Top 5 Favorite Romantic Partners in Classic Literature

Hi everyone! After spending quite some time pondering the suffering of soldiers wounded at Gettysburg I thought I needed a quick pick-me-up. 🙂 Maybe you do too.

I feel we need some love right now so I’m calling all readers to share the ladies and gentlemen they adore. I mean, who doesn’t like romance done right? Even tragic romance has it’s place.

So here are my romantic favorites:

1.Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and Natasha Rostova in War and Peace

When your husband avoids coming into the bedroom because he hears you sobbing (and he knows he hasn’t done anything wrong), the book must be good. And War and Peace is THAT good. As some of you know I’m weirdly obsessed with military matters and men in uniform (even though I hate war). I’ll admit that a few times I was so caught up in the romances that I took little peeks ahead while the men talked strategy — but for the most part this book had the perfect mix. Prince Andrei and Natasha live on in my life through my two favorite pet sheep. Honestly I could have picked a few of the other couples — even the bad ones because they were great characters, but they didn’t make me cry — for days.

 2. Dorothea and Edward Casaubon in Middlemarch

I was just reading about this doomed couple. It seems some men feel that George Eliot was too hard on Casaubon, the sour, old intellectual  Dorothea foolishly marries.

“What did the world lose, when Dorothea destroyed Casaubon? The novel gives only slanted, derisive glimpses. But we know that the provisional title of his book was The Key to All Mythologies. He intended to show ‘that all the mythical systems or erratic mythical fragments in the world were corruptions of a tradition originally revealed’.” A Great Intellect Destroyed

I’m going to have to disagree. Casaubon was awful. I loved seeing how the two crippled each other in the mismatch but was obviously glad when Casaubon died (that sounds horrible, doesn’t it?). Don’t get me wrong. I felt sympathy for Casaubon because he lived so long in his head that he became worthless in relationships, but … maybe I just wouldn’t want to be in relationship with a genius. Super-driven, self-involved men may do great things, but they’re not  much fun to be around and frankly Casaubon’s ego and insecurity were more unattractive than Eliot’s description of his looks. Part of me may have disliked him because I see tendencies in myself of obsession and crankiness but I won’t tell my husband that!


3. Susan Burling Ward and Oliver Ward in Angle of Repose

I’m sensing a pattern here. Not the happy list I was hoping for. Wallace Stegner wrote such great stories about marriage and this one is particularly bittersweet. What happens when a bright and hardworking engineer marries a cultured Eastern girl and they move West to further his career in the late nineteenth century? There are so many poignant scenes of these two people who truly want what’s best for the other yet are unable to bridge their differences.

I personally felt more sympathy for Oliver who worries throughout about making enough money and a name for himself so that his lonely wife will be able to have the cultured life she misses. When I read it I was younger and didn’t see that so often I expected men to think like women. I also tended to think men who weren’t into reading Jane Austen were primitive apes. Yep. I was dumb.

This book opened my mind to the ways men express love and concern. Susan realized a tad too late. Sigh.

The White Cockade by Edward Martin
The White Cockade by Edward Martin


4. Fred and Mary in Middlemarch

Okay, so two romantic couples from the same book. Oh, well. It’s my list and finally I have a happy couple to talk about. This romance was adorable. Am I right? Fred is just your average, silly, young guy. He gets into horse and gambling troubles and makes a hash of most things but he’s sweet and in love with Mary, a girl who’s plain and poor. She’s also a moral giant but strangely likeable (even though I tend to dislike giant moral people).

Middlemarch is a pretty big book so we get plenty of time to see how this little story progresses and how Mary holds her ground against Fred’s flirtations only to be rewarded in the end. If only all romances could end this way.

5. Laura and Almanzo Wilder in The Little House Series

Please don’t roll your eyes if you think the little house books are only for children. You need to read the last few books of the series again so you can feel the wistful memories Laura is sharing about her family seep into your soul. What I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE about Almanzo  is that he only appears for moments in a few of the books but we know his appearances foreshadow a real-life marriage that lasted for years and years. In one of the books Laura is lost and spots Almanzo and his brother Royal. Laura notes the sparkle in Almanzo’s eyes as he looks at her. In another place Almanzo and Royal feed Pa when he’s starving during a winter of shortage and blizzard.

Whenever Almanzo is written about he is brave and good and quiet and pretty much perfect. Through these fictionalized accounts of Laura’s life we get to feel her deep love for her husband. Knowing that she couldn’t actually finish her final book after Almanzo died gives the written and published portion such power. Laura’s writing is deceptively simple and pulls on every heart-string for me — so much so that in writing my own novels I tucked in little bits of Laura here and there — like adding Morgan horses (Almanzo’s favorite breed) and marrying off an ill-fated character to a man named Royal Wilder). 🙂

So now it’s your turn. Who do you love and why? Tells us in the comments below.


Adrienne Morris is the author of

The Tenafly Road Series

The Tenafly Road Series
“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

***Do you love reading the classics? Join the club! THE CLASSICS CLUB

13 responses to “Top 5 Favorite Romantic Partners in Classic Literature”

  1. I don’t really have time to take a turn, but I like your take on Middlemarch and agree with the War and Peace couple. I’ve not read the other two, but I’m not into reading Jane Austen!


  2. So you’re a borrower! A Morgan horse for Royal Wilder – love that you pay homage to a favorite writer in this way.

    Five of my favorite romance books: Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. Clare waits for Henry through his bizarre disappearances and accepts him as he is – struggling with his compromised nature. This is true love – when we accept the one we love and remain loyal.

    David Guterson’s Snow falling on Cedars. Ishmael and Hatsue are lovers in the vein of Romeo and Juliet – on opposite cultural sides during WWII.

    Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, and the great love between Yuri and Lara that spans the Russian revolution. I liked this one because Tonya is a loving character who is betrayed undeservedly.
    Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, the Civil War story of Southern belle Ada and the deserter Inman, another doomed romance. I’ve always felt Ada didn’t deserve Inman but I also think their trials are parallel to the tragedy of the war itself.

    Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Jo and Laurie’s great love doesn’t survive growing up and maturing differently. I felt regret that Jo wasn’t rewarded with marriage to the mad she loved so completely, but I was pretty young when I first read the book.

    Ian McEwan’s Atonement whose misguided teenage character Briony sets in motion a horrible miscarriage of justice during WWII. Cecelia and Robbie are lovers in a way a child can’t comprehend. Her self-righteous act can only be rectified in her imagination.

    Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. The burned man, Almasy, and Katherine are at the center of a complex story whose several lovers, notably Hana and Kip, are impacted by their temporary assignment to North Africa during WWII.

    OK, so I can’t count to five without getting to seven. And I do notice that all these stories take place during wartimes. What does that say about doomed lovers?


    • I guess war just heightens the tensions of love. I used to think I didn’t like tortured love stories but with age I appreciate them more (what does that say about my take on love? LOL). I bet I couldn’t stick it out with a time-traveler. 😉

      I had such a hard time with the ending of Little Women–I still do. Especially after I read somewhere that Alcott was annoyed that everyone expected Laurie and Jo together and in a fit of spite refused to let them have a happy ending (not sure if this is true but it still bothers me).


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