Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
“I think I could be a good woman, if I had five thousand a year,” observes beautiful and clever Becky Sharp, one of the wickedest—and most appealing—women in all of literature. Becky is just one of the many fascinating figures that populate William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair, a wonderfully satirical panorama of upper-middle-class life and manners in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Scorned for her lack of money and breeding, Becky must use all her wit, charm and considerable sex appeal to escape her drab destiny as a governess. From London’s ballrooms to the battlefields of Waterloo, the bewitching Becky works her wiles on a gallery of memorable characters, including her lecherous employer, Sir Pitt, his rich sister, Miss Crawley, and Pitt’s dashing son, Rawdon, the first of Becky’s misguided sexual entanglements.
Filled with hilarious dialogue and superb characterizations, Vanity Fair is a richly entertaining comedy that asks the reader, “Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?”
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre, the story of a young girl and her passage into adulthood, was an immediate commercial success at the time of its original publication in 1847. Its representation of the underside of domestic life and the hypocrisy behind religious enthusiasm drew both praise and bitter criticism, while Charlotte Brontë's striking expose of poor living conditions for children in charity schools as well as her poignant portrayal of the limitations faced by women who worked as governesses sparked great controversy and social debate. Jane Eyre, Brontë's best-known novel, remains an extraordinary coming-of-age narrative, and one of the great classics of literature.
A Room with a View, E. M. Forster
This Edwardian social comedy explores love and prim propriety among an eccentric cast of characters assembled in an Italian pensione and in a corner of Surrey, England.
A charming young Englishwoman, Lucy Honeychurch, faints into the arms of a fellow Britisher when she witnesses a murder in a Florentine piazza. Attracted to this man, George Emerson—who is entirely unsuitable and whose father just may be a Socialist—Lucy is soon at war with the snobbery of her class and her own conflicting desires. Back in England, she is courted by a more acceptable, if stifling, suitor and soon realizes she must make a startling decision that will decide the course of her future: she is forced to choose between convention and passion.
Anna Karenina, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy
Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel's seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.
Persuasion, Jane Austen
The final novel by the acclaimed writer places heroine Anne Elliot, a woman of integrity and deep emotion, against the brutality and hypocrisy of Regency England.
Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
At the age of ten, Fanny Price leaves the poverty of her Portsmouth home to be brought up among the family of her wealthy uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, in the chilly grandeur of Mansfield Park. She gradually falls in love with her cousin Edmund, but when the dazzling and sophisticated Crawfords arrive, and amateur theatricals unleash rivalry and sexual jealousy, Fanny has to fight to retain her independence.
Lady Chatterley's Lover, David Herbert Lawrence
Lady Chatterley's Lover is a novel by D. H. Lawrence written in
Printed privately in Florence in 1928, it was not printed in the United Kingdom until 1960 (other than in an underground edition issued by Inky Stephensen's Mandrake Press in 1929). Lawrence considered calling this book Tenderness at one time and made significant alterations to the original manuscript in order to make it palatable to readers. It has been published in three different versions.
The publication of the book caused a scandal due to its explicit sex scenes, including previously banned four-letter words, and perhaps because the lovers were a working-class male and an aristocratic female.
The story is said to have originated from events in Lawrence's own unhappy domestic life, and he took inspiration for the settings of the book from Ilkeston in Derbyshire where he lived for a while. According to some critics the fling of Lady Ottoline Morrell with "Tiger", a young stonemason who came to carve plinths for her garden statues, also influenced the story.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde's story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is one of his most popular works. Written in Wilde's characteristically dazzling manner, full of stinging epigrams and shrewd observations, the tale of Dorian Gray's moral disintegration caused something of a scandal when it first appeared in 1890. Wilde was attacked for his decadence and corrupting influence, and a few years later the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde's homosexual liaisons, trials that resulted in his imprisonment. Of the book's value as autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, "Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be--in other ages, perhaps."
The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
The Metamorphosis (German: Die Verwandlung) is a novella by Franz Kafka, first published in 1915. The story begins with a traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, waking to find himself transformed into a "monstrous vermin".
The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
The Age of Innocence centers on one society couple's impending marriage and the introduction of a scandalous woman whose presence threatens their happiness. Though the novel questions the assumptions and mores of turn of the century New York society, it never devolves into an outright condemnation of the institution. In fact, Wharton considered this novel an "apology" for the earlier, more brutal and critical, "The House of Mirth". Not to be overlooked is the author's attention to detailing the charms and customs of this caste. The novel is lauded for its accurate portrayal of how the nineteenth-century East Coast American upper class lived and this combined with the social tragedy earned Wharton a Pulitzer - the first Pulitzer awarded to a woman.