Love Story by author Erich Segal, The Classic Tale of Opposites Attracting Against All Odds


Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl falls in love with boy. Boy and girl face obstacles but ultimately end up together. It’s a tale as old as time, right? While this may seem like an oversimplified synopsis, it actually sums up the basic premise of what is perhaps one of the most renowned romance novels of the 20th century – Erich Segal’s “Love Story.”

Published in 1970, this book captures the essence of young, all-consuming love in a way that deeply resonated with readers. Even over 50 years later, this novel continues to occupy a special place in pop culture and the romantic literary canon.

So what exactly makes this love story so iconic? Let’s take a nostalgic stroll down memory lane and explore the key elements that contribute to this novel’s enduring legacy.

Love Story by author Erich Segal

You can find Love Story by author Erich Segal on your favorite bookstore, including and Amazon UK.

The Meet-Cute of Oliver and Jenny

The story follows wealthy Harvard student Oliver Barrett IV as he meets and falls head over heels for Jenny Cavilleri, a middle-class Radcliffe student. Their first encounter sets the tone for their banter-filled relationship.

Oliver needs a book for class that has already been checked out of the library. The person who has it? Jenny. He heads to her dorm room to ask her to return it so he can use it. She refuses in a playful way, challenging him. And thus begins their fiery back-and-forth dynamic.

This initial meeting captures that feeling of unexpected electricity when you’re drawn to someone. It’s not insta-love at first sight; it’s intrigue and attraction that grabs you. Their spirited exchange highlights their contrasting backgrounds and values too. And that tension between differences and magnetic chemistry becomes a central theme.

Defying Conventions and Authority

A huge part of this story’s appeal lies in its defiance of conventions and expectations. Jenny comes from a humble, working-class background whereas Oliver was born into wealth and the Ivy League elite. On paper, they shouldn’t work given their vastly different upbringings. But they challenge traditional norms and follow their hearts.

Oliver’s wealthy father vocally opposes his son’s choice to be with Jenny, threatening to cut him off financially. But Oliver pushes back, refusing to bend to his family’s wishes if it means losing Jenny. He prioritizes love over status.

Similarly, Jenny remains devoted to Oliver despite outside perceptions that she’s not good enough for an upstanding Harvard man. She stays true to her feelings rather than bowing down to snobby societal pressures.

Erich Segal captures the rebelliousness of young love – that feeling that you and your soulmate can take on the world no matter what obstacles you face. Oliver and Jenny embody that recklessly brave spirit as they fight for their relationship.

Whirlwind Romance of Passion and Spontaneity

While defiant, Oliver and Jenny’s relationship also contains all the hallmarks of an intoxicating, whirlwind college romance. After their initial meet-cute, they embark on an impulsive love affair filled with passion and spontaneity.

Despite their argumentative first encounter, it’s no time before they fall into each other’s arms. Their attraction is visceral and intense. As their relationship progresses, they spend endless days wrapped up in each other, often skipping class and responsibilities to simply be together.

In one memorable scene, Jenny playfully dares Oliver to sprint across Harvard Yard naked late at night. He accepts the challenge, baring all under the moonlight as Jenny cheers him on. This impulsive moment encapsulates their reckless, spirited love and the sheer fun they find in each other.

Throughout the novel, their romantic escapades break all the rigid “rules” of courtship, giving us exhilarating glimpses into young, boundless love.

The “Opposites Attract” Trope Personified

As mentioned earlier, Oliver and Jenny don’t have much in common on the surface. He comes from old money, she comes from a working-class background. He’s privileged, she’s scrappy. He’s poised for a successful finance career, while she dreams of teaching children with special needs.

But in many ways, it’s precisely these differences that draw them to each other and complement the relationship. Oliver is enchanted by Jenny’s quick wit and her refreshing candor so unlike the fake pleasantries of elite social circles. She grounds him and teaches him not to take himself so seriously.

And Jenny finds Oliver’s reserved nature and refinement a soothing contrast to her own fiery passion. He calms and steadies her.

Their opposing natures balance each other out – it’s a case study of the “opposites attract” trope. Oliver expands his perspective beyond the insular, wealthy world he’s always known through open-hearted Jenny. And she softens a bit, her rough edges smoothed by his steadiness.

They still clash and poke fun at their differences. But they also learn from each other, growing together through their diversity. It’s a powerful testament to how contrasting worldviews can unite and strengthen when love is present.

The Infatuation of Young Love

Erich Segal beautifully captures the all-consuming nature of young love and infatuation. When Oliver and Jenny first get together, they are fully absorbed in their own world, thinking of little else but each other.

Jenny spends hours waiting by the phone for Oliver’s nightly call, bubbling with excitement at the sound of his voice. They lounge around for full weekends, blissfully wrapped up in conversation, embraces and kisses.

