Between September 2013 and August 2015, The Guardian ran their 100 Best English Language Novels of all time series, as compiled by the Observer’s associate editor, Robert McCrum. The basic rules he followed when compiling this list were;
You may not agree completely with McCrum’s selection, but certainly these are some of the greatest novels published in the English language over the last 350 years. So dig in and enjoy.
John Bunyan was variously a tinker, soldier, Baptist minister, prisoner and writer of outstanding narrative genius which reached its apotheosis in this, his greatest work. It is an allegory of the Christian life of true brilliance and is presented as a dream which describes the pilgrimage of the ...read more ?
This classic story of a shipwrecked mariner on a deserted island is perhaps the greatest adventure in all of English literature. Fleeing from pirates, Robinson Crusoe is swept ashore in a storm possessing only a knife, a box of tobacco, a pipe-and the will to survive. His is the saga of a man alo...read more ?
Shipwrecked and cast adrift, Lemuel Gulliver wakes to find himself on Lilliput, an island inhabited by little people, whose height makes their quarrels over fashion and fame seem ridiculous. His subsequent encounters - with the crude giants of Brobdingnag, the philosophical Houyhnhnms and brutish...read more ?
This is Volume 1 of Samuel Richardson’s classic novel; Clarissa. Pressured by her unscrupulous family to marry a wealthy man she detests, the young Clarissa Harlowe is tricked into fleeing with the witty and debonair Robert Lovelace and places herself under his protection. Lovelace, however, prov...read more ?
A foundling of mysterious parentage brought up by Mr. Allworthy on his country estate, Tom Jones is deeply in love with the seemingly unattainable Sophia Western, the beautiful daughter of the neighboring squire—though he sometimes succumbs to the charms of the local girls. When Tom is banished t...read more ?
At once endlessly facetious and highly serious, Sterne’s great comic novel contains some of the best-known and best-loved characters in English literature–including Uncle Toby, Corporal Trim, Parson Yorick, and Dr. Slop–and boasts one of the most innovative and whimsical narrative styles in all l...read more ?
Emma Woodhouse is the lovely, lively, willful, and fallible heroine of Jane Austen’s fourth published novel. Confident that she knows best, Emma schemes to find a suitable husband for her pliant friend Harriet, only to discover that she understands the feelings of others as little as she does her...read more ?
A monster assembled by a scientist from parts of dead bodies develops a mind of his own as he learns to loathe himself and hate his creator. Shelley’s suspenseful and intellectually rich gothic tale confronts some of the most important and enduring themes in all of literture–the power of human im...read more ?
Set in a former abbey whose owner, Christopher Glowry, is host to visitors who enjoy his hospitality and engage in endless debate. Among these guests are figures recognizable to Peacock’s contemporaries, including characters based on Lord Byron and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Mr. Glowry’s son Scythr...read more ?
A stowaway aboard the whaling ship Grampus, Arthur Gordon Pym finds himself bound on an extraordinary voyage to the high southern latitudes. Poes novel recounts the incredible adventures and discoveries of Pym and his companions. There is mutiny, appalling butchery, and the exquisite horror of ca...read more ?
Sybil, or The Two Nations is one of the finest novels to depict the social problems of class-ridden Victorian England. When published, it was a sensation for its immediacy and readability brought the plight of the working classes sharply to the attention of the reading public. The ‘Two Nations’ o...read more ?
Romantic melodrama or feminist classic, Jane Eyre is one of the most enduringly popular and compelling novels in the literary canon. Overlooked or dismissed by critics in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it first began to attract serious critical attention in the 1970s as New Critica...read more ?
Perhaps the most haunting and tragic love story ever written, Wuthering Heights is the tale of Heathcliff, a brooding, troubled orphan, and his doomed love for Catherine Earnshaw. His desire for her leads him to madness, however, when Catherine is made to marry a wealthy lord, sending Heathcliff ...read more ?
No one is better equipped in the struggle for wealth and worldly success than the alluring and ruthless Becky Sharp, who defies her impoverished background to clamber up the social ladder. Her sentimental companion Amelia, however, longs for caddish soldier George. As the two heroines make their ...read more ?
Dickens’s classic tale of a young man’s adventures on his journey from an unhappy childhood to his success as a novelist. Among the characters he encounters are his tyrannical stepfather, Mr. Murdstone; his formidable aunt, Betsey Trotwood; the eternally humble yet treacherous Uriah Heep; frivolo...read more ?
