I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ll read just about any classic novel in the world. Having an informed opinion so I can talk about it is worth struggling through a story I don’t like but many of them are so amazing. I’m a lover of fine editions and I collect the Barnes and Noble leather bound editions, which I know aren’t the finest of fine editions (they’re only about $20) but they are beautiful and affordable so they can’t be beat. A beautiful edition with gilded edges and a ribbon bookmark adds something lovely to the experience of reading classics. I’m getting distracted—this post wasn’t supposed to be about the beautiful editions I own, it’s about the stories inside those editions. These are my favorite classic novels!
A Christmas Carol may be my favorite of the favorites. Dickens’ writing is on another level for me. I grew up, as many people did, knowing the story of A Christmas Carol and watching different film adaptations. The first time I read it, I wasn’t sure if I’d like it as much as the movies because sometimes older writing isn’t that exciting and doesn’t translate the same way for me. This was not the case with ACC. I was blown away by the writing, it’s that fantastic. Picture the scene with the Ghost of Christmas Present—how big and over the top and rich the detail is in your mind. It’s the exact same in the book, overflowing with little details that paint the perfect image. The story is a Christmas classic that sums up the feelings of the season and had such an impact on how we celebrate Christmas today. I read it every December as a little tradition. It’s cozy and full of lessons everyone could use a reminder of. I can’t get enough.
Favorite quote: “No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.”
Another Dickens favorite is A Tale of Two Cities. What a story. Honestly, this is a story I appreciated more when it was finished because even though the writing was great, it did feel dull at some parts. Classics are like that for me sometimes—I love the story but I love it even more when I finish it because the writing style can make it drag a bit for me. Nonetheless, AToTC had a complex plot and interesting characters and the ending is one of my favorites in any classic novel.
Favorite quote: “I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
I adore The Great Gatsby. I’m in love with the 1920s in general and I just love the story. The book captures the feel of the 20s—extravagance and lavish lifestyles and the triviality of all the finery when it comes to real happiness. I love the story, I love the writing, I just love the book.
Favorite quote: “All the bright precious things fade so fast, and they don’t come back.”
Jane Eyre was a very unexpected favorite for me. I went into it thinking it would be slow and somewhat boring but I flew through it. This was one of the most surprisingly compelling classics with one of my favorite classic heroines ever. I loved Jane from the moment we met her as a defiant and lively ten year old girl. I expected the characters and plot to be similar to Jane Austen books but it is so much better. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy Jane Austen, but there is a predictability to her characters and stories in my opinion. I was so pleased to find none of that in Jane Eyre. I loved the bit of mystery, too. I love Jane Eyre!!!! I needed all those exclamation points to really convey how much I loved the independent, opinionated, and amazing Jane.
Favorite quotes: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”
“I am not an angel,’ I asserted; ‘and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself.”
Anna Karenina is a long and wordy read but the story is so worth it. Again, this was such an unexpected favorite. I think after reading several boring classics I began going into them not expecting much. Anna Karenina is so fantastic because it was another story with such interesting characters with complicated relationships. A married woman who falls in love with another man and wants a divorce in 19th century Russia? A woman who discovers her husband cheating? A woman being courted by two men, only to have one of those men fall in love with her older sister’s married sister in law? How scandalous. How positively outrageous. The only parts I didn’t enjoy in this book were from Konstantin Levin’s point of view. I can only handle so much in depth farming talk. Other than that, this book is incredible with a shocking and dramatic end to Anna’s story.
Favorite quotes: “If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”
“Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed. ”
“All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”
I haven’t read much classic horror, but Dracula is my favorite of what I’ve read so far. I find that I’m don’t get frightened or creeped out much by horror books, even modern ones, but Dracula did have some truly creepy moments. It’s an epistolary novel—told through letters—and it felt less dense than a lot of other classics. The story is slow building but works up to an exciting ending.
Favorite quote: “I want you to believe…to believe in things that you cannot.”
I love Oscar Wilde. He would be the dead person I’d pick to have dinner with. I hope my ghost will be best friends with his ghost someday. I’m way off point, but I loved The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde explores the vanity of upperclass British society in the 1800s and the morality of someone who remains unaffected, at least physically, by the horrible things he does and by living a life that was hedonistic in the opinion of society. There’s a bit of a double life being led by Dorian until his deeds catch up to him and he realizes the importance of his actions. It was quite the scandalous novel back in the day but it explores themes still relevant today. It’s a must read in my opinion.
Favorite quotes: “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”
This might be cheating a little because The Importance of Being Earnest is a play, not a novel, but I love it so much there’s absolutely no way I could leave it out of my favorite classics list. This play is my favorite thing Oscar Wilde ever did. He has such a way with words and is so funny. I regularly quote this play in everyday life and can’t recommend it enough.
Favorite quotes: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”
“If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely over-educated.”
“Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs.”
“Puts on a large unbecoming hat”
I read all of these classics at least a few years ago and thinking about them has made me want to do a reread of just about every one to have them fresh in my mind again. At the very least, I’m seriously overdue for a reread of The Importance of Being Earnest. What a gem.
What are your favorite classic novels? Let me know in the comments.