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Classic Novels Everyone Should Read

12 May 2022

We have classics for a reason. Trends come and go with every passing season, but some things really do manage to stand the test of time. In the world of art and media this is particularly true. Especially in the age of on-demand content and streaming services, the media that’s en vogue changes in the blink of an eye. One week’s must-see is soon a forgotten relic.

In slower times, when many books were published in weekly or monthly instalments, a single story could take years to unfold and people would be left with no choice but to wait patiently to see how the story wrapped up. Perhaps because of the slow media environment these titles were released in, many of them have persisted as classics today.

While it's important to keep up to date with the latest big things in the world of art and media, there’s still much to be said for sitting down and delving into the “classics.” They have a lot to teach us about our cultural heritage, and can connect us to the generations of the past.

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

If you’re looking to expand your knowledge of classic literature, but aren’t at present much of a reader, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitgerald makes for an excellent starting point. Set against the backdrop of the hedonistic Roaring Twenties in New York, F. Scott Fitzgerald tells a powerful story of love and loss, all in less than 200 pages.

F Scott Fitgerald’s perhaps best known work, The Great Gatsby is not only a tragic and gripping story, but a piece of literature that beautifully paints a sensuous picture of life in the Roaring Twenties. If you enjoy being whisked away into a world of dazzling colours, exquisite tastes, and intense emotion, The Great Gatsby is a classic novel you’ll rifle through in no time.   

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte, undoubtedly one of the most beloved authors in the English language, yet only wrote one novel - Wuthering Heights. And what a novel it is! In this epic tome, Emily Bronte uses the backdrop of the lonely English moors to explore love in all its forms. Her characters are both fuelled and destroyed by love, and this force weaves its way through multiple generations of the novel’s central families. An epic tale to be sure, Bronte frames this powerful emotional parable in some of the most beautiful prose the English language has ever known.

3. Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes

The oldest instalment on this list of classics, Miguel De Cervantes’ Don Quixote is not just a classic novel, but in many ways is the classic novel. Many literary scholars argue that it was with the publication of Don Quixote in 1605 that the modern “novel” was truly born. This beloved story tells the tale of a fictional lowly knight, and his rise to prominence under the title Don Quixote de la Mancha.

Don Quixote has been a subject of fascination for both readers and scholars alike since its publication, given how it is both a fun and exciting series of tales, and yet manages to create a commentary on the nature of literature itself. It is the fact that the main character of Don Quixote has himself read so many knights’ tales that he begins to fancy himself the main character of his very own epic, and sets off on his journey.  

4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

While everyone is familiar with the many terrifying movie and television adaptations of Frankenstein’s monster that have come to grace our screens, fewer people in recent years have read the classic novel upon which it is based. Acclaimed English author Mary Shelley, a key figure in the Romantic era of literature, penned this seminal work as part of a wager with fellow Romantic authors, her husband, Percy Shelley, and the poet Lord Byron. In 1816 the three of them challenged one another to see who could write the best horror story and Mary penned Frankenstein based upon a trip she had taken to Germany the year before, during which she passed Frankenstein Castle.  

Frankenstein formed the playbook for horror writing since, with its dark, gothic imagery, and moving prose. Even 200 years later, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein remains a classic and never fails to make readers scared of reading in the dark!

5. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is an epic novel and an absolute staple of North American literature. It follows the perilous adventures of Ishmail aboard the whaling ship Pequod, as he narrates the quest of vengeance enacted by the ship’s captain, Captain Ahab. Ahab is possessed by the need to slay the legendary whale Moby Dick in an act of revenge for the beast having taken Ahab’s leg years before.

Despite prophecies that death will come to those who attempt to slay the beast, Ahab marches forth in his quest. With Herman Melville’s powerful prose, it is no wonder that this epic tale became an instant classic that has persisted to the present day.  

6. Bonus: Ulysses by James Joyce

If the classics on this list are all to your liking, you can give yourself a challenge and get stuck into what is notoriously one of the most challenging - and rewarding - classic novels there is, James Joyce magnum opus, Ulysses. Ulysses is a modernist novel that follows the now iconic character of Leopold Bloom throughout the course of an ordinary day in the city of Dublin. The fascinating modernist prose leads readers deep into the world of Leopold Bloom, and Joyce’s seminal is so highly regarded that it has earned its own day of celebration with the 16th of June being celebrated as Bloomsday.

Brush up on your knowledge of classic literature with these stories for the ages!