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We all know the classic books by classic authors such as Emily Bronte and Wuthering Heights, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as well as The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. But what about those novels by the classic and famous authors that aren’t as well-known? This list will point you in the right direction to find your next favourite book.
Tender is the Night (1934) – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Better known for The Great Gatsby
Despite the success of Fitzgerald’s third novel, The Great Gatsby, he was never able to live up to expectations with his final completed novel, Tender is the Night. Though he believed it to be his masterpiece and that it deserved to overtake The Great Gatsby in term of popularity, critics and readers alike shunned it as being out-of-touch with the current economic situation in the US as it was published in the midst of the Great Depression while it still focused on the themes for which he was widely known for: the American Dream, hedonistic parties, and lavish trips to the French Riviera. It was only after his death that literary critics began giving Tender is the Night the attention and praise it rightly deserves.
‘Think how you love me… I don’t ask you to love me always like this, but I ask you to remember… I’ll be different but somewhere lost inside me there’ll always be the person I am tonight.’
Alongside the themes you would expect from one of the greatest and most famous authors, as mentioned previously, Fitzgerald also includes more autobiographical aspects including his wife, Zelda, and her deteriorating mental health and his own struggle with alcoholism - the result was devastating. Perhaps not the happiest read out there but it truly is a beautiful novel that deserves recognition. Though less lyrical in its prose than Gatsby, the language and storytelling is just as stunning, if not more so, as you can see how Fitzgerald’s writing style evolved and matured. Basically, if you enjoyed The Great Gatsby you cannot afford to miss out on reading Tender is the Night.
A Moveable Feast (1964) – Ernest Hemingway
Better know for For Whom the Bell Tolls
Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast is not a novel, but a memoir of his time living in Paris in the 1920s as an unknown struggling author. He is an expert at bringing the Parisian streets alive, giving the exact street names, landmarks, restaurants, bars, and cafes, where he spent much of his time. It would be possible to complete a tour of Hemingway’s favourite haunts - there is so much detail. Though a lot less flowery than Fitzgerald’s, Hemingway’s writing-style is straight to the point, but this does not mean that it cannot be just as lovely to read.
‘But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong, nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight'
A Moveable Feast is a memoir, but it is written in short chapters that can be read alone, so they are not dependent on the entire context of the book to make sense; moreover, the chapters are not in chronological order, so you could read them in any order you wanted. Many chapters throughout detail his life and friendships with other well-known authors of the ‘Lost Generation’, including Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein. For fans of Fitzgerald, Hemingway should be read. For fans of Paris, A Moveable Feast should be read. Again, another great piece from one of many classic, famous authors.
East of Eden (1952) – John Steinbeck
Better known for The Grapes of Wrath
The likelihood is that you have studied Steinbeck’s most prominent works The Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men in school, and you have probably even heard of East of Eden but have you actually read it? You should. East of Eden follows the interwoven lives of two families, focussing on themes such as love, depravity, self-destruction and the struggle for acceptance. It differs greatly, in this sense, from both The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, which focuses on the lives of migrant workers during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
‘There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty’
Steinbeck himself considered East of Eden to be his magnum opus and, despite the initial panning by literary critics, the general public took the novel into their hearts where it has remained since. Beautifully written and the compelling creation of characters means that East of Eden should be on your reading list, whether you loved or loathed your prescribed Steinbeck reading in high school.
My Cousin Rachel (1951) - Daphne du Maurier
Better known for Rebecca
Similar to du Maurier’s most famous novel Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel is a mystery-romance set mainly on a large estate in Cornwall; the two are closely related in terms of plot points, such as an unexplained death, and a young, naïve narrator. However, where Rebecca was narrated by the young, nameless, and second Mrs de Winter, My Cousin Rachel is narrated by a young man called Philip. The plot revolves around the death of Philip’s cousin, Ambrose, and his widow, Rachel, who comes to stay with Philip; the exact circumstances surrounding Ambrose’s death are unclear and Philip cannot hep but wonder if his beautiful widowed cousin Rachel has something to do with it.
‘At twenty-three it takes very little to make the spirits soar’
Du Maurier’s expertise in crafting a tangled and complex web of mystery is on full-form in this novel, as is her subversion of the typical norms and expectations of power, sex, and femininity: where the man is usually in charge, du Maurier has expertly turned the tables, placing all the power into the woman, Rachel’s, hands. So, if murder mysteries and the subversion of gender norms are your cup of tea, give My Cousin Rachel a read and decide for yourself: Is she innocent, or guilty? Another must-read by one of the greatest and most famous authors Du Maurier.
Lady Oracle (1976) - Margaret Attwood
Better known for The Handmaid’s Tale
Compared to Attwood’s dystopian world of The Handmaid’s Tale, Lady Oracle is light, bright and fun with characters ranging from the Polish Count named Paul – with the feminine alias of Mavis Quilp, an author of romantic fiction – and the performance artist going by the name of the Royal Porcupine, Attwood creates a witty world full of imagination for her narrator, Joan, to muddle her way through. Beginning with the explanation from Joan that she has faked her own death and moved to a dingy flat in Rome, she takes us through the flashbacks of her life showing us how she wound up in such a strange situation.
‘His view of the world featured swift disasters set against a background of lurking doom, my cooking did nothing to contradict it’
Do not think, though, that because Lady Oracle is not dystopian is does not cover important themes: Lady Oracle is a decidedly feminist novel and a novel about the search for an identity in today’s messy world, covering everything from the bullying Joan experienced as a child from her own mother due to her weight, to losing herself time and time again in relationships, and never quite being able to figure out who she is supposed to be. Lady Oracle is a masterpiece of intertextuality, parodying gothic romance and fairytales, and subverting the tropes into something simultaneously witty and devastating.
The Waves (1931) – Virginia Woolf
Better known for Mrs Dalloway
Virginia Woolf’s The Waves is a modernist novel, following the stream-of-consciousness narrative style that propelled her most famous novel Mrs Dalloway to prominence. It follows the lives of six characters, and their friend, through soliloquies as it explores their relationships and development as they grow up, age and, eventually, begin to die.
‘I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me’