They even have their own song – their love theme – “Our Love is Here to Stay” by Gershwin. It’s romantic, cheesy, and utterly timeless.

And when they’re forced to be apart for a time, they count down the minutes until they’re reunited, missing each other terribly. Segal articulates those butterflies, the thrill of mutual obsession, the need to be together constantly. It’s young love in all its heady sweetness.

Bittersweet Tragedy and Emotional Resonance

Beyond just capturing the giddiness of new love, Segal also introduces a tragic twist that elevates the novel.

Jenny gets diagnosed with a terminal illness, leukemia. And the story shifts from the high of romance to the agony of knowing it will end too soon. Erich Segal gives us the aching heartbreak of two soulmates bracing for a life cut short.

The depiction of Jenny’s illness and her determination in facing it head on is gutting. Oliver insists on marrying her immediately, even knowing their time is limited. Their quiet elopement carries the gravitas of bonded souls.

And when Jenny ultimately passes, the raw emotion of loss overflows. Oliver is utterly shattered. Segal takes readers to the depths of anguish that the death of true love brings.

By introducing mortality into the fairy tale, Erich Segal makes the story resonate on a deeper level. The tragedy sharpens the beauty of what came before. It reminds us to embrace today when the future is uncertain. Few readers make it through dry-eyed.

Iconic Film Adaptation Boosted Popularity

As hugely popular as Segal’s novel was, the success was amplified by the 1970 film adaptation starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw. The on-screen chemistry between the handsome, preppy Oliver and spirited, no-nonsense Jenny captured hearts.

Scenes like the snowy football game where they first grow close became instantly iconic. The emotional ending translates powerfully on screen as well. Both O’Neal and MacGraw were praised for their performances and earned Golden Globe nominations.

The movie became one of the highest grossing films of the year. And cinematically seeing this star-crossed couple come to life cemented the story’s legacy. For generations since, it remains the definition of timeless, tearjerking romance.

Universal Themes Resonate Across Generations

While “Love Story” is undeniably a product of its time with details that may seem dated now, the core themes still profoundly resonate.

Most people have experienced some version of that heart-skipping thrill of meeting someone instantly intriguing. Many know the headiness of a heated college romance that makes the rest of the world fade away. The opposing forces threatening to divide lovers still ring familiar. And tragedy prematurely ending a precious relationship is an agonizing universal fear.

These emotional touchpoints, beautifully articulated by Erich Segal, are part of the shared human experience regardless of era. This allows the novel to transcend its mid-20th century origins and speak to the heart indelibly over generations.

Jenny as Feminist Icon: Ambitious and Unapologetic

Especially by the standards of her time, Jenny Cavendish Barret is a boldly feminist character. She knows precisely what she wants from life and goes after it unapologetically.

As a talented pianist from a blue-collar family, she aspires to attend Radcliffe College, a courageous dream. Once there, she refuses to be ashamed of her working class roots, no matter how she gets mocked by Ivy League elites.

Jenny wants a career not just marriage. Her ambition is to teach students with special needs rather than settling for a comfortable life as a privileged faculty wife. She maintains her feisty spirit and drive even in illness.

Segal creates an inspirational heroine who embodies determination and self-possession. She captures Jenny’s complexity too – her prickliness, her defensiveness. But overall, Jenny inspires with her grit and passion. For many readers, she represented a new kind of gutsiness in a female protagonist.

Oliver’s Character Arc and Emotional Evolution

While Jenny may be the standout personality, Oliver also undergoes major character development as their relationship transforms him.

In the beginning, he’s very much a product of his patrician environment – restrained, proper, and dismissive of those outside his social sphere. But as he falls for contrary Jenny, he gradually softens.

Oliver becomes more expressive and outwardly passionate. He learns to open his mind and develop empathy for those unlike himself. Loving Jenny makes him braver and more confident in standing up to his family’s cruel condescension towards her.

And when faced with loss, Oliver discovers depths of emotion and meaning. His path from detached elitist to expressive lover echoes society’s own coming-of-age at the time.Erich Segal makes Oliver’s evolution emotionally resonant.

Final Reflections on A Cherished Romance Classic

Fifty years after its release, “Love Story” remains an indelible romance novel. It distills the euphoria of young love into an iconic story populated with characters who leap off the page. Segal’s writing is poignant yet accessible, earnest yet witty. He articulates universal romantic feelings with nuance and heart.

At its core, Oliver and Jenny’s tale captures that searing, once-in-a-lifetime kind of love against all odds. It reminds us to embrace each fleeting moment. And it continues to make readers smile, weep, and believe in the redemptive power of love. For lifelong romantics, this novel is a cherished treasure.

So there you have it – an ode to Erich Segal’s enduring classic “Love Story” and the elements that make it such a timeless gem. From the rebellious college setting to the playful opposites-attract tropes to the tragic emotional weight, this novel distills the essence of poetic, passionate, youthful love. It’s truly the kind of story that goes straight to the heart and lingers for a lifetime.


