The 100 Best Novels: A Literary Critic Creates a List in 1898

old books 32Book lists, despite what younger readers born into Buzzfeed’s ruthless listsicle monopoly may think, have always been popular. Some, like David Bowie’s Top 100 Books, give us a sense of the artist’s development. Others, like Joseph Brodsky’s List of 84 Books for Basic Conversation, provide a Nobel prize-winning benchmark for knowledge. Even though the books are within the reach of most readers, systematically digesting such lists often tries one’s patience. Despite the lack of will or interest in working through someone else’s literary education, however, glancing through such personal anthologies provides us with a glimpse into the maker’s life—be it their private tastes, or their social mores.

In late October, The Times Literary Supplement’s Michael Caines unearthed another Top 100 list; this one, however, has the distinction of hailing from 1898. At the turn of the 20th century, a journalist and author of numerous books on the Brontë sisters named Clement K. Shorter tried his hand at compiling the 100 Best Novels for a journal called The Bookman. The ground rules were simple: the list could feature only one novel per novelist, and living authors were excluded.  Today, Shorter’s compendium looks somewhat hit-or-miss. There are some indisputable classics (many of which can be found in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books collections) and some other texts that have faded into oblivion. Still—one can’t help but experience a certain historical frisson at a 19th century listsicle. Here it goes:

1. Don Quixote – 1604 – Miguel de Cervantes

2. The Holy War – 1682 – John Bunyan

3. Gil Blas – 1715 – Alain René le Sage

4. Robinson Crusoe – 1719 – Daniel Defoe

5. Gulliver’s Travels – 1726 – Jonathan Swift

6. Roderick Random – 1748 – Tobias Smollett

7. Clarissa – 1749 – Samuel Richardson

8. Tom Jones – 1749 – Henry Fielding

9. Candide – 1756 – Françoise de Voltaire

10. Rasselas – 1759 – Samuel Johnson

11. The Castle of Otranto – 1764 – Horace Walpole

12. The Vicar of Wakefield – 1766 – Oliver Goldsmith

13. The Old English Baron – 1777 – Clara Reeve

14. Evelina – 1778 – Fanny Burney

15. Vathek – 1787 – William Beckford

16. The Mysteries of Udolpho – 1794 – Ann Radcliffe

17. Caleb Williams – 1794 – William Godwin

18. The Wild Irish Girl – 1806 – Lady Morgan

19. Corinne – 1810 – Madame de Stael

20. The Scottish Chiefs – 1810 – Jane Porter

21. The Absentee – 1812 – Maria Edgeworth

22. Pride and Prejudice – 1813 – Jane Austen

23. Headlong Hall – 1816 – Thomas Love Peacock

24. Frankenstein – 1818 – Mary Shelley

25. Marriage – 1818 – Susan Ferrier

26. The Ayrshire Legatees – 1820 – John Galt

27. Valerius – 1821 – John Gibson Lockhart

28. Wilhelm Meister – 1821 – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

29. Kenilworth – 1821 – Sir Walter Scott

30. Bracebridge Hall – 1822 – Washington Irving

31. The Epicurean – 1822 – Thomas Moore

32. The Adventures of Hajji Baba – 1824 – James Morier (“usually reckoned his best”)

33. The Betrothed – 1825 – Alessandro Manzoni

34. Lichtenstein – 1826 – Wilhelm Hauff

35. The Last of the Mohicans – 1826 – Fenimore Cooper

36. The Collegians – 1828 – Gerald Griffin

37. The Autobiography of Mansie Wauch – 1828 – David M. Moir

38. Richelieu – 1829 – G. P. R. James (the “first and best” novel by the “doyen of historical novelists”)

39. Tom Cringle’s Log – 1833 – Michael Scott

40. Mr. Midshipman Easy – 1834 – Frederick Marryat

41. Le Père Goriot – 1835 – Honoré de Balzac

42. Rory O’More – 1836 – Samuel Lover (another first novel, inspired by one of the author’s own ballads)

43. Jack Brag – 1837 – Theodore Hook

44. Fardorougha the Miser – 1839 – William Carleton (“a grim study of avarice and Catholic family life. Critics consider it the author’s finest achievement”)