It is 1642 in the Puritan town of Boston. Hester Prynne has been found guilty of adultery and has born an illegitimate child. In lieu of being put to death, she is condemned to wear the scarlet letter A on her dress as a reminder of her shameful act. Hester’s husband had been lost at sea years ea...read more ?
On a previous voyage, a mysterious white whale had ripped off the leg of a sea captain named Ahab. Now the crew of the Pequod, on a pursuit that features constant adventure and horrendous mishaps, must follow the mad Ahab into the abyss to satisfy his unslakeable thirst for vengeance. Narrated by...read more ?
Note: this is a shortened 1916 edition (under half the length). For the original book, which comes with 42 illustrations by John Tenniel, try Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Source of legend and lyric, reference and conjecture, it is for most children pure pleasure in prose. While adults try t...read more ?
Stolen from the forehead of a Hindu idol, the dazzling gem known as “The Moonstone” resurfaces at a birthday party in an English country home–with an enigmatic trio of watchful Brahmins hot on its trail. Laced with superstitions, suspicion, humor, and romance, this mystery draws readers into a co...read more ?
Little Women is an American classic, adored for Louisa May Alcott’s lively and vivid portraits of the endearing March sisters: talented tomboy Jo, pretty Meg, shy Beth, temperamental Amy. Millions have shared in their joys, hardships, and adventures as they grow up in Civil War New England, separ...read more ?
Often called the greatest nineteenth-century British novelist, George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans) created in Middlemarch a vast panorama of life in a provincial Midlands town. At the story’s center stands the intellectual and idealistic Dorothea Brooke—a character who in many ways rese...read more ?
The Way We Live Now — regarded by many as Anthony Trollope’s greatest novel — encompasses in its broad scope much of the business, political, social, and literary life of 1870s London. At its centre is the larger-than-life figure of Augustus Melmotte, a financier of uncertain background who rises...read more ?
Huckleberry Finn, rebel against school and church, casual inheritor of gold treasure, rafter of the Mississippi, and savior of Jim the runaway slave, is the archetypal American maverick. Fleeing the respectable society that wants to “sivilize” him, Huck Finn shoves off with Jim on a rhapsodic raf...read more ?
Set in Scotland after the Jacobite rebellion, young David Balfour leaves home and goes to the sinister House of Shaws. There, he finds himself kidnapped, the victim of his uncle’s plot to cheat him of his inheritance, aboard a ship bound for America. He teams up with the Jacobite loyalist and spy...read more ?
The erratic progress of J. Harris, George and Montmorency the dog won immediate approval of Londoners, while readers all over the world saw Three Men in a Boat as a key to the British character. The project, which began as an attempt to promote pleasure boating, became one of the greatest comedy ...read more ?
When an Englishwoman receives mysterious gifts of pearls and a letter promising to right wrongs done to her, she calls upon Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to investigate. Who is sending the beautiful Miss Morstan a rare and priceless pearl each year? Holmes and Watson pursue Indian treasures, and...read more ?
When first published this unique novel evoked a tremendous amount of hostile criticism, in most part due to its immoral content. Oscar Wilde was identified with the “art for art’s sake” movement of the nineteenth century which did not subordinate art to ethical instruction. However, this novel is...read more ?
For many readers New Grub Street is Gissing’s masterpiece. If this is not accepted, it remains beyond doubt one of his most interesting and most powerful novels. As a realistic picture of the literary in late Victorian England, New Grub Street has few rivals. There is much of Gissing himself, his...read more ?
Often thought of as Thomas Hardy’s best work, not only for the elaborate structure of the plot, where small and subtle details lead to the character’s ruin, but in the themes that range from how human loneliness and sensuality can stop a person from trying to fulfill his dreams; to how, when free...read more ?
American writer Stephen Crane is best known for his classic depiction of the American Civil War in his novel the Red Badge of Courage. It is the story of a 19-year-old boy named Henry Fleming who struggles to overcome his fear in battle. The Red Badge of Courage is widely regarded for its realist...read more ?
A true masterwork of storytelling, Dracula has transcended generation, language, and culture to become one of the most popular novels ever written. It is a quintessential tale of suspense and horror, boasting one of the most terrifying characters ever born in literature: Count Dracula, a tragic, ...read more ?
In Conrad’s haunting tale, Marlow, a seaman and wanderer, recounts his physical and psychological journey in search of the enigmatic Kurtz. Travelling to the heart of the African continent, he discovers how Kurtz has gained his position of power and influence over the local people. Marlow’s strug...read more ?