Why is “Love Story” considered such an iconic romance novel?

“Love Story” is considered an iconic romance novel because it encapsulates many ubiquitous themes and tropes of love stories in a way that deeply resonated with readers. The opposites-attract trope, the rebelliousness of young love, the infatuation of new romance, and the tragic twist all contribute to making this story feel like a timeless representation of love. Segal’s writing voice and characterization also strike a chord, capturing the essence of romantic yearning in a accessible yet poetic style. For generations since its 1970 release, this novel has defined epic love stories.

What made “Love Story” stand out compared to other romance novels of its era?

When it was published in 1970, “Love Story” stood out for its emotional weight and tragic elements that elevated it beyond just a frivolous romance. The characterizations of Jenny and Oliver also felt fresh, defying stereotypes. Jenny was a bold, unapologetic heroine who focused on her career goals rather than just marriage. Oliver underwent major emotional growth in ways male protagonists weren’t typically depicted at the time. So while it captured the spirits of other youthful love stories, “Love Story” had an emotional maturity and nuance that helped it become a cultural touchstone.

Why do some consider Jenny Cavilleri to be a feminist icon?

Jenny stands out as a fiercely independent heroine, particularly by the standards of her early 1970s era. She eschews traditional gender roles, unashamedly aspiring to an Ivy League education and a career helping children rather than marrying well. She maintains her bold, scrappy personality even when facing terminal illness. Jenny refuses to be looked down upon for her working class background and stands up to Oliver’s condescending father. Her determination, self-possession and strong sense of self inspire readers. She represents a new kind of complexity and grit in a female protagonist.

How did the film adaptation impact the popularity and nostalgia factor of “Love Story”?

The massively successful 1970 film version of “Love Story” cemented the novel’s iconic status. Seeing beloved actors Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw embody Oliver and Jenny made them come vividly to life. Scenes like the snowy football game and library meet-cute became ingrained in pop culture. The movie’s emotional ending brought the story’s tragedy even more to heart. The soundtrack also became instantly nostalgic. For generations since, the film has encapsulated the romance and heartbreak of this tale in a way that endures.

Why does a story about 1950s/60s Harvard students still resonate with modern audiences?

While some references may feel dated, the core themes and character experiences in “Love Story” remain universally relatable across generations. Most people understand the thrill of that first magnetic attraction, the intense infatuation of new love, the desire to defy expectations to be with someone. Loss of loved ones is also an agonizing but shared experience. Oliver and Jenny are so well-defined and their emotional journeys so vivid that readers can immerse themselves despite surface differences in eras. At its heart, this is a poetic story of timeless romantic hopes and truths.

How did Erich Segal’s background influence the novel?

Having attended Harvard for graduate school himself in the 1960s, Segal drew from his own observations of campus life to paint an authentic picture of Ivy League elitism as well as the heady freedoms of youth. His classical education also shaped the novel – Oliver is a classics major who often references Greek philosophers and poets when expressing his passions. Segal’s own experiences lent specificity and insight into the environments and philosophies that define Oliver and Jenny.

Why is the “opposites attract” trope so central to this love story?

Oliver and Jenny’s opposite backgrounds and temperaments are crucial in establishing the central conflicts and integrating themes of overcoming societal expectations. The differences between his family’s Old Money arrogance and her working class scrappiness enable Segal to explore issues of class and conformity. But the opposites trope also makes their electrifying connection more poignant – the ways they complement each other speaks to the power of embracing differences. Their natures balance beautifully.

How does Erich Segal develop Oliver and Jenny’s characters throughout the novel?

Both Oliver and Jenny undergo profound emotional growth over the course of the novel. Staid Oliver learns passion, empathy, and independence as he opens himself to love. Prickly Jenny softens a bit, her confidence coexisting with vulnerability and fear in illness. We also get insight into what initially drew them together – her bold candor intrigues him while his composure calms her. Seeing how love shapes and transforms them gives the story depth.

Why is the musical element important to this story?

Jenny’s identity as a talented classical pianist is central, as music represents her hopes and soul. The recurring motif of “Our Love is Here to Stay” by Gershwin becomes their love theme, weaving through meaningful moments. Music conveys emotion. When words fail as Jenny grows ill, Oliver stays by her side at the piano. The song’s lyrics poetically express their enduring connection beyond words.

What makes the conclusion so poignant? Why does it resonate so deeply?

The ending packs an emotional gut-punch as we experience Oliver’s profound grief at losing Jenny. After following their euphoric beginnings, Segal forces us to confront and sit with tragic loss. He articulates the magnitude of having your heart torn away far too soon. But Oliver reconciles with his father, realizing Jenny taught him the value of love. So while devastating, the conclusion reflects on love’s power and imparts hard-won wisdom. Few readers finish dry-eyed.

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