How Does Literature Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me… for my bad jokes. The song association isn’t an invalid answer, there are so many possible ones. For as long as we’ve had written language, authors and writers have tried to put to page that indelible combination which makes a life worth living. How to describe that myriad of connection we have? With our family, friends, good old-fashioned lovers? As with many things, the Ancient Greeks made a solid early attempt. There are a lot of Greek words for love, and in honor of Saint Valentine’s day on February 14th, here are some recommendations for four major ones.


If there’s one kind of love you think of when you picture romance books, it’s eros. The sweeping passion! The overwhelming fervor! The bodices, ripped! Look no further than the eight-volume romance series-turned-Netflix sensation: Bridgerton. Each novel (and season) tells the story of a different Bridgerton sibling, often struggling against the Regency rules of decorum and propriety as they try to find love and often spouses. The Duke and I‘s tale of Daphne’s first official season out in society is where many readers enter, but still more tout her brother Anthony’s convoluted relationships with the Sharma sisters (one who’s right on paper and one he truly wants) in The Viscount Who Loved Me as the best entry.

Eros isn’t all about bodice ripping, mind you. It’s about a connection that overrides, that transforms. You’ve seen it in every love story with fake dating, or some similarly bizarre arrangement that gives way to real romance. Consider the teen romance To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, which both as a novel and film features Lara Jean and Peter lying about being together for high school drama reasons… until they aren’t quite lying anymore. More adult in execution but comparable in premise, The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang follows autistic woman Stella Lane’s attempt to understand romance by paying a charming male escort to teach her, which arguably goes better than she ever could have expected.


Agape is traditionally translated to “charity”, and described as an altruistic love, almost sacrificial in nature; we use it in literature in two main ways. Firstly, agape might describe the relationship between spouses. Think of the sort of deep comfort and fondness of the love between a married couple (in contrast to the sort of manic passion of young lovers in eros).

Alternatively, it also makes an appearance in theological works, especially Christian ones. Agape is often used to represent the sort of unconditional fondness of God towards humanity. As far as reading for the sort of stout, marital love side of things consider The Bear Came Over the Mountain by Canadian Nobel laureate Alice Munro (collected with other short stories of hers in our catalogue) and its tale of love in the face of Alzheimer’s. Less intense but no less affectionate is Linus Baker‘s exploration of an orphanage for magical children and its enigmatic caretaker in The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune.


Better writers than me have had plenty to say about philia. Aristotle was the first to try and codify this sort of platonic love (followed later, as the wording might just suggest, by Plato), and more recently Hiyao Miyazaki described writing his films for Studio Ghibli with the following:

“I’ve become skeptical of the unwritten rule that just because a boy and girl appear in the same feature, a romance must ensue. Rather, I want to portray a slightly different relationship, one where the two mutually inspire each other to live – if I’m able to, then perhaps I’ll be closer to portraying a true expression of love.”

One film that really capitalizes on this dynamic is the Academy Award winning Spirited Away, as 10-year-old Chihiro navigates the spirit world she finds herself trapped in with the mysterious Haku.


Last but certainly not least is storge, often most directly translated to represent familial love. It’s close to philia and agape, but with an emphasis on shared experience. In an ideal storge set-up, your immediate family is close and loving for literally your entire life, and there’s a sort of unshakable strength poured into the foundations of those relationships. Think the classic sibling dynamic, that willingness to squabble at a moment’s notice tempered with an equal inclination towards doing literally anything for one another when it counts.

Case in point is C.S. Lewis’ children’s classic The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, as four English siblings tumble into the magical world of Narnia and must contend together with dark forces ranging from powerful witches to tempting Turkish delight. Continuing this post’s somewhat accidental theme of books with recent screen adaptations, Little Women by Louis Mary Alcott is a mediation of the lives of four sisters as they grow from little girls to, well, women.