What Makes a Great Love Story?

Elizabeth Barret-Browning
By The Roycrofters (Little Journeys To The Homes Of Famous Women) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

February 14 is Valentine’s Day. Marina Santee and Adam Navis look at the love story of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. And they look at why people like love stories like this one.


Voice 1

Hello and welcome to Spotlight. I'm Marina Santee.

Voice 2

And I'm Adam Navis. This programme uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

February the 14th is Valentine's Day! People in many countries celebrate this special day devoted to expressing love - romantic love. A husband sends flowers to his wife, saying ‘I love you'. A hopeful young man sends a message to the girl he likes, often without signing his name. Sometimes the girl sends the message to the young man. Often it is light hearted, full of fun. Companies that sell gifts and flowers do good business. But deep down, there is a basic understanding of one key fact: love is important. And it is worth celebrating!

Voice 3

"If you have love, you do not need to have anything else. But if you do not have love, it does not matter what else you do have."

Voice 2

We have been writing about love for centuries in stories, poems and songs. Some love stories are difficult to forget; they affect their readers deeply. Other love stories or poems do not have that same kind of effect. So what makes some love stories easier to remember than others? In today's Spotlight programme, we try to answer the question: ‘what makes a great love story?'

Voice 3

"How do I love you? Let me count the ways.
I love you as deep and as wide and as high
as my spirit can reach...
I love you with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! And, if God choose,
I will but love you better after death."

Voice 2

A woman called Elizabeth Barrett-Browning wrote this poem. She was a writer who lived in the 19th century. The poem describes her husband, Robert. Robert Browning was also a writer. And it was writing that brought them together. However, their love story was full of difficulties. Ruby Jones tells their story:

Voice 5

Elizabeth was the oldest child of 12 children. Her father was a wealthy businessman. The family lived a pleasant life in the English countryside. And from a young age, Elizabeth showed that she had a gift for writing. When she was 15, Elizabeth suffered a serious back injury. And for the rest of her life, her movements were limited. In 1838, Elizabeth's father decided that the family should move to London. There, Elizabeth continued her writing. She published several books of poems and wrote for some magazines. Other writers read her work and wanted to visit her at home. They wanted the chance to meet this gifted new writer. But Elizabeth's father was a very severe man. And he did not encourage visitors to the house. However, one man did not take ‘no' for an answer. He was a poet, named Robert Browning. And in 1845, he wrote to Elizabeth. He said:

Voice 4

"I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett. I do, as I say, love these books with all my heart. And I love you too."

Voice 5

Elizabeth and Robert managed to meet in the summer of that same year. And they wrote many letters to each other. These letters show how a deep love grew between them. But there was a problem: Elizabeth's father. Elizabeth knew that her father would never permit her to marry Robert. She felt like a prisoner in her father's house. But Robert had come to rescue her! Later she wrote about Robert in a poem:

Voice 3

"My love, I have had a heavy heart
From year to year, until I saw your face."

Voice 5

Elizabeth struggled with her feelings. She loved her father - but she also loved Robert. Finally, one year later, Robert and Elizabeth married in secret. They left London, and they lived happily in Italy for the next 15 years. Elizabeth's father never forgave her for leaving him. He died ten years after she went away.

Voice 1

Many people would say that this is an example of a great love story. Why? Maybe it is because Elizabeth and Robert's love was not easy. Their love had to experience separation, sickness, a father's disapproval - and yet it survived.

Voice 2

We use the word ‘love' in several ways. We may love our children, but we say: "I love the colour orange!" Robert Browning loved Elizabeth's poetry, but he loved her in a different way.

But one thing we can say - love has led people to write some great poetry. Listen to this. You may be surprised how old it is!

Voice 3

"Place me like a lock over your heart...
For love is as strong as death...
It burns like a huge, powerful fire.
Many waters cannot cool down love. Rivers cannot wash it away. People cannot buy or sell love - no matter how much they offer. Winter is past. The rain has stopped. Flowers cover the earth. It is time to sing!"

Voice 2

This is part of a poem that is 3,000 years old. You can find the whole poem in the Christian Bible. It is called ‘the Song of Songs'.

Voice 1

So far we have talked about the kind of love that is between a man and a woman. The way this kind of love grows is called romance. It makes a feel-good story in a book or a film. But romance is only the beginning. Robert McKee is a writer and teacher. He said:

Voice 6

"Love is something far greater than romance. Love is a feeling that we carry in our heart for someone all the time. It does not matter if they are with us or not. It does not matter if they are dead or not. Love has no conditions."

"Love stories that end in a tragic way do not mean that love is not present! In fact, it is love tested to its limit. It is not easy love. It is hard love - love that requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice."

Voice 1

Sacrifice, hard work, being tested to the limit - this does not sound like a lot of fun! And yet it is this kind of love that seems to capture our imagination. This is what makes a good story. Such love puts other people before itself. This love is even prepared to die in the place of someone else. Again, the Christian Bible gives us some poetic words. This time the words of Jesus himself:

Voice 4

‘No one has greater love than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Voice 1

The writer and producer of today's programme was Ruby Jones. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can hear this programme again on our website. Our address is www.radioenglish.net. This programme is called, "What Makes a Great Love Story?" Thank you for listening today. Goodbye.


What is your favorite love story? What do you like about it?


Avatar Spotlight
said on February 13, 2009

it’s a great vision ,i really agrees the authors point of view,thank u to this lovable program ,
thank u

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 14, 2011

beautiful stories
love is something beautiful

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 14, 2011

Hello every body from beautiful country Russia. Wow this just amazing article. About four and half years ago i didn’t like that day because i didn’t have my second half. And before in school when boys and girls gave gifts each other i didn’t like that day. But when i met my second half my life has been change and now i don’t seem my life without her. I LOVE YOU BABE!!! By the way we spent all day today together and gave each other Valentine’s hearts))) And i with all people in the world that you will find your second half.

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White Hands
said on February 15, 2011

I have thought valentine’day is just a day to confessing love between school students. Hm~~  Love is so great ,beautiful, worth celebrating feeling. Thank for good article! ^^

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 16, 2011

Love is love.
Blue is not Black.
I think .

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said on February 20, 2011

Love is not a part of my life now. I used to have a girl friend, a beautiful and talent girl friend. But one day, she left(?) me and went away. She told me that:” i hate you and i don?t want to meet you again”. After these words, she hasn?t tell me anything different. And me, i thought i could not always keep her by my side, she’s gone and she will back. But i was wrong. Now, i’m single and never can forget her.

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said on February 28, 2015

I believe that: “True love happens only once in life”. Beautiful story.

uksha's avatar
said on February 01, 2017

Hi, it´s a smart.

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Aziz Love
said on February 03, 2017

My favorite love story is Romeo and Juliet.

“Never was a story of more woe, Than this of Juliet and her Romeo”.

Because it is a love among enemy ..

Love that determines destiny.

Love, who does not know the parentage,
do not enmity and hatred presets without guilt parentage.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on February 05, 2017

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the questions above
Date: Sunday 05, February 2017
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Marina Santee, Adam Navis, and Ruby Jones:

At first, I want to thank you for bringing us readers and learners of English more one great article, thanks!
My favorite love story is my grandparents’ love story. Like their pure love without no condition to love each other. They were a poor couple and they built their things together with hard work. So, they lived together until the end of their lives when they died.

God bless you
Severino Ramos

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said on February 06, 2017

thank you Marina Santee, Adam Navis… that was great