Top 10 Essential Classics of English Literature to Start Your Reading Journey

Tags: #VirginiaWoolf ,   #F.ScottFitzger ,   #OscarWilde ,   #GeorgeOrwell

Scarlett Goldstein

Scarlett Goldstein

Last updated:  2020-11-16 17:40:56

Modern literature feels familiar because every age has its movements and features. However, there is one genre we always come back to – the good old classics. Some of them are not even that old, but they were so influential that they changed the literature forever. Every country and language has great names that made history, and luckily, their writings are available in English. If you’re looking for book recommendations, check our top 10 favorite classics ever written in the English language.  Of course, you can combine them with some of the best short stories.

10. “The Catcher in the Rye” by Jerome David Salinger

Check out the most interesting facts about this classic

When we discuss novels written in English that are indispensable, it’s impossible to not come across “The Catcher in the Rye.” If you’re new in the world of classics and want to read a book full of lessons for young adults, you’re looking for this one. 

The young anti-hero named Holden won’t teach you what you should do, but sometimes we need to see the exact opposite. We should notice what is wrong and hopefully learn from others’ mistakes. However, as we are all humans, we all question our morals, identity, and belonging. “The Catcher in the Rye” also tries to tell you you’re not alone in it! And you’re obviously not the only one.

9. “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner

The CodeX Cantina tried to explain the confusion “The Sound and the Fury” can cause

This novel might be the hardest one from this list to understand. It might not be the starter like “The Catcher in the Rye,” but don’t skip it. However, you may need a reading guide. Actually, people usually give up on it after the first few pages. Still, we suggest you should go further and give it a chance. Faulkner developed the stream-of-consciousness technique, which became widely used in the newest literature. Knowing the emotional depth of a character became a must, and that’s what Faulkner did among his other colleagues like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.

The actual advice for enjoying this book is to read it twice. You won’t regret going back to it because many things will already be clear after the first time. Nevertheless, by the second reading, it’s impossible to not get its point. Moreover, the novel is not only revolutionary for its theme but also for its game-changing structure. Losing yourself in its form might cause “the fury,” but trust us, you shouldn’t skip “The Sound and the Fury.“

8. “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens

A lesson by Iseult Gillespie about Dickens’ life and legacy

How many of you would leave everything you do right now just to have a taste of a life you never could experience before? That’s what Pip does in Dickens’ best novel. Our expectations are often the burden we decide to carry. Moreover, high hopes can only lead to disappointment. Even when we get what we want, our next step will be keeping the score. It’s hard to tell if a person ever achieves everything they want because we always want more.

The main character from Dickens’ best-selling book always longs for self-improvement, which is a good thing. However, his obsession with wealth and the upper class shouldn’t make him forget that it’s impossible to run from himself. For these important lessons, including vengeance, love, and social differences, you should’ve already read this book at least once in your life.

7. “Ulysses” by James Joyce

Tom Nicholas on “Ulysses” and how to read it

“Ulysses” is actually the Latinised version of “the Odyssey,” the prominent Homer’s hero. Joyce’s way of thinking is highly acclaimed, especially for this great piece of work, which brought fiction to another level. However, it also brought many controversies along, but they only make the novel more extraordinary.

Like “Ulysses” by Joyce, some modernist novels made such an evident change in today’s literature that you see its influence everywhere. “Ulysses” is another stream-of-consciousness built novel, with characterization as the central point. It’s enough to say that Joyce has his own holiday every 16th June, named “Bloomsday,” so the love for this novel and its author is quite alive.

6. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Besides being a good read, Fitzgerald’s work also has a 5-star movie adaptation

Fitzgerald is today considered one of the best American writers. Unfortunately, he died before his magnum opus, “The Great Gatsby,” earned its acclaim. His idea of making something “new, extraordinary and beautiful,” just like he said of this novel, is successfully embodied in the main characters, their visions, and dreams. Extraordinary is also his approach to inequality, materialism, and gender roles.

