British literature has had a huge influence on world culture for centuries. That’s why the BBC polled experts from around the world to compile a list of the best novels by British authors. From Charles Dickens and William Thackeray to Antonia Byatt and Hilary Mantel, these are books everyone should read.
Middlemarch, by George Eliot
According to Woffex.com, the first best English novel is Middlemarch. George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, a universally acclaimed masterpiece of realistic prose, tells the story of life in a fictional town in Middle England during nineteenth-century social change. The quiet tragedy of a measured life and the consequences of bad choices unfolds in the complicated lives of the novel’s protagonists–and as the characters’ stories develop and intertwine, George Eliot delivers a moving, multivalent drama, noted by Virginia Woolf as “one of the few English novels written specifically for adults.”
To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
One of the most significant books of the twentieth century, On the Lighthouse is both a distinctly autobiographical and a universal work, masterfully addressing the changes in middle-class life at the turn of the century–primarily in the hearts and minds of its members.
The Ramseys and their eight offspring have always spent their vacations surrounded by family and friends on the Isle of Skye. As the years pass, bringing with them war and death, the Ramseys’ home now stands empty until one day many years later when the family returns there to go to the lighthouse again after a long hiatus.
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
“Great Expectations” is one of the most beloved books by readers in the history of literature.
Pip doesn’t expect much from life–his sister openly tells him that his younger orphan brother is nothing but a burden to her. But suddenly everything begins to go differently – Pip’s little world changes beyond recognition when he finds a fugitive criminal, visits a mysterious old woman, and meets the cold beauty Estella, and to top it all he gets money from a stranger for a new life in London.
Are all these events coincidental? Or does Pip’s fate now depend on a chain of coincidences he never expected?
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
“Jane Eyre,” Charlotte Brontë’s first published novel, earned a reputation as a masterpiece immediately upon its release in 1847.
Orphan Jane’s childhood was miserable – her aunt and cousins hated her and then sent her to the uncomfortable Lowood School. But there Jane’s life got on well – and she became a teacher, though she still dreamed of love and friendship. At Mr. Rochester’s house, where Jane is hired as a governess, she hopes to finally have them. But everything changes when she discovers a terrible secret hidden in the attic…
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
A novel about love, family, prejudice, and envy, this is Emily Brontë’s incomparable masterpiece and one of the key texts of nineteenth-century literature.
“Wuthering Heights” is the story of two families united and at the same time divided by love and hate. Katherine is a beautiful and willful girl whose heart is torn between her kind husband and the ardent but vindictive Heathcliff, who has been in love with her since childhood.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
Obsessed with creating life, Victor Frankenstein steals material from graveyards for a new creature, which he then awakens with electricity. But his failed creation, rejected both by Frankenstein himself and society, begins a hunt for his creator and everyone he cares about.
The creepy gothic tale, which Mary Shelley began writing at only nineteen, has become the world’s most famous book in the horror genre–and remains a harrowing exploration of the limits of human ingenuity.
Vanity Fair, by William Thackeray
At Miss Pinkerton’s boarding house for noble maidens, poor orphan Becky Sharp develops a friendship with the lovely Emilia Sedley. Compared to her friend, Becky isn’t pretty at all, but her intelligence, charm, cunning, and determined desire to succeed in life at all costs more than makeup for it.
“Vanity Fair” is the story of the stunning rise and fall of Becky, a negative heroine who risks, manipulates, and seduces for success in high society.
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Perhaps Jane Austen’s most beloved work by readers. Secular society is turned upside down in this ironic and witty novel about friendship, rivalry, and love–a classic of romantic literature.
The Bennet sisters need the financial stability that only marriage can bring. When she first meets Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet feels nothing but disgust at the pride and prejudice he feels toward her poor family. However, Elizabeth finds it increasingly difficult to ignore Mr. Darcy, as her sister Jane strikes up a relationship with his sweet and affable friend Mr. Bingley.
The Forsyte Saga, by John Galsworthy
“The Forsyte Saga” is the story of how the wealthy Forsyte dynasty grows in fortune over half a century, but at the same time suffers a disaster in matters of feeling and emotion. The saga begins in the late nineteenth century, when the upper middle class, with all that they owned and valued, gradually begin to pass away. The Forsytes do not seem to notice this, preferring to cling to tradition and “exceptional respectability.
While the proud Soms Forsythe tries to maintain the old morals in the face of the social revolution that World War I has brought with it, the extraordinary beauty of his wife, Irene, shatters the order further and further. And Soms and Irene’s violent feud with each other splits the Forsythe family into two long generations.
The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
“The most popular novel of the nineteenth century and still one of the best stories in all of British literature,” is how Sarah Waters wrote of Wilkie Collins’s famous book.
Marian and her sister Laura lived quietly under their uncle’s care until Laura became engaged to Sir Percival Glyde. The man appeared to have many secrets – and is one of them related to the mysterious visits of a woman dressed in white? And what does his charismatic friend Earl Fosco, owner of tame white mice, have to do with it all? To find out what’s going on and save Laura from a deadly conspiracy, Marian, along with her art teacher Walter, are forced to turn into detectives…