Ever since childhood, I have

100 Greatest novels ever written

Clement K Shorter Vanity Fair 1894Sometime editor of the Illustrated London News, an authority on the Brontës and Napoleon, Clement K. Shorter was in the middle of a flourishing career when this list appeared in the monthly journal called The Bookman. He doesn't explain what exactly makes a book one of the "best", only that he has deliberately limited himself to one novel per novelist. Living authors are excluded – although he cannot resist adding a rider of eight works by "writers whose reputations are too well established for their juniors to feel towards them any sentiments other than those of reverence and regard". In fact, I'd say if he'd been trying to prophesy what would still be regarded as a classic a century later, Shorter's shorter list is more proportionally successful than his longer one.

As intended, Shorter's list might still serve as an "actual incentive" to discovery, as he hoped, for "the youthful student of literature" (one to put next to David Bowie's, maybe) at least partly because of what seem now to be its many oddities. People have become less hesitant, for example, before praising the living (the more junior the better) and, one suspects, less willing to praise P. G. Hamerton's Marmorne. I'm not sure Bracebridge Hall is even in print on this side of the Atlantic. And would you have chosen Silas Marner over Middlemarch?

It's just a list, of course, and Shorter acknowledged that others could probably come up with "numerous omissions". It's curious to see what we might call classic or canonical novels among the works they've outlasted, though. Praise for, say, Jane Austen might have echoed down the centuries, but this doesn't mean that we share the same aesthetic values as readers who praised her in the early nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.

It's difficult to imagine any except the most foolhardy of readers reading every book on Shorter's list now, let alone agreeing with him. In John Sutherland's compendious Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction, however, may be found informed summary views of many of the lesser-known names below – see the parenthetical quotations for the ones that interested me.

For that full 1898 flavour, names and dates are as Shorter gives them.

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

Source: timescolumns.typepad.com
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