20 of the most powerful quotes on heartbreak in literature

Words: Elinor Block

While we should prefer the glossy, Disney-­proof happy endings, complete with a dashing Prince Charming, it’s often the opposite that keeps us turning the page. Give us star‐crossed lovers, a long, drawn-­out illness, or just the fact that the two protagonists don’t ever meet at the right time, and we’re captivated.

From Heathcliff and Cathy's tumultuous affair in Wuthering Heights to Stevens in The Remains of the Day, whose love for Miss Kenton frustratingly never amounts to anything other than a few tense moments, here are some of the greatest and most powerful quotes on heartbreak ever to be committed to paper. You might want to get the tissues at the ready.

Main image: Rex Features

  • The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro

    “Indeed — why should I not admit it? — in that moment, my heart was breaking.”

    - Stevens

  • Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

    “If I said I was madly in love with you you'd know I was lying.”

    - Scarlett O'Hara

  • A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

    “Remember now and then that there is a man who would die to keep someone you love beside you.”

    - Sydney Carton

  • The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

    "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning

    — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. "

    - Nick Carraway

  • Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

    "I did fail, say what you will, for Jo wouldn't love me."

    - Laurie Laurence

  • The Little Mermaid

    “She cast one more lingering, half-fainting glance at the prince, and then threw herself from the ship into the sea, and thought her body was dissolving into foam.”

  • Memoirs Of A Geisha - Arthur Golden

    "The heart dies a slow death, shedding each hope like leaves until one day there are none. No hopes. Nothing remains."

    - Chiyo Sakamoto

  • Twelfth Night - William Shakespeare

    “If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die.”

    - Duke Orsino

  • Love in the time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    “But that afternoon he asked himself, with his infinite capacity for illusion, if such pitiless indifference might not be a subterfuge for hiding the torments of love.”

    - Florentino Ariza

  • The Wise Man’s Fear - Patrick Rothfuss

    “I thought of all the others who had tried to tie her to the ground and failed. So I resisted showing her the songs and poems I had written, knowing that too much truth can ruin a thing. And if that meant she wasn't entirely mine, what of it? I would be the one she could always return to without fear of recrimination or question. So I did not try to win her and contented myself with playing a beautiful game. But there was always a part of me that hoped for more, and so there was a part of me that was always a fool.”

    - Kvothe

  • The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

    "You don’t forget the face of the person who was your last hope."

    - Katniss Everdeen

  • Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë

    “You loved me-then what right had you to leave me? What right-answer me-for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart- you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine."

    - Heathcliff

  • Venetia - Georgette Heyer

    “There is nothing so mortifying as to fall in love with someone who does not share one's sentiments.”

    - Mrs Hendred

  • Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë

    "I was actually permitting myself to experience a sickening sense of disappointment: but rallying my wits, and recollecting my principles, I at once called my sensations to order; and it was wonderful how I got over the temporary blunder--how I cleared up the mistake of supposing Mr. Rochester's movements a matter in which I had any cause to take vital interest."

    - Jane Eyre

  • Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

    “Love. The reason I dislike that word is that it means too much for me, far more than you can understand."

    - Anna Karenina

  • Like Water for Chocolate - Laura Esquivel

    “When you're told there's no way you can marry the woman you love and your only hope of being near her is to marry her sister, wouldn't you do the same?”

    - Pedro Muzquiz

  • The Notebook

    "The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected."

  • The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

    “I won't ever leave you, even though you're always leaving me.”

    - Clare Abshire

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

    Harry was so close to the mirror now that his nose was nearly touching that of his reflection.

    "Mum?" he whispered. "Dad?"

    They just looked at him, smiling. And slowly, Harry looked into the faces of the other people in the mirror and saw other pairs of green eyes like his, other noses like his, even a little old man who looked as though he had Harry's knobbly knees -- Harry was looking at his family, for the first time in his life.

  • Atonement - Ian McEwan

    “He knew these last lines by heart and mouthed them now in the darkness. My reason for life. Not living, but life. That was the touch. And she was his reason for life, and why he must survive.”