Dracula by Bram Stoker
Easily one of my favourite books of all time, not just one of my favourite classics, is Bram Stoker’s brilliant gothic novel. The story of vampire, Count Dracula, is one that crosses Europe and brings horror to the English landscape, a place rarely touched by the gothic tradition. I always found the language and format of the novel so fascinating and it’s one of the first classic texts that I really enjoyed. It’s formatted in diary entries and letters, the entire plot captured in individual perspectives collected together, but it reads just like any other novel. There are sexual women and swooning men and an amazing gothic plot that isn’t truly represented in any of its adaptations.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Modern classics count, right?… I have a lot of love for this one. It was one of my favourite books to study at university because it was fun to read in itself. It didn’t feel laborious to read. It’s the perfect interrogation of modern society, particularly post-war society, and our views on hierarchal structures and relationships. It contrasts a futuristic society where humans are bred based on a hierarchy and manipulated to genetically fit the profession they’ll take in, with a twentieth-century way of living. I love the mix of technology and humanity and how societies progress depending on the level of technology they rely on.
Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This book is one of my favourite modern classics. It’s short, maybe 200 pages, and it has a great feminist premise. Three men hear rumours of a civilisation completely made up of women and find it so unbelievable that they go in search of the land to prove there must be men there. It’s filled with gender stereotypes and patriarchy and strong female characters that challenge twentieth-century ideas of gender and sexuality. But it has a twist that breaks down the idealism of this supposedly utopian community. Charlotte Perkins Gilman excels at writing women’s fiction and she has a skill for writing male perspectives too.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I do love my gothic novels. I first read Wuthering Heights in high school and I’ve read it so many times since then. Bronte’s writing is so emotive and wonderful that it’s hard not to shiver while reading about the Yorkshire Moors. It’s so creepy and atmospheric, and because there are only hints at the supernatural it makes it so much more eerie. It plays with landscape, grief, and lust in ways that outdo so many gothic writers before it, using themes that already exist and making them more chilling. Reading the different perspectives in this story is like opening a Russian nesting doll spanning different generations. Just to add, if you ever get a chance to read some of her poetry too, you won’t be disappointed!
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll will always hold a very special place in my heart. I find his literature and poetry fascinating and there’s no way I could write this list without including this classic tale of nonsense. Alice’s adventures are ones that everyone should embark on at some point. The poetry in this book are especially stand-out, weaving throughout the text as obscure life lessons and, well, utter nonsense that you somehow manage to dissect into wise words. I read this book often and it never fails to warm my heart and make me laugh.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Is there anything more beautiful than a book that captures a perfect satirical image of a society, a society which adores this book without realising they are the ones being mocked? The chilling and remarkable tale of Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality will always be a favourite. Though the language may be harder to grasp if you’re not used to classical literature, I would still recommend it. It’s short and surprisingly philosophical. I really enjoyed the debates and discussions Dorian had with characters he came in contact with before his transformation, but also the descent into darkness.
The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
I know, I know, a lot of people would never class this as a classic, but in terms of fantasy literature, you can’t give this book enough credit. It set the grounds for a lot of fantasy published later in the twentieth century so it’s a classic in its own right. I absolutely adore this book, and the entire series, but the world building in this book is so damn beautiful. A lot of people say it’s hard to get into, which I think sets a bad image for the book. How many fantasy books are chockablock with description now? The Fellowship of the Ring is only 450ish pages and the second book is even less. Give it a go!
What are your favourite classics?