Sunday 28 June 2020

My Favourite & Best Classics

When the Classics Club originally asked this question in August 2012, I waffled on a bit about my love for all things Jane Austen, but eventually I came to the conclusion that my favourite classic of all time was Persuasion by Jane Austen.

Eight years later, it is hard to top this.

Persuasion is a story that bears repeated readings, never gets tired, constantly provides solace and comfort and still amazes me every time with its exquisite writing and plotting. Oh! and the dramatic irony, the social satire that cuts deep but sweet like a cake knife, the on point dialogue and the so, so satisfying relationship arcs. And if by some weird quirk of fate this is not quite the right thing for my mood, then one of Austen's other books will be for sure! She delights me at every turn, every page, every book. Austen is the only author that I have read so consistently and so often throughout my adult life. 

However in the eight years since I last answered this Classic Club question, I've read so many more classic titles and authors, from a far more diverse range of genres, regions and cultures. None of them have had the pleasure of multiple rereads, like my Austens. But some of the titles listed below are classics I do plan on rereading one day. 

My Best of Classics List

In Translation:
  • French - Germinal by Emile Zola
  • Russian - Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
  • I have read many more foreign classics, from all around the world, but these are the two books I really want to reread and delve into far! 
  • Both these books packed an emotional punch that still reverberates years later. They are both set in radical, rapidly changing times - times that the authors also lived through. The personal, the facts and the fiction are interwoven into a seamless, satisfying, epic whole.
Short Stories:
  • Katherine Mansfield - I'm still making my way through her short stories. Each and every one is like peeling an onion in reverse. Each story adds another layer of understanding and insight into Mansfield's mind and heart.
  • The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by (Ethel) Henry Handel Richardson - how on earth this book is not required reading for anyone serious in their English studies at high school, is beyond me. Yes, all three volumes together are HUGE, but the insights into colonial Australia, wrapped up as they are, in the story of Richardson's own childhood, are exceptional.
  • North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell - this list is for the books discovered by me in the last eight years. If I was to include an all-time reading list, then Jane Eyre, David Copperfield and Middlemarch would also have to be listed here.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston - Janie has an astounding voice. She keeps whispering my name hoping to tempt me back into her world again soon.
  • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville - the effort required to read this book is worth it if you have the time and patience to do so.
  • Absolutely anything by John Wyndham. Yes, I'm pretty tame when it comes to sci-fi. 
  • My recent reread of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J R R Tolkien only confirmed how magnificent these books are. For pure escapism, detailed world building and characters to love (and hate), they are hard to bet.
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. If you haven't read this extraordinary account of WWI yet, you really should stop everything and source a copy now.
Ancient World:
  • Herodotus' The Histories - what a wonderful old gossip he was! One day I will write a post about my own history with Herodotus....
Honourable Mentions: (For those classics from my pre-blogging days that couldn't quite beat out Jane Austen):
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery
  • Diary of Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  • Dangerous Liaison by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  • The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
Each and everyone of these stories is now a part of my story.
They helped to form my view of the world.
They have given me a sense of belonging and connection and fellowship.
They have satisfied my soul and slaked my cravings.
They have asked impossible questions and answered many more.
They have taken me out of myself, to another place, another time, another possibility.
They have inspired me to do better, be better, live life more fully, deeply, kindly and whole-heartedly. 
They have given me hope in dark times, lifted me up when I was down and been a friend to lean on when I thought I was all alone.

I'm sure there are sub-categories and genres that I've over-looked (like modern-day classics), but for now, these are my favourite and best classics.


  1. Great post! I should really look at my favorite classics list again -- I've been blogging more than 10 years, I'm sure I need to update it. I love your list, Germinal is brilliant and The Forsyte Saga doesn't get enough credit.

    I'm currently listening to an audio of Persuasion, this one beautifully narrated by actress Greta Scacchi (who played Mrs. Elton in the 1996 Emma and Cassandra Austen in Miss Austen Regrets). I've read and listened to it many, many times and I always get something new out of it, it's tied with P&P for my favorite Jane Austen novel. It's my third Jane Austen this calendar year and I'll probably read them all again.

    1. I used to reread my Austens every few years, but since working in an Indie bookshop, that habit has had to go. There are too many new releases I need to have more than a passing knowledge of, to enjoy a good reread. Just as well I read them all so many times during my twenties and thirties!

  2. Yours is a good list! I will jot some down for myself. What other Australian classics would you suggest? Zola & the Pasternak would be good rereads ... and a Wharton book perhaps. I'm not as up on the classics as I should be.

