Valentine’s Day is all about romance. But besides flowers, chocolates, and a night out, romance novels fit right in. Instead of writing a subjective list of Best Romance Novels, I chose to do a different type of list. Here are the Five Best Selling Romance Novels, some old, some relatively recent and two penned by Jane Austen.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – The birth of the English novel in the first half of the 18th century is primarily attributed to stories written by male authors such as Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding. In the novels written by Austen they take on distinctively modern characters in the realistic treatment of unremarkable people in the unremarkable situations of everyday life. In her six best known books—Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion—Austen created the comedy of manners of middle-class life in the England of her time, revealing the possibilities of “domestic” literature.
However, women of Austen’s era were not to pursue fame and a career. They were discouraged by their husbands and families from publishing their works. Austen was fortunate to have a family who encouraged her writing, but she published anonymously. Austen’s father, the Reverend Austen, even approached a publisher for Jane when she was 22. Later, Jane’s brother acted as her representative with the publisher under which she served.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – In Gabaldon’s own words from her author website, she explains how the Outlander series of books came to be: “The Outlander series started by accident in the late 1980s when I decided to write a novel for practice. My goals were: 1. To learn what it took to write a novel, and 2. To decide whether I really wanted to do that for real.” First published in the U.S. in 1990, the Outlander series contains both novels and novellas. Now a popular series on the Starz cable network.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – One of literature’s Brontë sisters (Emily wrote Wuthering Heights and Anne penned Agnes Grey), the sisters faced the same problems dealt with by Austen, in that society considered it unseemly for women to write. Charlotte, however, was fearless, paying to have a volume of poems by her and her younger sisters published under pseudonyms, an unusually ambitious act for a woman of her era.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – The novel earned Mitchell a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and it was the source of the classic film of the same name released in 1939. Mitchell grew up in a family of storytellers who regaled her with firsthand accounts of their experiences during the American Civil War, which had ended just 35 years before her birth. Personally, for all of Scarlett’s swooning over Ashley Wilkes, I’ve never considered Gone with the Wind to be a romance novel but a novel of a spoiled Southern woman who never learns from her mistakes. But, that of course, is just me.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – Published in November 1811, but like its predecessor, Pride and Prejudice, was published anonymously. Austen’s authorship was announced to the world by her surviving brother Henry, shortly after her death in 1817.
Happy Valentine’s Day!