Emma Bovary and shopping, Madame Bovary
Charles is a wet noodle; her affairs with Rodolphe and Léon end up going sour. When you really think about it, shopping is Emma Bovary’s greatest love. It also is the root of her undoing, but love hurts.
Oblomov and Olga, Oblomov
Olga comes so close to breaking Oblomov’s bad case of Oblomovitis, but things inevitably break down, and she falls in love with Stoltz. This one is really a case of what could have been, but it would have been nice to see Oblomov snap out of his eternal funk and find happiness.
Romeo and Juliet
No one in the past several hundred years would be surprised at our inclusion of Shakespeare’s tale of the two most famous star-crossed lovers, but what would a list like this be without the girl from the House of Capulet and the boy from the House of Montague?
Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl, The Letters of Menakhem-Mendl and Sheyne-Sheyndl and Motl, the Cantor’s Son
Through fictional letters translated from Yiddish between a dimwitted husband in the New World and his practical, but tough wife back home in the shtetl, Sholem Aleichem presented one of the funniest and most relatable couples written in any language.
Charles and Sebastian, Brideshead Revisited
It’s hard to read Waugh’s classic and not pick up on some very subtle overtones that Charles and Sebastian might have deeper feelings for each other than the writer is willing to come right out and say. And the fact that he doesn’t makes this love story all the more powerful.
Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, Henry and June
Anaïs isn’t getting enough passion from Hugo, but vulgar American author Henry Miller and his wife, June, provide more than she could have imagined.
Peeta and Katniss, The Hunger Games
You think he’s faking it, then you don’t think he’s faking it, rinse and repeat several times, until sooner or later you realize that our favorite young adult dystopian duo might work out after all.
Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, The Great Gatsby
Gatsby is obsessed with Daisy. How obsessed? Well, he’s built his whole life (not to mention a grand mansion) around keeping an eye on her until he can finally figure out a way to get back the one that got away.
Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, On the Road
Here’s the thing: Sal Paradise is Jack Kerouac, and Dean Moriarty is supposed to be Neal Cassady. Kerouac and all the other beats were in love with the free-spirited and ruggedly handsome Cassady, but you don’t even have to know that to see that there’s something deeper between the two as they zoom across the country.
Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, Moby Dick
Sooner or later you get the feeling that, if it were possible, the crazy-ass captain would just want to hug the massive whale — perhaps actually squeezing him to death. This isn’t exactly a buddy comedy, but nothing on Earth seems to get Ahab more stimulated than the most famous sperm whale of all time.
Leopold and Molly Bloom, Ulysses
Let’s try and not focus on the fact that she’s cheating on him. Instead, skip all the way to Molly’s soliloquy at the end and realize how in love with Leopold she was.
Robin Vote and Nora Flood, Nightwood
This 1936 roman à clef gives us the life, love, and conflict of Nora and Robin. Nightwood portrays gay characters and themes in a way that none of Barnes’ fellow expats living in Paris would have dared.
Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley, A Farewell to Arms
We all know about Ernest Hemingway’s rough-and-tumble persona, but the guy knew how to write a tender and ultimately heartbreaking love affair. This one, set against the backdrop of war, might be the finest example.
Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska, The Age of Innocence
You get the feeling that Newland wants to break out of the stuffy high society that Edith Wharton has placed him in, and that the free-spirited countess could really make him happy. It’s tragic and inevitable when, in the end, Archer sticks with May Welland out of convention and fear of stepping out of line.
Lady Chatterley and Oliver Mellors, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
How can we put this lightly? OK: Lady Chatterley just wants to ball someone, because her paralyzed husband can’t. Thankfully, the handsome gamekeeper is around, which leads to a hot time and a long history of book banning.
Alexander Portnoy and the piece of liver
The all-too-brief, and quite vulgar, image of Philip Roth’s famously sex-obsessed Portnoy getting, er, intimate with a piece of liver is gross, sure. But it’s also pretty much the ideal relationship for the character.
Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and Natasha Rostova, War and Peace
Natasha Rostova eventually finds out how in love with the prince she truly is. Sadly for her, it’s as she’s nursing him back to health after he’s wounded in battle. Sure, she eventually finds happiness, but this was the one that was supposed to be.
Nick and Amy, Gone Girl
Nick and Amy Dunne are such a fascinating couple because they’re just so toxic. Their relationship is what makes the book unforgettable.
Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, Jane Eyre
You think Jane is going to end up going to India because she’s run out of options. But then she hears Rochester calling and makes her way back to find his house has been burnt to the ground, and the man you know she loves is all sorts of banged up. Of course, none of that matters, and they live happily ever after in a spooky Brontë sort of way.
Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, the Harry Potter series
With all due respect to J.K. Rowling, we’re pretty happy that Ron and Hermione ended up together. The other way would have been far too obvious.
Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel García Márquez proves to us that what begins as an abruptly aborted adolescent infatuation can span decades, marriages, and affairs to define both characters’ lives.
Therese and Carol, The Price of Salt
Originally written under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, this Patricia Highsmith classic came out in 1952, and the love it depicts between Therese and Carol is treated about as fairly as you could hope for in the days of Harry Truman’s presidency.
Frank and April Wheeler, Revolutionary Road
Frank and April’s marriage is so memorable in Richard Yates’ classic because they’re so incredibly awful for each other. You keep hoping that they’ll ditch each other before it’s too late…
Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, Gone With the Wind
Reading Margaret Mitchell’s novel, it’s impossible not to think of Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, but that’s part of what makes these two so unforgettable.
Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen gave us literature’s most unforgettable duo since Romeo and Juliet. From the moment they meet, we just know they’re fated to end up together, even though he’s a bit of an ass. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth set the stage for all “He’s so terrible… but I love him” stories to come.