45. Valentine Vox – 1840 – Henry Cockton (yet another first novel)

46. Old St. Paul’s – 1841 – Harrison Ainsworth

47. Ten Thousand a Year – 1841 – Samuel Warren (“immensely successful”)

48. Susan Hopley – 1841 – Catherine Crowe (“the story of a resourceful servant who solves a mysterious crime”)

49. Charles O’Malley – 1841 – Charles Lever

50. The Last of the Barons – 1843 – Bulwer Lytton

51. Consuelo – 1844 – George Sand

52. Amy Herbert – 1844 – Elizabeth Sewell

53. Adventures of Mr. Ledbury – 1844 – Elizabeth Sewell

54. Sybil – 1845 – Lord Beaconsfield (a. k. a. Benjamin Disraeli)

55. The Three Musketeers – 1845 – Alexandre Dumas

56. The Wandering Jew – 1845 – Eugène Sue

57. Emilia Wyndham – 1846 – Anne Marsh

58. The Romance of War – 1846 – James Grant (“the narrative of the 92nd Highlanders’ contribution from the Peninsular campaign to Waterloo”)

59. Vanity Fair – 1847 – W. M. Thackeray

60. Jane Eyre – 1847 – Charlotte Brontë

61. Wuthering Heights – 1847 – Emily Brontë

62. The Vale of Cedars – 1848 – Grace Aguilar

63. David Copperfield – 1849 – Charles Dickens

64. The Maiden and Married Life of Mary Powell – 1850 – Anne Manning (“written in a pastiche seventeenth-century style and printed with the old-fashioned typography and page layout for which there was a vogue at the period . . .”)

65. The Scarlet Letter – 1850 – Nathaniel Hawthorne

66. Frank Fairleigh – 1850 – Francis Smedley (“Smedley specialised in fiction that is hearty and active, with a strong line in boisterous college escapades and adventurous esquestrian exploits”)

67. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – 1851 – H. B. Stowe

68. The Wide Wide World – 1851 – Susan Warner (Elizabeth Wetherell)

69. Nathalie – 1851 – Julia Kavanagh

70. Ruth – 1853 – Elizabeth Gaskell

71. The Lamplighter – 1854 – Maria Susanna Cummins

72. Dr. Antonio – 1855 – Giovanni Ruffini

73. Westward Ho! – 1855 – Charles Kingsley

74. Debit and Credit (Soll und Haben) – 1855 – Gustav Freytag

75. Tom Brown’s School-Days – 1856 – Thomas Hughes

76. Barchester Towers – 1857 – Anthony Trollope

77. John Halifax, Gentleman – 1857 – Dinah Mulock (a. k. a. Dinah Craik; “the best-known Victorian fable of Smilesian self-improvement”)

78. Ekkehard – 1857 – Viktor von Scheffel

79. Elsie Venner – 1859 – O. W. Holmes

80. The Woman in White – 1860 – Wilkie Collins

81. The Cloister and the Hearth – 1861 – Charles Reade

82. Ravenshoe – 1861 – Henry Kingsley (“There is much confusion in the plot to do with changelings and frustrated inheritance” in this successful novel by Charles Kingsley’s younger brother, the “black sheep” of a “highly respectable” family)

83. Fathers and Sons – 1861 – Ivan Turgenieff

84. Silas Marner – 1861 – George Eliot

85. Les Misérables – 1862 – Victor Hugo

86. Salammbô – 1862 – Gustave Flaubert

87. Salem Chapel – 1862 – Margaret Oliphant

88. The Channings – 1862 – Ellen Wood (a. k. a. Mrs Henry Wood)

89. Lost and Saved – 1863 – The Hon. Mrs. Norton

90. The Schönberg-Cotta Family – 1863 – Elizabeth Charles

91. Uncle Silas – 1864 – Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

92. Barbara’s History – 1864 – Amelia B. Edwards (“Confusingly for bibliographers, she was related to Matilda Betham-Edwards and possibly to Annie Edward(e)s . . .”)

