Classic Novels For People Who Don’t Like Classic Novels

Quarantine Book-et List

Have you ever seen those articles that are like ‘100 novels you ABSOLUTELY MUST read before you die’?? And there’s always ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy’, or worse ‘Middlemarch‘.

That’s what I’m trying to avoid here. If you’re someone that has tried reading those big novels in the English canon but you actually find them hard to get into, I feel the exact same! I know there will be people who disagree with me, but I’ve found that I haven’t really enjoyed a number of ‘must-read Classics’.

So, for those of you that want to read ‘great’ novels but aren’t really sure where to begin, here’s a short list of some that I think are incredible and most importantly, aren’t tedious.

The Turn Of the Screw (1898) – Henry James

A young governess is hired to look after two children in a house that seems to harbour supernatural forces. I’m always baffled at how writers create such a scary atmosphere with words, and The Turn of the Screw is a perfect example of this. This story genuinely freaks me out so if you love a bit of horror, give Henry James’ novella a read.

Jane Eyre (1847) – Charlotte Brontë

I feel like Jane Eyre does sound super boring, but trust me on this! I had to read Charlotte Brontë’s novel during A Levels and even though I was a little wary at first, I absolutely loved it. It’s a great story with a creepy, Gothic undertone thanks to the weird yet dashing Mr Rochester and of course, crazy Bertha. If you do like Jane Eyre, read Jean Rhys’ retelling, Wide Sargasso Sea, which has become a classic in its own right.

The Idiot (1869)- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Prince Myshkin has been treated in an asylum for his ‘idiocy’ over the past four years and now comes up against cruelty and manipulation within Russia’s upper echelons (a very oversimplified summary). This is a hefty one and there’s A LOT of plot but Dostoyevsky’s philosophical novel is really beautiful.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)- Oscar Wilde

When Dorian Gray has his portrait painted, everyone is enchanted by its otherworldly beauty, including the man himself. Oscar Wilde’s novel verges on the Gothic while being packed full of drama, art and a load of flirting. Even though this book gives me war flashbacks after writing a crap essay on it a few years ago, The Picture of Dorian Gray is still one of my favourite novels.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) – Lewis Carroll

I’m sure most of you know the story: precocious Alice falls down a rabbit hole to Wonderland. I first read Lewis Carroll’s enchanting story when I was younger, but rereading it a few weeks ago for uni reminded me of how great it actually is. Even though this is a children’s book, you really do feel like you’re with Alice exploring this bizarre new world.

To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) – Harper Lee

Harper Lee’s coming-of-age story deals with racial inequality in the Deep South. Our protagonist is Scout, the daughter of a lawyer who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. This is fairly modern compared to the other books on this list, but To Kill A Mockingbird remains one of the most famous novels ever written; a true classic. I’ve seen a few articles saying this book is overrated, but I totally disagree and thats that on that.

Sketches By Boz (1833-1836) – Charles Dickens

Bit of a rogue one but I had to read this for uni too and I actually really enjoyed it. Rather than a novel, Sketches by Boz – Boz being Dickens’ pen name at the time – is kind of like a collection of short stories detailing what life in London was really like during the 19th Century. If big Victorian novels aren’t your thing, this might be a good option if you just like dipping in and out of a book.

The Grapes of Wrath (1939) – John Steinbeck

Again, slightly more modern but an American classic. When Tom Joad returns to his family farm in Oklahoma after a stint in prison, he finds nothing but a dusty plain and an empty house. This is the story of a family journeying to find a better life for themselves away from America’s Dustbowl. Thinking of the ending still makes me feel sad:(

I hope you enjoy this list, and to those who are huge fans of Victorian classics, I’m sorry x

I’m definitely guilty of dismissing classic novels in favour of more contemporary ones, so in order to combat this, I’ve just ordered Little Women AND Dracula.

If anyone has any other recommendations for good novels, please let me know! xx

Published by Lily Evans

writing about books

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