Novels About Love, Marriage or Relationships

These novels have characters who are falling in love, dating, and getting married. Often we see the life that results from these feelings and unions.

Love, Relationships, and Marriage in Literature

Middlemarch | George Eliot

The narrative is the story of many characters living in provincial England in the early 1830s. It begins with Dorothea Brooke, a selfless nineteen-year-old, beautiful and sincere, who is focused on helping others. Her younger sister Celia has more traditional tastes. They are visited by Sir Chettem, a handsome neighbor, and Mr. Causabon, a middle-aged rector devoted to religious history with the goal of writing a scholarly tome.

Read “Middlemarch”

Charming Billy | Alice McDermott

It is 1982 in the Bronx, and many people have gathered for the funeral party of Billy Lynch. Billy was an alcoholic who drained the people close to him. The narrative covers his relationship with Eva, a girl he loved; his wife Maeve, a patient, loyal woman; and the reason for his progression to full-fledged alcoholism. The multiple narrators who attend the funeral combine to give a picture of Billy.

The Portrait of a Lady | Henry James

Isabel Archer, a young, marriageable American woman is brought to England by her aunt, Mrs. Touchett. Lord Warburton, a wealthy and kind man, is taken with her. She is followed to England by Caspar Goodwood, an American suitor. Isabel is independent, seeks adventure, and has a winning personality.

Read “The Portrait of a Lady”

Sense and Sensibility | Jane Austen

Mr. John Dashwood and his wife control the family estate. His half-sisters, Elinor and Marianne, need to find husbands to ensure their futures. Elinor is rational while Marianne is passionate. They navigate their social circle with its rules of class and relationships between men and women looking for a suitable match.

Read “Sense and Sensibility”

Ship of Fools | Katherine Anne Porter

A group of travellers set out on a sea voyage from Mexico to Europe. They are made up of a few different nationalities, and everyone reacts badly to everyone else. They get frustrated with each other and quarrel. Two of the passengers, Dr. Schumann and La Condesa, develop feelings for each other.

Wuthering Heights | Emily Bronte

An orphan boy, Heathcliff, is brought to Wuthering Heights and becomes close to his benefactor’s daughter, Catherine Earnshaw. They aren’t socially equal, so Catherine refuses to marry Heathcliff, leading to a string of deranged behavior.

Read “Wuthering Heights”

Jane Eyre | Charlotte Bronte

As a child Jane lives with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, who treats her badly. Jane is sent away to a school for orphaned girls where conditions are uncomfortable and the food is insufficient. The authority figures are callous and unfriendly, with the exception of the head teacher, Miss Temple. When Miss Temple leaves the school, Jane looks for a job as a governess. She is hired by Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper for her new employer, Mr. Rochester. The estate is comfortable but sometimes unsettling, and Mr. Rochester is aloof.

Read “Jane Eyre”

The Last of the Mohicans | James Fenimore Cooper

Cora and Alice are being escorted to a fort, but are close to being ambushed when they are rescued by Natty Bumppo and his Mohican friends. They are attacked by the Iroquois, leading to the kidnapping of Cora and Alice.

Read “The Last of the Mohicans”

A Room with a View | E. M. Forster

A young English woman, Lucy, is traveling in Italy with her chaperone. They meet Mr. Emerson – a man not bound by the social order – and his son, George – free in some ways but also melancholy. Lucy likes them and runs into them a few times, eventually sharing a moment of closeness with George. She returns to London and is pursued by Cecil, a proper match of rank and class.

Read “A Room with a View”

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love | Oscar Hijuelos

Cesar Castillo stays at a hotel, drinking and listening to his band’s music. Cesar and his brother, Nestor, formed the Mambo Kings, building slowly until 1955 when they filmed a spot on I Love Lucy as Ricky’s cousins. There was a lot of drama in their relationships and personal lives.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being | Milan Kundera

Tomas is a surgeon and womanizer who falls in love with Tereza. He marries her but continues to see other women, one of whom is Sabina, an artist. Some of the same story is then told from Tereza’s point of view. We later meet Franz, a professor who has an affair with Sabina.

