Nineteenth Century Novels Are Classic

The novels of the 19th Century make up the core of what is considered classic literature in the western world. The novel as a genre had just been developed in the previous century and through the 19th Century the traditional form of the novel was developed by authors such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, and Emile Zola. In the next century the form is generally codified and then, as always happens when any form of art is defined and restricted, modern writers began to break the rules and in doing so, extend the definition of what is termed the novel.

Long ago, however, I learned that you can’t understand how the rules are broken unless you’re well versed in the rules themselves. Thus it is important to understand the novel as written in the 19th Century if you want to understand and enjoy the advancement of the form in the 20th Century.


Although I have studied literature in and out of the University environment, I didn’t read a lot of novels. In fact, the majority of my novel reading has been in the last 20 or 30 years. I tend to target two kinds of novel: the classical novel, often from the 19th century, or the transgressive novel, especially with lots of bodily fluids. I have noted the titles I have read in blue in the list below.

The 19th century is full of great novels by amazing authors. Here is that selected reading list of 19th-century novels published by

Alcott, Louisa May

  • Little Women

Austen, Jane

  • Emma
  • Mansfield Park
  • Persuasion
  • Pride and Prejudice

Blackmore, Richard Doddridge

  • Lorna Doone

Braddon, Mary Elizabeth

  • Lady Audley’s Secret

Bronte, Charlotte

  • Jane Eyre
  • Villette

Bronte, Emily

  • Wuthering Heights

Burnett, Frances Hodgson

  • The Secret Garden

Butler, Samuel

  • Erewhon

Carlyle, Thomas

  • Sartor Resartus

Carroll, Lewis

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Through the Looking Glass

Collins, Wilkie

  • Armadale
  • No Name
  • The Moonstone
  • The Woman in White

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan

  • Rodney Stone
  • A Study in Scarlet

Conrad, Joseph

  • Heart of Darkness
  • Lord Jim

Cooper, James F

  • The Prairie

Crane, Stephen

  • Red Badge of Courage

Dickens, Charles

  • Bleak House
  • David Copperfield
  • Dombey & Sons
  • Great Expectations
  • Hard Times
  • Little Dorritt
  • Mystery Of Edwin Drood
  • Nicholas Nickleby
  • The Old Curiosity Shop
  • Oliver Twist
  • Pickwick Papers
  • Tale of Two Cities

Disraeli, Benjamin

  • Sybil, or The Two Nations

Dostoevski, Fedor

  • Brothers Karamazov
  • Crime and Punishment
  • The Idiot

Dreiser, Theodore

  • Sister Carrie

Dumas, Alexandre

  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Three Musketeers

Eliot, George

  • Adam Bede
  • Daniel Deronda
  • Middlemarch
  • Mill on the Floss
  • Silas Marner

Flaubert, Gustave

  • Madame Bovary
  • A Sentimental Education

Gaskell, Elizabeth

  • Cranford
  • Wives and Daughters

Gissing, George

  • New Grub Street

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang Von

  • Elective Affinities

Gogol, Nikolai

  • Dead Souls

Hardy, Thomas

  • Far from the Madding Crowd
  • Jude the Obscure
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge
  • The Return of the Native
  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles
  • The Woodlanders
  • Under the Greenwood Tree

Hawthorne, Nathaniel

  • Blithedale Romance
  • Scarlet Letter

Hugo, Victor

  • Les Miserables
  • The Hunchback of Notre-Dame de Paris

James, Henry

  • The American
  • The Bostonians
  • Daisy Miller
  • The Europeans
  • Portrait of a Lady
  • Washington Square

Le Fanu, Sheridan

  • Uncle Silas

MacDonald, George

  • Lilith
  • Phantastes

Melville, Herman

  • Moby Dick
  • Redburn
  • Typee

Meredith, George

  • Diana of the Crossways
  • The Egoist

Norris, Frank

  • McTeague

Oliphant, Margaret

  • The Perpetual Curate
  • Salem Chapel

Scott, Sir Walter

  • The Antiquary
  • The Heart of Mid-Lothian
  • Ivanhoe

Sewall, Anna

  • Black Beauty

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft

  • Frankenstein

Stevenson, Robert L

  • Catriona (aka David Balfour)
  • Kidnapped
  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
  • Treasure Island

Stoker, Bram

  • Dracula

Stowe, Harriet Beecher

  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Thackeray, William M

  • Barry Lyndon
  • The History of Henry Esmond
  • The Newcomes
  • Vanity Fair

Tolstoy, Leo

  • Anna Karenina
  • Resurrection
  • The Forged Coupon
  • War and Peace

Trollope, Anthony

  • Ayala’s Angel
  • Framley Parsonage
  • Barchester Towers
  • John Caldigate
  • The Last Chronicle of Barset
  • Marion Fay
  • Phineas Finn
  • The Prime Minister
  • The Warden
  • The Way We Live Now

Turgenev, Ivan

  • Fathers and Children

Twain, Mark

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Verne, Jules

  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Wells, HG

  • Invisible Man
  • Island of Dr Moreau
  • The Time Machine
  • War of the Worlds

Wilde, Oscar

  • Picture of Dorian Gray

Zola, Emile

  • L’Assommoir
  • Therese Raquin

4 thoughts on “Nineteenth Century Novels Are Classic

  1. You are a good seller. I already feel the urge to read more 19th century novels and compare them to the 20th century ones I have read.

    Maybe I can do that more easily with short stories, but that form is even older, right?


    1. You might say the same thing about drama or poetry, but like short stories, they are very different from novels even though an investigation of the development of the form might be enlightening. Let’s face it, one of the more obvious characteristics of the novel is that it is an extended form of prose fiction and focuses on different rhetorical elements (for instance, poetry is replete with figurative language where as prose is much more sparing). In a novel you might find strength in extended passages of detailed narrative but in a short story such wordiness would be out of place.

      To further consider the differences and development of short stories vs. the novel, why not jump in the Way-Back machine and look at some of the very early treatments from the oral tradition (you know, before Twitter). Sagen and epics like those attributed to Homer are excellent in developing an understanding of how techniques were developed to assist the story teller which then might have transferred into the rhetorical forms we now see in poetry and prose.

      Also, for a fun trip through the pre-novel of the romance, the pastoral, the picaresque, etc., just (re-)read Don Quijote (in Spanish, of course).


  2. I have read a fair number of these classics and would like to know your opinion as to wether the age of the great novel drew to a close with them.
    I’m an old man now (74) and cannot seem to get on with modern stuff.
    I have the same problem with modern classical music.


    1. Remember “Video killed the radio star”? Every few years there is an edict on the life or death of each form of literature. Is poetry dead? When I was in school Alain Robbe-Grillet and the nouveau roman folks were insisting that the novel was dead. But it’s really that the forms are evolving. Maybe the novel will change so much that it will become a new form: who knows?

      I understand your preference for the classic works: they are generally better, but not always. I myself am torn between the classical works and the modern experimental works, and I am almost 70 myself.

      As far as Classical Music, I found long ago that I could listen to the same piece of classical music over and over and each time find more to enjoy in it, but the more contemporary music was often enjoyable to hear once or twice but then put away until it became a rock and roll classic. Yet a true comment from my daughter reminds us of the relativity of any art form: as a little girl she was asked if she liked classical music and her answer was “You mean like the Rolling Stones?”


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