Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
Technically, Jane Eyre is not a romance but a bildungsroman, a tale of moral growth from child to adulthood and overcoming the odds. But there is a fair amount of romance in it, in much the same way Pride and Prejudice is a comedy of manners, not a romance. So in the spirit of romance (because I’ve only ever read two romance genre novels and they were freaking awful) I’m choosing Jane Eyre as my favourite romance novel.
The main reason I love this book so much: the romance isn’t about two incredibly beautiful people falling in ‘love’ and finding minor obstacles to overcome. It isn’t a tale of two beauties: Jane is exceedingly plain and Rochester is in fact kind of ugly. Too many aspects of romance have people immediately attracted to impossible to resist mates, they’re positioned to be the most attractive people on the planet: where is the challenge in that? Where is the drama?
So looking past the physical aspects of their relationship, they delve into personality, which I personally believe is the most important aspect of a relationship. Their relationship woes are pretty major: a previous marriage, Jane’s lack of money and standing, Jane leaving Rochester’s employment and finding other suitors etc.
Jane is such a great character. She’s so totally independent and strong. I mean, she totally loves Rochester but because of her morals, she won’t marry him while he’s still married to the crazy woman in the attic (a recurring Gothic theme). She leaves even though she has nothing, and then it turns out she inherits a great deal of moolah, so she goes back to find Rochester and finds him disabled and destitute, but still loves him anyway and wants to be with him. My favourite quote from any book comes from this novel:
“Reader, I married him.”
Damn right, she did!