List of classical Novels
Here is our list of the 10 Victorian novels we at Interesting Literature think everyone should read – whether because they’re great novels, because they tell us something important about Victorian society, because they stand as classics of the period, or (in most cases) all three. They’re not arranged in any particular order (that would be too difficult and controversial a task!). We know you, dear reader, are bound to have a different idea of what should make the top 10, so please let us know which you think we’ve given an undeserved place on this list, which we should have included but haven’t, and your suggestions for further reading for Victorianists. Oh, and tell us how many of the 10 you’ve read…
If you enjoy this list, you might also like our pick of the best Victorian ghost stories and the best short Victorian poems, featuring Lewis Carroll and Charlotte Brontë, among others. If you wish to step into the twentieth century, check out our pick of the best works of modernist literature in the English language.
Anthony Trollope, The Warden (1855). This was Anthony Trollope‘s first real success, although he was already the author of a handful of novels. His day job was a senior post at the – well, at the Post Office, and he would rise at 5.30am every morning in order to write his novels before going off to do a full day’s work for the Royal Mail. And he wrote 47 of them! When he wasn’t busy doing things like introducing the pillar box to Britain (something he’d done in the early 1850s, as he was making his way in the literary world), he was writing novels such as this, a nuanced and realist account of a fictional case of ecclesiastical injustice, whereby the eponymous warden receives a fat income while the bedesmen in his care receive nothing. This novel also contains a gently satirical attack on Charles Dickens, whom Trollope calls ‘Mr Popular Sentiment’. We recommend this edition:
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847). This novel is about the titular heroine’s relationship with Mr Rochester, whose first wife, Bertha, has been concealed in a room in his house (though not in the attic, it would seem). Gothic overtones run throughout this classic romantic novel, which some consider the finest by all of the Brontë sisters. Recommended edition: Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics).
Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). An under-appreciated Brontë novel, this book was Anne’s second (and last) book, and was disowned by her own sister, Charlotte, who thought it had been a mistake to publish it. Anne tried to address the problems of marital law and domestic abuse in the nineteenth century, through the abusive marriage between Arthur Huntingdon and the novel’s protagonist, Helen ‘Graham’, an artist who flees with her young son and becomes – as the title has it – the tenant of Wildfell Hall, where she meets a new man, Gilbert Markham. We recommend this edition: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Penguin Classics) by Bront?, Anne ( 1996 ).
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868). Often called the first detective novel in English (by T. S. Eliot among others), Collins’s novel was, in fact, not the first of its genre (we discuss that issue in our short history of detective fiction). Indeed, this is an unusual and atypical detective novel in many ways: numerous figures play the role of ‘detective’ in the novel (Sergeant Cuff, Seegrave, Bruff, the hero Franklin Blake, and the medical assistant who eventually solves the case, Ezra Jennings), but none emerges as a clear, unequivocal figure to fulfil the role. And critics have even argued that Collins was essentially writing a novel of domestic realism, and the ‘detective novel’ plot only gets in the way of his telling a good story. This is a particularly helpful edition: The Moonstone (Oxford World’s Classics) by Collins. Wilkie ( 2008 ) Paperback.
William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (1848). This novel, which is now the only one by Thackeray which is still widely read (though Barry Lyndon has a few fans), took its name from the fair in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Subtitled ‘the novel without a hero’, Vanity Fair follows the exploits of the heroine, Becky Sharp, during the time of the Napoleonic Wars. We recommend this edition: Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero (Oxford World’s Classics) Publisher: Oxford University Press. USA; Reissue edition.
Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847). Emily Brontë shares her birthday, 30 July, with Kate Bush, whose first hit single would be a song based on Brontë’s novel. Brontë’s one novel is told through a multi-layered narrative which resembles a Russian doll, as one narrator gives way to another, and we find ourselves being transported back to the time when Heathcliff, a waif from Liverpool, was brought to live at Wuthering Heights by Catherine Linton’s father. The destructive and all-consuming love story between Heathcliff and Cathy forms the main part of the novel, though the book actually follows three generations in all. The book is even credited with popularising the dialect word ‘gormless’. Emily was also a gifted poet. Recommended edition: