Anna Karenina seems to have everything – beauty, wealth, popularity, and an adored son. But she feels that her life is empty until the moment she encounters the impetuous officer Count Vronsky. Their subsequent affair scandalizes society and family alike, and soon brings jealousy and bitterness in its wake.
Contrasting with this tale of love and self-destruction is the vividly observed story of Levin, a man striving to find contentment and a meaning to his life – and also a self-portrait of Tolstoy himself.
Orphaned Jane Eyre grows up in the home of her heartless aunt, where she endures loneliness and cruelty, and at a charity school with a harsh regime. This troubled childhood strengthens Jane’s natural independence and spirit – which prove necessary when she finds a position as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him and live with the consequences, or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving the man she loves? A novel of intense power and intrigue, Jane Eyre (1847) dazzled and shocked readers with its passionate depiction of a woman’s search for equality and freedom.
Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile, Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love – and its threatened loss – the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.
Love in a Cold Climate Nancy Mitford
Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate is a wickedly funny satire, brilliantly lampooning upper-class society. When Polly, a beautiful aristocrat, declares her love for her married, lecherous uncle – who also happens to be her mother’s former lover – she sparks off a scandal that has both disastrous and delicious consequences.
Love in a Cold Climate is an unforgettable tale of the absurdities and obsessions of the elite.
Tender is the Night Scott Scott Fitzgerald
The French Riviera in the 1920s was ‘discovered’ by Dick and Nicole Diver who turned it into the playground of the rich and glamorous. Among their circle is Rosemary Hoyt, the beautiful starlet, who falls in love with Dick and is enraptured by Nicole, unaware of the corruption and dark secrets that haunt their marriage. When Dick becomes entangled with Rosemary, he fractures the delicate structure of his relationship with Nicole and the lustre of their life together begins to tarnish.
‘To write the story of your life, you must first have had one’
Inspired by his scandalous real-life affair with the flamboyant woman who called herself George Sand, Alfred de Musset’s Confession is a searingly honest, passionate account of a young man’s rite of passage. It tells the story of Octave, desperate to be more than an ‘average man’, who searches for happiness first as a debauched libertine, until his mistress Elise is unfaithful, and then in an austere life in the countryside, where he falls in love with the selfless Brigitte. But as he becomes consumed by insane jealousy and convinced that Brigitte will betray him, Octave brings about his own destruction. A vivid, opulent portrayal of obsession and despair, this is also a philosophical portrait of a man and his times, expressing the failed idealism of the Romantic generation of the early nineteenth century.
‘May you not rest, as long as I am living. You said I killed you – haunt me, then’
Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before: of the intense passion between the foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and her betrayal of him. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past.
Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her confident presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted Shepard Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and when tragedy ensues, the stability of the whole community is threatened. The first of his works set in Wessex, Thomas Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.
When Meaulnes first arrives at the local school in Sologne, everyone is captivated by his good looks, daring and charisma. But when Meaulnes disappears for several days, and returns with tales of a strange party at a mysterious house and a beautiful girl hidden within it, he has been changed forever. In his restless search for his Lost Estate and the happiness he found there, Meaulnes, observed by his loyal friend Francois, may risk losing everything he ever had. Poised between youthful admiration and adult resignation, Alain-Fournier’s compelling narrator carries the reader through this evocative and unbearably poignant portrayal of desperate friendship and vanished adolescence.
At twenty-seven, Anne Elliot is no longer young and has few romantic prospects. Eight years earlier, she had been persuaded by her friend Lady Russell to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, a handsome naval captain with neither fortune nor rank. What happens when they encounter each other again is movingly told in Jane Austen’s last completed novel. Set in the fashionable societies of Lyme Regis and Bath, Persuasion is a brilliant satire of vanity and pretension, but, above all, it is a love story tinged with the heartache of missed opportunities.
Brought up at Dorlcote Mill, Maggie Tulliver worships her brother Tom and is desperate to win the approval of her parents, but her passionate, wayward nature and her fierce intelligence bring her in to constant conflict with her family. As she reaches adulthood, the clash between their expectations and her desires is painfully played out as she finds herself torn between her relationships with three very different men: her proud and stubborn brother, a close friend who is also the son of her family’s worst enemy and a charismatic but dangerous suitor. With its poignant portrayal of sibling relationships, The Mill on the Floss is considered George Eliot’s most autobiographical novel; it is also one of her most powerful and moving.
The Dowells, a wealthy American couple, have been close friends with the Ashburnhams for years. Edward Ashburnham, a first-rate soldier, seems to be the perfect English gentleman, and Leonora his perfect wife, but beneath the surface their marriage seethes with unhappiness and deception. Our only window on the strange tangle of events surrounding Edward is provided by John Dowell, the husband he deceives. Gradually Dowell unfolds a devastating story, in which everyone’s honesty is in doubt. This extraordinary novel of passion and betrayal is a masterpiece of narrative skill and emotional depth.
David, a young American in 1950s Paris, is waiting for his fiancee to return from vacation in Spain. But when he meets Giovanni, a handsome Italian barman, the two men are drawn into an intense affair. After three months David’s fiancee returns, and, denying his true nature, David rejects Giovanni for a ‘safe’ future as a married man. His decision eventually brings tragedy.
Full of passion, regret and longing, this story of a fated love triangle has become a landmark in gay writing, but its appeal is broader. James Baldwin caused outrage as a black author writing about white homosexuals, yet for him the issues of race, sexuality and personal freedom were eternally intertwined.
When John Franklin brings his plane down into Occupied France at the height of the Second World War, there are two things in his mind – the safety of his crew and his own badly injured arm. It is a stroke of unbelievable luck when the family of a French farmer risk their lives to offer the airmen protection. During the hot summer weeks that follow, the English officer and the daughter of the house are drawn inexorably to each other . . .