After writing a few days ago about bestsellers that no one has even heard of, it occurred to me that there are some books that stand up over time. I’m guessing it’s because they have stellar characters and themes that hold up, but that’s just me. In no particular order.
1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, published 1847
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, published 1813 (This one is almost 200 years old! Scary.)
3. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, published 1818
4. A Long and Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott, written 1870ish. Okay, technically, this was published in 1995. Alcott’s horror stories were not as popular as her better known Little Women. I’m counting it on this list though. Although maybe this is the exception that proves the point. Hmm…
5. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, published 1865
6. Dracula, by Bram Stoker, published 1897
7. The Invisible Man, by HG Wells, published 1897
8. The Telltale Heart, by Edgar Allen Poe, published 1843. Okay, it’s not a novel, but it’s a story almost everyone knows, at least everyone who reads horror, so it makes the list. Really, you could pick anything by Edgar Allen Poe, and it would count, in my book at least.
9. The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, published 1812
10. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, published 1890
This was really, really hard for me to come up with, but I think that any of these books have some relevance, and definitely readability for modern life. It’s not the bestsellers that have survived for 100 years. It’s the books that speak to some part of the human condition.
Are there any books I’ve left off this list? I’ve read other books in my high school English class that are over 100 years old and may be considered literary classics, but I don’t necessarily believe that literary classic translates to reader classic. It can, but doesn’t have to.
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. Incomparable mastery of character. It’s about life in a country town in the 1840s or so, broadly speaking, but the story transcends the setting. The characters are beautifully complex, believable and completely fascinating. That’s what makes many of these books still such a pleasure to read, no matter how old they are, because the central problems of human life don’t really change.
I don’t think I’ve even heard of that one. I’ll have to put it on my library list.
I haven’t read all of those, but I have read most of them. Such good stuff! My husband and I were talking about the Tell Tale Heart yesterday. One of my favorites!
Edgar Allen Poe really knew how to write a horror story. He apparently understood human nature so well that his work is still applicable today.
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