Love, so the song goes, is a many-splendoured thing, and fiction has been trying for years both to promote and subvert the cliches it encourages. We turn to literature to learn what love is and what it should be, and readers of this collection will find consolation and inspiration in equal measure from some of the sharpest observers of this most essential human emotion.
In tracing the lineaments of `English love' through the fiction of 200 years we can see something of its infinite variety and of the shifting rules of the game. Sylvia Plath seems closer to Aphra Behn than to Elizabeth Gaskell or even Thomas Hardy in her concept of feminine modesty, while violence, or sheer incomprehension, enter the definition in the worlds of D. H. Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield. Romantic love is at the heart of the `love story' and these stories, while taking love as their
subject, do not always follow the conventional route. Bittersweet endings, ironic angles on traditional platitudes and other surprises make the insights of writers such as Anne Ritchie, Somerset Maugham or V. S. Pritchett always fresh and challenging. Simple or sophisticated, sometimes comic and
often very moving, these stories bring a delightful perspective to the mysteries of the English in love.
Lord Northcliffe Professor of English at University College, London, John Sutherland has edited numerous World's Classics, including novels by Anthony Trollope and Wilkie Colins. He is Associate General-Editor of Oxford Popular Fiction, and is currently editing the Oxford Companion to Popular Fiction.