ancient times, Renaissance playwrights have explored the complexities of romantic relationships, while classic novels like *Pride and Prejudice* have also tackled the theme.

Even today, romance novels are the best-selling books in the entire world. This is probably because love is such a deeply universal experience. We can relate to the characters’ struggles, empathize with their heartbreaks, and celebrate when they finally find happiness.

Ultimately, these stories transcend the boundaries of time and place. The feelings of longing experienced by a writer in Ancient Greece are no different to the feelings experienced by people living thousands of years later.

Ancient Love Poetry


Sappho was an Ancient Greek poet who wrote about love around the 7th century BCE. Unfortunately, most of her work has been lost, but a few fragments still survive.

In one fragment, she talks about “love the limb-loosener, the bitter-sweet torment, the wild beast there is no withstanding.” This evocative line has the power to resonate with modern audiences, just as it did with ancient audiences all those years ago.

Centuries later, in Ancient Rome, Ovid also wrote about love. The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is about two youths from rival families, who are forbidden from loving each other. This story inspired *Romeo and Juliet* hundreds of years later.

Love in Renaissance Literature

Renaissance literature is filled with stories of love and romance, often exploring the complexities of relationships in a way that rings true today.


Shakespeare’s plays are the most famous example; the story of *Romeo and Juliet* is deeply tragic, and is probably the most famous love story of all time. Other plays, like *Twelfth Night*, also explore romantic themes, but with a much happier ending.

Sonnets were also popular during the Renaissance period. These poems were used to express passionate longing and romantic desire, and often featured themes such as unrequited love. These poems were incredibly influential, and people still read sonnets like these today.

19th-Century Love Novels

In the 1800s, Jane Austen wrote a number of classic novels which are still renowned for their exploration of courtship, marriage and love.

*Pride and Prejudice* describes the growing relationship between the daughter of a country gentleman and a rich, landowning aristocrat. Other writers, like the Brontë sisters, wrote similar books in later decades, like the iconic *Wuthering Heights*.

Love and relationships in the 19th century were very different to those in the modern world, but readers still identify with these powerful stories about courtship, romance and heartbreak. These novels also starred fiercely independent female characters, which was relatively groundbreaking at a time when relationships were often controlled by men.

Love in Literature: Gatsby and Darkness

The 20th century saw some new approaches to the theme of love and relationships. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s *The Great Gatsby* is an iconic example. It took traditional ideas of love and heartbreak, but put them against the modern backdrop of alcohol, extravagance and adultery.


Decades later, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote *The Left Hand Of Darkness*. This science fiction novel took an approach to the topic of love and relationships which had never been seen before.

The book is set on an alien planet where people are neither male nor female – they can change their gender at will. The protagonist is a human diplomat who must learn to navigate the romantic norms of this new world. The book challenges traditional ideas about gender roles, and explores how love can transcend cultural boundaries.

Modern Romance Novels

In the 21st century, romance novels like *Fifty Shades of Gray* and the *Twilight* series have captivated readers around the world. These stories explore themes of love, desire, and power dynamics, but in ways not seen before.

*Fifty Shades Of Gray* explores a passionate relationship between two characters that is both thrilling and dangerous. Some parts of the book are so explicitly sexual that they have been compared to pornography – a book like this could not have been published a hundred years ago.

As for *Twilight*, these books explore love and relationships between humans and monsters, with vampire and werewolf characters. Just like *Fifty Shades of Gray*, the stories tap into the darker fantasies of readers.

Love in Films: Moonlight and La La Land

Modern films also tackle the topic of love, often to critical acclaim. The 2017 Academy Awards were fascinating, because they pitted two films against each other which each took very different approaches to relationships.

*La La Land* took a more traditional approach to the theme of love, with a man and a woman falling in love, then running into some hurdles. Other themes included the difficult choice between a successful relationship or a successful career.

*Moonlight*, on the other hand, followed a young man’s journey of self-discovery as he navigated his sexuality in an impoverished part of Miami. The film was rawer than *La La Land*, and gave a voice to groups which are typically underrepresented in romantic literature. This is probably why it won the award for Best Picture, edging out *La La Land* in the process.

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