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As classrooms and campuses refill and books are cracked open, we’re celebrating the return to academia with a list of ten classic novels that should be added to your “to be read” list. The novels profiled are those that are generally lauded as profound, trailblazing, thought-provoking, socially relevant, and/or culturally significant. For this list, we’ve considered “classic” to include any novel written before the twentieth century.
Ten Novels To Add To Your Bookshelf:
Why You Should Read It: A landmark depiction of Victorian values and culture, Dracula tells the macabre tale of Count Dracula, a vampire who feeds on the blood of mortals. Eloquently written and socially progressive, this novel not only introduced the Count to popular culture, but established horror’s status as a legitimate subgenre.
Why You Should Read It: This Gothic thriller tells the story of a grotesque creature brought to life in the lab of Doctor Victor Frankenstein. It was written as part of a bet among Shelley’s contemporaries as to who could write the better horror story. Little did Shelley know, her novel would become one of the most highly acclaimed novels in history. P.S.—she won the bet.
Why You Should Read It: Considered by most to be the novel from which all subsequent American novels draw inspiration, Huckleberry Finn is the more grounded sequel to Twain’s idyllic Tom Sawyer. It tells the tale of a young boy who embarks on an adventure down the Mississippi River—and it embraces the youthful spirit in all of us.
Why You Should Read It: A tale largely of revenge and the lengths men will go to for their freedom, The Count Of Monte Cristo tells the story of a man who is wrongfully imprisoned, escapes from jail, acquires a fortune, and exacts revenge on those responsible for his imprisonment. However, his plans have devastating consequences for the innocent as well as the guilty.
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Why You Should Read It: This classic romance and social satire follows the main character, Elizabeth Bennet, as she deals with manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of early 19th-century England. Pride and Prejudice secured Austen’s reputation as a popular novelist.
Why You Should Read It: In Jane Eyre, a young orphan is hired as a governess for the children of Mr. Rochester, the Byronic master of fictitious Thornfield Hall. The novel contains elements of social criticism with a strong sense of morality at its core, but is nonetheless a novel many consider ahead of its time given the individualistic character of Jane and the novel’s exploration of classism, sexuality, religion, and proto-feminism.
Why You Should Read It: A classic example of the fantasy genre, this is the story of a young girl living in 19th-century England who falls down a rabbit hole and into the midst of a fantastic world where animals can talk and everything she knows to be true suddenly seems fictitious. The story includes elements of sociopolitical commentary.
Why You Should Read It: An example of Gothic literature, Dorian Gray tells the story of a libertine who sells his soul in order to live a life of debauchery and sin while his portrait ages and decays in his place. A riveting tale of morality, Dorian Gray was highly controversial at the time and came under criticism as being indecent—and was even censored at the time of its original publication.
Why You Should Read It: This epic story tells the tale of an ex-convict and his quest for redemption. Examining the nature of law and grace, the novel elaborates upon the history of France, the architecture and urban design of Paris, politics, moral philosophy, antimonarchism, justice, religion; as well as the nature of romantic and familial love. The enduring popularity of Les Mis has resulted in its adaptation into several films and musicals.
Why You Should Read It: This highly acclaimed novel explores the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who formulates and executes a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash. He justifies his actions by convincing himself that having the pawnbroker’s money will allow him to perform good deeds to counterbalance the crime, while also ridding the world of worthless vermin. Several times throughout the novel, the protagonist justifies his actions by comparing himself to Napoleon Bonaparte, believing that murder is permissible in pursuit of a higher purpose. However, he soon finds himself wracked with guilt and pondering whether he should clear his conscience by confessing his crime.
The Reading Doesn’t Stop Here
There are so many wonderfully written and culturally significant classic novels that it’s difficult to select just ten to read. These are our selections for a great start—choose one (or more) and see where the pages take you!