Theodore Dreiser’s first and perhaps most accessible novel, Sister Carrie is an epic of urban life - the story of an innocent heroine adrift in an indifferent city. When small-town girl Carrie Meeber sets out for Chicago, she is equipped with nothing but a few dollars, a certain unspoiled beauty ...read more ?
Rudyard Kipling has been attacked for championing British imperialism and celebrated for satirizing it. In fact, he did both. Nowhere does he express his own ambivalence more strongly than in Kim, his rousing adventure novel of a young man of many allegiances. Kimball O’Hara grows up an orphan in...read more ?
The Call Of The Wild is the story of Buck, a dog stolen from his home and thrust into the merciless life of the Arctic north to endure hardship, bitter cold, and the savage lawlessness of man and beast. White Fang is the adventure of an animal – part dog, part wolf –turned vicious by cruel abuse,...read more ?
The Golden Bowl is an intense, involved study of marriage, adultery and family ties. The central characters are a man and his daughter and James delves into their consciousness to explore the complexity of their relationship to each other and their respective spouses. The novel is often considere...read more ?
Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and the mischievous Toad live a quiet life on banks of the River Thames with the rest of their animal friends. But Toad tends to get into trouble, and his passion for cars eventually results in his being caught and kept a helpless prisoner in the remotest dungeon of the b...read more ?
Mr Polly is an ordinary middle-aged man who is tired of his wife’s nagging and his dreary job as the owner of a regional gentleman’s outfitters. Faced with the threat of bankruptcy, he concludes that the only way to escape his frustrating existence is by burning his shop to the ground, and killin...read more ?
Max Beerbohm’s sparklingly wicked satire concerns the unlikely events that occur when a femme fatale briefly enters the supremely privileged, all-male domain of Judas College, Oxford. A conjurer by profession, Zuleika Dobson can only love a man who is impervious to her considerable charms: a circ...read more ?
At the fashionable German spa town Bad Nauheim, two wealthy, fin de siecle couples – one British, the other American – meet for their yearly assignation. As their story moves back and forth in time between 1902 and 1914, the fragile surface propriety of the pre – World War I society in which thes...read more ?
Famous as the basis for several films, including the brilliant 1935 version directed by Alfred Hitchcock, The Thirty-Nine Steps is a classic of early twentieth-century popular literature. Richard Hannay has just returned to England after years in South Africa and is thoroughly bored with his life...read more ?
Lush with religious and metaphysical imagery, this is the story of three generations of the Brangwen family, set against the decline of the rural English midlands. It peers into a family’s sexual mores, exposing the sexual dynamics of marriage and physical love. D.H. Lawrence explores the lives o...read more ?
A potent expression of the power of sexual obsession and of modern man’s yearning for freedom. This classic tells the story of Philip Carey, a sensitive boy born with a clubfoot who is orphaned and raised by a religious aunt and uncle. Philip yearns for adventure, and at eighteen leaves home, eve...read more ?
Somewhere in this book, Wharton observes that clever liars always come up with good stories to back up their fabrications, but that really clever liars don’t bother to explain anything at all. This is the kind of insight that makes The Age of Innocence so indispensable. Wharton’s story of the upp...read more ?
Ulysses, one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, has had a profound influence on modern fiction. In a series of episodes covering the course of a single day, 16 June 1904, the novel traces the movements of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus through the streets of Dublin. Each episode ...read more ?
In this sardonic portrait of the up-and-coming middle class during the prosperous 1920s, Sinclair Lewis perfectly captures the sound, the feel, and the attitudes of the generation that created the cult of consumerism. With a sharp eye for detail and keen powers of observation, Lewis tracks succes...read more ?
Mrs Dalloway is a novel by Virginia Woolf that details a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway in post-World War I England. Mrs Dalloway continues to be one of Woolf’s best-known novels. Created from two short stories, Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street and the unfinished The Prime Minister, the novel’s ...read more ?
The fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s. The mysterious Gatsby uses...read more ?
Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few ...read more ?
‘A pair of lunatics, you two,’ observed Harrison. He squinted through the port at the gray gloom of the Mare Cimmerium. ‘There comes the sun.’ He paused. ‘Listen, Dick–you and Leroy take the other auxiliary rocket and go out and salvage those films.’
It is 1984. The world is in a state of perpetual war and Big Brother sees and controls all. Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party and propaganda-writer at the Ministry of Truth, is keeping a journal he should not be keeping and falling in love with Julia, a woman he should not be seeing. Out...read more ?
Sylvia Plath’s shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity. Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath ...read more ?