Classics are books that are as relevant and popular now as in their own era. Have a glance through history when you scroll through our selection of time-tested Classics. You might re-discover a forgotten gem!
June 2014 Guest Editor Freya North on Thomas Hardy... For me, no other writer so definitively captures both the beauty and challenges of Britain - its landscape, weather, village life versus city life and of course the class system. But most of all I love the way that landscape is not merely a backdrop in Hardy's writing, but a leading character in it – something that has become a crucial element of my own writing. I love the paintings of Millet – the unpatronizing dignity he imbued his scenes of rustic life. This is so true of Hardy too and nowhere is this more compelling than in Tess of the D’Urbervilles - one of my all time favourite books.
March 2012 Guest Editor Alan Bradley on Mark Twain... The book. Ernest Hemingway wrote, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called 'Huckleberry Finn.'” I believe he was understating the case. It was a family copy of Huckleberry Finn that first put my feet on the road to being a writer. Its glories have never dimmed.
August 2014 Guest Editor Gerald Seymour on A Tale of Two Cities... The most important book to me, the greatest influence on my own writing, has to be ‘Tale of Two Cities’. It is a classic novel and also a superb thriller, and it produces the most compelling hero of British literature, Sidney Carton. I am a huge fan of the atmospheric writing that describes the hard, mean streets of Paris at the time of the Revolution, the power and brutality of the mob when passions are let loose, but above all is the Carton character: he is the failed, booze ridden advocate who can dominate a massive court room scene when a life is on the line, win when it matters. The lines at the end of the story as he gives his own life to protect the husband of the woman he has put on a personal pedestal are incredibly moving, and his gentleness with the young girl who will go before him up the steps to the guillotine. Wonderful, and an inspiration. September 2013 Guest Editor Daisy Waugh on A Tale of Two Cities... A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – is the Emperor of historical fiction, after all. I remember weeping like a baby at the end of it… And boring everyone silly (as if I were making a new discovery) about what an earth shatteringly brilliant novel it was... A 2012 World Book Night selection. This text is a revised edition of Dickens' classic tale.
January 2010 Good Housekeeping selection. On My Bookshelf by Wendy Holden... Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is the best in its class – I am a novelist, but for my money the writers of the19th century set the bar for the whole genre. The reason I love it isn’t so much the tragic Anna with ghastly Vronsky, but because of Princess Kitty and Levin. He’s cracked and she’s a bit cosy, but their love affair is just so transportingly romantic. The description of when they meet at the frozen pond, where she is skating and he can’t even look at her because he feels it would be like looking at the sun, gets me every time. It’s because of these two lovers that I’ve never understood the fuss about Jane Austen’s Elizabeth and Mr Darcy.
A 2012 World Book Night selection.“ Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…” is probably one of the most famous first lines from a novel and captures the readers interest immediately. What is Manderley? Why is our narrator dreaming about it? The story is relayed to us by the second Mrs de Winter who is not even given a name throughout the novel, as if to emphasise how insignificant she is compared to her predecessor, Rebecca. This book is haunting, chilling and packed full of intrigue. Who was Rebecca, why did people love her so much, was she good or evil? The narrator is constantly searching for answers to questions that no-one seems to want to answer but the truth that has been hidden for years is about to be revealed. A true classic.
November 2012 Guest Editor Kate Mosse on Wuthering Heights... Powerful and elegiac, a novel of drama, passion and compelling characterisation. Most exceptional of all, though, the brilliance of Bronte’s descriptions of landscape and light on the Yorkshire Moors has had a major influence on my writing about southwest France. One of Clare Balding's favourite books. Chosen by the public through a survey to coincide with the 10th birthday celebrations of World Book Day 2007, this title is one of ‘the ten books the nation can’t live without’. Have you read them all? Below are links to each title and position on the list. 1. Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen 2. The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien 3. Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë 4. Harry Potter JK Rowling 5. To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee 6. The Bible 7. Wuthering Heights Emily Brontë 8. Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell 9. His Dark Materials Philip Pullman10. Great Expectations Charles Dickens
If you know Vanity Fair then the name Becky Sharp will immediately conjure images of a ruthless, immoral, and selfish social climber, and one of literatures most fascinating characters. At the time she was one of the first female leads and for her to be so ambitious and manipulative, well! Thackeray wrote a novel with flawed characters, cutting social commentary, along with the reality of being human and existing in a not so perfect world.
One of Sir Trevor McDonald's favourite books. This definitive edition uses the text from the first published edition of 1861. It includes a map of Kent in the early nineteenth century, and appendices on Dickens’s original ending and his working notes, giving readers an illuminating glimpse into the mind of a great novelist at work.
The terrible spectacle of the beast, the fog of the moor, the discovery of a body: this classic horror story pits detective against dog. The Hound of the Baskervilles gripped readers when it was first serialised and has continued to hold its place in the popular imagination.
May 2014 Guest Editor Daisy Goodwin on Scoop... Anybody who wants to learn how to write dialogue should read this novel. It is a masterpiece of comic precision. I still laugh when I read about William Boot’s expedition kit which includes a collapsible canoe and cleft sticks ‘invaluable for carrying messages’. And it contains my favourite Waugh character Mrs Stitch, who like Lady Glencora, is a pin sharp depiction of femine ruthlessness cloaked in charm and chiffon.
The Joad Family have been cleared off their land by the bank and are forced to hit the long and winding road from the dust bowl of Oklahoma to California in search of a new life. And oh what a journey it is. Joined by a lapsed preacher Jim Casy the road is long, hard and does not let up with adversity after adversity after adversity as the family strive to keep their spirit alive. This book is an absolute classic; after initial negativity it was selling 10,000 copies a week by May 1939, became the year’s best-selling novel and won the Pulitzer. It’s a pure and raw celebration of the working man with an indomitable spirit, and the book inspired a generation of writers and readers right across the world. First class.
"The hamlet stood on a gentle rise in the flat, wheat-growing north-east corner of Oxfordshire. We will call it Lark Rise.” And henceforth we were introduced to Flora Thompson's immortal trilogy, containing "Lark Rise", "Over To Candleford" and "Candleford Green". Originally written as three separate novels, together they deliver a heart-warming portrayal of everyday country life in the 1880s and 1890s as told by Laura. This story of three closely related Oxfordshire communities - a hamlet, the nearby village and a small market town - is based on the author's experiences during childhood; a simplicity of life seemingly lost forever. In its beautifully nostalgic way, the story chronicles social attitudes, May Day celebrations, forgotten children's games, the daily lives of farmworkers and craftsmen, tales of friendship and family life - all constructed to make this trilogy an affectionate and evocative memorial to Victorian rural England
From Aristotle to Aphra Benn to Jane Austen, and Socrates to Stendhal to Upton Sinclair our classics genre will point you in the direction of all the great classics from the beginnings of literature right up to the essential 20th-century classics such as Animal Farm.
The privileged classes (Henry James) and life on the poverty line (Zola)... History (Robert Graves) and prophesy (George Orwell)... Romance (Emily Bronte) and ribaldry (Henry Fielding)... Generations lost (Ernest Hemingway) and encapsulated (F. Scott Fitzgerald)... Writers ahead of their time (James Joyce) and right on the pulse of it (Jack Kerouac)...
There’s so much out there to discover, but it can be daunting without guidance.