This book feels fresh and hedonistic, with its “Jazz Age” settings, better known as the “Roaring Twenties.” However, this novel shows the darker, decadent side of believing that anyone can achieve whatever they want. America has many credible stories that perfectly shape the idea of the American dream and the way people see its essence. However, “The Great Gatsby” in this context seems to be the greatest.

5. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee 

Watch this pretty animation by GradeSaver to get to know the story better

Harper Lee published this masterpiece in 1960. In the same year, it exploded on charts and became a classic of modern American literature. Lee is one of the revolutionary writers of her time and a woman who wasn’t afraid to break the rules and stereotypes. She showcases her versatility, binding good and evil in Scout’s area, teaching her what she should expect from the world she’s entering.

The themes of social and class inequality, the importance of education, and being “street-smart” made this book a must at everyone’s young age. Moreover, it’s an ode to friendship, viewing people as human beings without prejudices, and learning how to cope with the world.

4. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell

Catch a glimpse of George Orwell’s biography to understand his ideas for the novel

If the themes of utopia and dystopia are your cup of tea, or you’re looking for a novel like that, this one should be a perfect start. It’s a good read not only for people who already know about politics and inequality. It’s also an amazing choice for young adults that are still getting familiar with this world. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” as ironically says Napoleon, the farm’s main pig.

Interpretations of this allegory and satire are various. Nevertheless, as the reader gets to meet the animals and their characteristics, it’s easy to find out that they’re all built from the basic aspects of human nature. The horses work and believe in their work ethic. They think that dedication and hard work are enough. On the other side, we have pigs that use their brain to manipulate and impose their ideas on others. The purpose of seeing people from our own modern society will come to your mind spontaneously.

3. “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding 

Jill Dash discussed the importance of “Lord of the Flies”

How would you behave if you had to spend countless days on an isolated island with a group of people you have to befriend to survive? This revolutionary 1954 novel shows how hard it can be for people to collaborate and support each other. It manifests how some of us naturally take the lead or let themselves get lost in the crowd. It also displays how human beings can easily turn against each other and how their survival instinct influences everyone.

The most important allegory and moral of the story lies in its title. “Lord of the Flies” is not a beast they meet on the island – it’s the beast inside all of us which exists in human nature. While this monster can be tamed, it can’t be killed.

2. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde 

Course Hero explained the main ideas of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

What if you were granted eternal beauty? Beauty that never fades away is a wish that Wilde’s character Dorian Gray makes, too. Narcissism is the leitmotif that leads Gray to mental health issues, extreme egoism, and destructive behavior. Wilde is exploring many types of violent love in this novel. Still, he highlights all of the issues that too much self-love brought to his protagonist.

Moreover, Wilde admitted that the three main characters, Dorian, Basil, and Lord Henry, are actually the three versions of himself. Wit, hedonism, obsession, morality, amorality, and immorality collide in these characters. It makes their complexity their curse and blessing nonetheless.

1. “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf 

There are many reasons to get familiar with Woolf’s work

“Mrs. Dalloway” is an extremely modern book by one of the best British novelists, Virginia Woolf. She is still popular for her influential writing style, which includes the stream-of-consciousness technique. The story develops spontaneously and goes back and forth in time, just like human thoughts. Although the plot is occurring in only 24 hours, we get to see many details. As Clarissa prepares her party, we meet her memories, feelings, and the people she used to love in the past.

The reader finds out later that the party feels like a reunion of people who used to share the same life before and that everyone is connected somehow. Woolf touched upon mental health, existential crises, and sexualities. She’s also considered a feminist role model. If you pay attention closely, these four themes are actually the most recurring in today’s society – Woolf really went ahead of her time.

You’ve probably read some of the books mentioned above, as we all stumbled upon them at least once. However, if you skipped any of these, you won’t regret giving them a chance or two again. These books passed the test of time, so we suggest you should check them out.

Which classic written in English holds a special place in your heart? Is it on our list, or do you have another favorite? Let us know your preferences!

Photo: Pixabay


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