    1. Sadly, I haven't read anywhere near enough Australian classics - but I can recommend the Martin Boyd Cardboard Crown tetralogy, anything by Henry Handel Richardson, My Brilliant Career. Ada Cambridge is also pretty interesting.

  3. Fabulous idea! (Seriously, how can we choose just one favorite when our needs and moods change so?)
    Ditto to Germinal, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Testament of Youth, and of course, Persuasion.

    1. So true, although my love and affection for Persuasion and Jane Austen does seem to be particularly enduring, despite all the other temptations :-)

  4. awesome list! I really loved Tess. And now I have to go and check John Wyndham!!

    1. I love Tess in an angry kind of way. It's a book that infuriates me so much...but then I love it when a book has the power to affect me so strongly, every time, even when I know what's going to happen.

      And I hope you do check out Wyndham, his sci-fi is genuinely creepy, but also very quaint and English and of it's time.

  5. I would have to think hard about my favourite foreign classic, let's say for the moment War and Peace. I agree with all your others, though I'm yet to read Hurston and only recently read Toni Morrison's Beloved, which I found amazing. I've been reading in the century before Jane Austen, perhaps my favourite so far would be The Vicar of Wakefield. And John Wyndham! He was my introduction to SF more than 50 years ago but still very good. I have too many favourite Australian classics, topped as I'm sure you know by The Pea Pickers, but let me suggest for your readers Christina Stead. For Love Alone is very good, but Letty Fox is probably my favourite - one of our finest writers, at the height of her powers.

    1. Thanks for the tip about which Stead to start with Bill. I tried her frame story, The Salzburg Tales and found them rather tedious by the end. I wasn't sure if I'd try again, but now you've given me two choices. And I'm adding the Vicar to my wishlist too :-)

    2. Thanks for working out who the commenter was. I have more than one gmail account and both my laptop and my phone can never keep up with who I am at any given time. (At the moment Blogger is saying reply as BillHTrucking, but I bet I'm anon again). Bill

    3. The Pea Pickers was all the clue I needed :-)
      Multiple devices is certainly one of the many issues for people trying to leave comments on Blogger. There used to be an app, but it got left behind with an Ios update years ago. Maybe it's one of the things they're working on again? Who knows. Communication is not one of their strong points. But I shouldn't complain; it's better than being bombarded with bright and breezy newsletters and daily updates.

  6. Great post. I agree, I think that we discover new classics as we read along. I don't agree about Moby Dick though. Can't really recommend it to anyone, although glad I did read it.
    I have three favourites which have been with me for quite some time; Gone With The Wind, Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice. I could add Brideshead Revisited, wonderful book. For Thomas Hardy I would go for The Mayor of Casterbridge, although I enjoyed Tess as well. Although, like someone else here commentented, you read it with a certain kind of irritation. To Kill a Mockingbird, also very good. I have still to read the Forsyth Saga. I remember loving the TV-series when I was young.
    If I should add a newer book it has to be A Gentleman in Moscow. I am sure this will be a classic in the future.

    1. I've been thinking about the more modern books too Lisbeth. I can feel a modern day classics post coming on :-)

  7. Hi Brona, I read this post a while ago but I can only post blogger comments if I’m on my iPad, which I don't always have on hand. Im so behind with my blogging friends. I even have trouble commenting on wordpress these days. My comments always end up in spam.
    Loved the way you documented yout lists here. I think Persuasion is also my favourite Austen. I haven’t read H.H Richardson at all but would like to read Richard Mahony at some stage.
    I do enjoy John Wyndham - I’m not a hard core sci fi-er. More recently I read his book ‘Chocky.’ Definitely dated but enjoyable.
    Are you still going with the Rowland Sinclair books? I’m on to No. 9. A friend loaned me the last two in the series so I could catch up. I thought Dangerous Language was her best so far.
    Hope you & your family are well.

    1. Hi Carol lovely to hear from you again.

      I understand perfectly about commenting issues, let alone keeping up with the blogging world atm. There are a lot of distractions and despite all the extra time spent at home of late, the time seems to get frittered away doing...other stuff! I don't even know what.

      My writing is so uninspired too - struggling to find words and motivation. The reading is doing better though...and I have the latest Rowly waiting for a rainy weekend. And, yes, I think no. 9 is the best to date as well. The stories are getting darker and our beloved friends more complex Rowland Sinclair


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