Far from the Madding Crowd | Thomas Hardy

Bathsheba Everdeen is a beautiful, flirtatious young woman. She attracts the attention of three men – Gabriel Oak, a poor independent farmer; William Boldwood, a farm owner; and Frank Troy, an army sergeant and womanizer. Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s farm and runs it while dealing socially with her suitors.

Read “Far from the Madding Crowd”

The English Patient | Michael Ondaatje

Late in WWII, a nurse, Hana, has stayed behind in an Italian villa with a seriously burned patient. He had crashed his plane in the desert. Caravaggio, a man who knows Hana, and whose thumbs were cut off by the Germans, comes to the villa out of concern for her. Next to arrive is a Sihk explosives expert, Kip. He’s going to defuse the bombs the Germans left behind. Hana thinks the patient is English; Caravaggio believes him to be a German spy.

A Very Long Engagement | Sebatien Japrisot

On January 1917, during World War I, five French soldiers, including a man named Manech, have been condemned to death and are being taken to the front. Over two years later, Manech’s fiancée, Matilde, is investigating the circumstances of that day. She believes Manech may still be alive. She speaks to former soldiers and scours the available documents looking for clues.

Gone with the Wind | Margaret Mitchell

Scarlet O’Hara is a young, spoiled Southern belle living at Tara, her family’s plantation. She is in love with Ashley Wilkes, who is interested in her friend Melanie. Rhett Butler is a handsome gentleman but a bit of an outcast, with some scandal around him. He takes an interest in Scarlett, and they have a hostile relationship. Eventually, the Civil War reaches Tara, disrupting Scarlett’s life and plans.

Read “Gone with the Wind”

Snow Falling on Cedars | David Guterson

When the body of a fisherman is found, Kabuo, a Japanese man, is charged with the murder. It is 1954 in Puget Sound, Washington, and there is still suspicion of Japanese people from World War II. Witnesses are called to testify, and we are given insight into their lives. The trial is covered by a reporter, Ishmael, who loved a Japanese girl long ago, now the wife of the accused.

Fathers and Sons | Ivan Turgenev

Arkady returns home after graduating, bringing with him a friend and mentor, Bazarov, a nihilist. Arkady’s father and uncle don’t like Bazarov, and there are arguments between the older and younger generations. The young men meet sisters, Anna and Katya, and they pursue them.

Read “Fathers and Sons”

Ethan Frome | Edith Wharton

This novel is the tale of its namesake, a man who was seriously injured in an accident 24 years earlier. The narrator, a visitor in Ethan’s rural New England town, had pieced together Ethan’s history. When his wife became ill, her cousin Mattie came to help them out. An attraction developed between Ethan and Mattie.

Read “Ethan Frome”

Hotel du Lac | Anita Brookner

Edith Hope is a thirty-nine-year-old romance novelist. She has left London, at the urging of her friends, for a break in a Swiss hotel. She plans on finishing her latest project during her stay, but she gets distracted with meeting and interacting with the other guests.

The Return of the Native | Thomas Hardy

Venn is a lowly mineral peddler who wanted to marry Thomasin Yeobright, a woman who was supposed to marry Damon Wildeve, but it fell through on a technicality. Wildeve is preoccupied with Eustacia, an exotic beauty. She is looking for a way out of their small Wessex town. When she hears that Clym Yeobright, a prosperous Paris diamond merchant, is returning to town, she turns her attention to him.

Read “The Return of the Native”

Daughter of Fortune | Isabele Allende

Rose and Jeremy Sommers, brother and sister, take in Eliza Sommers. Jacob, a preacher, comes to town and is attracted to Rose. Eliza is maturing, so Rose eventually tries to find her a suitor. Eliza falls in love with Joaquin, a poor young man who works for Jeremy. This sends her on a voyage.

The Three Musketeers | Alexander Dumas

A young man, d’ Artagnan, sets out for Paris to join the King’s Musketeers. After a close call, he joins the group and has a series of dangerous adventures.

