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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Comments (13)
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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.

    • EN(LIVE)N Production says:

      84 — Silas Mariner.nnAnd note: there are no liv­ing authors includ­ed in the main list and only one nov­el per nov­el­ist.

  • 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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