93. Sweet Anne Page – 1868 – Mortimer Collins

94. Crime and Punishment – 1868 – Feodor Dostoieffsky

95. Fromont Junior – 1874 – Alphonse Daudet

96. Marmorne – 1877 – P. G. Hamerton (“written under the pseudonym Adolphus Segrave”)

97. Black but Comely – 1879 – G. J. Whyte-Melville

98. The Master of Ballantrae – 1889 – R. L. Stevenson

99. Reuben Sachs – 1889 – Amy Levy

100. News from Nowhere – 1891 – William Morris

In addition to the canon, Shorter—unable to heed his own cautious counsel and throwing the door open to the winds of literary passion—included 8 books by living novelists whom he called “writers whose reputations are too well established for their juniors to feel towards them any sentiments other than those of reverence and regard:”

An Egyptian Princess – 1864 – Georg Ebers

Rhoda Fleming – 1865 – George Meredith

Lorna Doone – 1869 – R. D. Blackmore

Anna Karenina – 1875 – Count Leo Tolstoi

The Return of the Native – 1878 – Thomas Hardy

Daisy Miller – 1878 – Henry James

Mark Rutherford – 1881 – W. Hale White

Le Rêve – 1889 – Emile Zola

via The Times Literary Supplement

Related Content:

David Bowie’s List of Top 100 Books

Christopher Hitchens Creates a Reading List for Eight-Year-Old Girl

See Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky’s Reading List For Having an Intelligent Conversation

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman 


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  • Robert William Alexander Jr. says:

    I’ve read perhaps 25 of these, and heard of maybe 20 more…Notice there is only one Dickens, one George Eliot.

  • Robert William Alexander Jr. says:

    I’ve read perhaps 25 of these, and heard of maybe 20 more…Notice there is only one Dickens, one George Eliot.

  • Paul says:

    Hey, I love these book lists you guys post, so I’d thought I’d recommend another knowledgeable source. In the sixties Kenneth Rexroth wrote an extremely fun and lively column for the Saturday Review where he reviewed some of the great classics of world literature. These reviews were eventually gathered together and published in two books, Classics Revisited and its sequel More Classics Revisited. Both books are goldmines. I’ve been poring over each of them for about twenty years now, and I’ve come to regard Rexroth as a trusted and good natured friend who I never got the chance to meet in person. I’m quite sure he would resonate strongly with anyone who digs Open Cultureu2026. And by the way, thanks for this site! I use this as my startup page; always a fun way to start the day.

  • Paul says:

    Hey, I love these book lists you guys post, so I’d thought I’d recommend another knowledgeable source. In the sixties Kenneth Rexroth wrote an extremely fun and lively column for the Saturday Review where he reviewed some of the great classics of world literature. These reviews were eventually gathered together and published in two books, Classics Revisited and its sequel More Classics Revisited. Both books are goldmines. I’ve been poring over each of them for about twenty years now, and I’ve come to regard Rexroth as a trusted and good natured friend who I never got the chance to meet in person. I’m quite sure he would resonate strongly with anyone who digs Open Cultureu2026. And by the way, thanks for this site! I use this as my startup page; always a fun way to start the day.

  • mahood says:

    The historical Mary Powell (#64) was married to John Milton, so I imagine that’s a historical novel about her experience.

  • Lisa says:

    I’m pleased and surprised to see so many women authors included, both the well- and lesser known.

  • kthejoker says:

    #53 is actually by Albert Richard Smith.

  • kthejoker says:

    Also, you should make it clearer (perhaps by using an unordered list) that this list is in chronological order, and not ranked 1-100.

  • jorge barroso says:

    Don Quixote,by Miguel de Cervantes, is undoubtly a classic novel…and really well placed on the book list.

  • Viktorija says:

    Fiodor Dostoyevsky** it is, please..

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