Read “The Three Musketeers”

Persuasion | Jane Austen

Sir Walter Elliot is a widower with three daughters–Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary. They live at Kellynch Hall, his estate. His spending habits have put the family in debt, and he doesn’t want to give up anything to alleviate the problem. He decides to rent out his house to the Croft’s, and move into a smaller house. Years earlier, Anne had been in love with Frederick Wentworth, Mrs. Croft’s brother. Her father wouldn’t approve their marriage due to a class difference. She is looking forward to seeing him again.

Read “Persuasion”

Anna Karenina | Leo Tolstoy

Anna, a married aristocrat, is visiting her brother, Stiva. His household is in chaos because he was caught cheating with the governess. Anna meets Vronsky, an army officer, and they are attracted to each other. Stiva’s sister-in-law, Kitty, is also visiting. She is a debutante looking for a husband, and is shown attention by Vronsky and Levin, a friend of Stiva’s.

Read “Anna Karenina”

Breathing Lessons | Anne Tyler

Ira and Maggie, a married couple, are preparing to go to a funeral. On the long drive, they talk about the possibility of visiting their ex daughter-in-law and granddaughter, and they get upset with each other. It continues with the events of the funeral and the drive home.

The Good Soldier | Ford Maddox Ford

John and Florence Dowell, an American couple, spend time in a German resort town over the span of a decade where they get to know Edward and Leonora Ashburnham, a British couple. They gradually learn more about each others lives. They deal with the confinements of religion, their marriages, and health problems.

Read “The Good Soldier”

Mansfield Park | Jane Austen

Fanny Price, a young girl from a poor family, goes to live at the Bertram estate, owned by her relatives. The class difference is apparent, with most of her family keeping some distance, although she is treated well by her cousin Edmund. The oldest son, Tom, is endangering the family’s fortunes with his gambling. When Sir Bertram and Tom go away on business, the Crawfords visit, and Henry flirts with the Bertram sisters. Fanny tries to adjust to her new way of life while abiding by her conscience.

Read “Mansfield Park”

Anna Karenina | Leo Tolstoy

Stiva’s household is in an uproar after his affair is revealed. His wife, Dolly, is devastated, while Stiva excuses his actions. His friend Levin loves Kitty, a beautiful woman who is also being courted by Vronsky. Stiva’s sister Anna visits to help reconcile his marital problems. She meets Vronsky, and they feel an immediate attraction.

Read “Anna Karenina”

The Rainbow | D. H. Lawrence

The narrative covers three generations of the Brangwen family who live at the Marsh Farm. Tom Brangwen takes over the farm after his father’s death. He has some difficulties with women but eventually meets Lydia, a widow with a daughter, Anna. The story continues thru their married life, into Anna’s adulthood, and beyond.

Read “The Rainbow”

Picture Bride | Yoshiko Uchida

In 1917 Hana, a Japanese woman, is headed to the United States to meet Taro, the man she will marry. Disappointment soon sets in – Taro looks older than his picture indicated, and his business isn’t as prosperous as she had heard. She tries to adapt to her new life. She meets Kiyoshi, a friend of her husband’s and a man close to her age. They feel an attraction.

Adam Bede | George Eliot

Adam is a carpenter who loves Hetty, a beautiful but vain woman. His brother Seth loves Dinah, a kindly preacher. Arthur Donnithorne is a wealthy, dashing man. When he and Hetty meet, they feel an immediate attraction.

Read “Adam Bede”

Oroonoko; or, The Royal Slave: A True History | Aphra Behn

Behn relates the story of Oroonoko, a young warrior prince who falls in love with Imoinda, who returns his affection. The old king has also noriced Imoinda’s beauty and, even though he knows they are in love, decides to claim her for himself.

Read “Oroonoko”

Doctor Zhivago | Boris Pasternak

Yura Zhivago’s mother has died. His father had left the family and squandered their money. He commits suicide while Yura is young. His uncle looks after him. Yura eventually goes into medicine. He meets Tonia, a woman from a moneyed family, and they marry. He also meets Lara, an independent, intelligent woman, and they feel a strong attraction.

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