Top Ten Classics You Might Not Have Heard Of

Posted July 1, 2014 by Lory in lists / 22 Comments

Broke and Bookish meme

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is “Top Ten Classic Books,” or variations thereof. My favorite classic books don’t really need any more publicity from me (e.g. Great Expectations, Twelfth Night, Leaves of Grass), so I decided to make a list of classic books I love that aren’t so well-exposed. If you discover any of these marvelous under-the-radar reads through my list, I’ll be very pleased.

Elizabeth Gaskell novel classic

1. Wives and Daughters – Elizabeth Gaskell (1865)
Though her star has been eclipsed by Victorian giants such as Dickens and Eliot, Mrs. Gaskell’s wise, compassionate novels very much hold up to scrutiny today. This, her final — and alas, unfinished — work of fiction, starts in fairy-tale fashion with a man who marries the wrong woman, meaning her to be a mother to his young daughter.

2. Flatland – Edwin Abbott (1884)
A funny and thought-provoking mathematical satire, which describes how A. Square, resident of the two-dimensional Flatland, has strange encounters with other geometrical entities from a world of three dimensions. 

3. Indian Summer – William Dean Howells (1886)
This Jamesian comedy of love found in middle age is perhaps most enjoyable when one has reached the age of reason oneself. 

Andrew Lang fairy tales

4. The Chronicles of Pantouflia – Andrew Lang (1889/1893)
The editor of the famous Rainbow Fairy Books wrote two original stories which draw on many of the themes and motifs in the tales he knew so well. 

5. The Odd Women – George Gissing (1893)
Although not entirely successful in its characterizations, this novel offers a penetrating analysis of the social and economic plight of “odd” (that is, surplus or unpaired) women in the late nineteenth century. Gissing’s vision is bleak, but has a touch of dark humor. 

6. Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight – Elizabeth von Arnim (1905)
Von Arnim is best known for The Enchanted April and Elizabeth and Her German Garden, but here’s another charming story about a princess who tires of pomp and wants to be ordinary (but finds this is not so easy as it may seem). Incidentally, I found this title through Girlebooks, which is a great source for classics by women.

Hope Mirrlees fantasy classic 
7. Lud-in-the-Mist – Hope Mirrlees (1926)
A slyly humorous story of how “fairy fruit” invades and transforms a respectable town. This beautifully written fantasy lapsed into obscurity for many years until interest was revived recently by admirers including James Blaylock and Neil Gaiman.

8. The Corn King and the Spring Queen – Naomi Mitchison (1931)
With its insights into the magic-saturated, often barbaric mindset of ancient cultures from Greece to Egypt, this massive historical novel offers a fascinating imaginative window into the past. 

9. Mio, My Son – Astrid Lindgren (1954)
This lesser-known fantasy by the creator of Pippi Longstocking is a poetic tale about an unloved boy transported from our world to a new destiny as the son of the king of Farawayland. Sadly out of print, it deserves a campaign to bring it back.

10. The Pooh Perplex – Frederick C. Crews (1965)
A must for all English majors, this priceless parody examines the Pooh books from a variety of critical angles. You’ll never look at Freudian analysis in the same way again. 

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22 responses to “Top Ten Classics You Might Not Have Heard Of

    • She almost finished it, and outlined the end, so it's not one of those "unfinished in the middle" books. But it's too bad she couldn't complete her last work.

    • My original list had books I loved but seemed so boring…making this one took time but seemed a lot of fun.

  1. You're right, I think Elizabeth Gaskell is forgotten far too often! Same goes for Anne Bronte. 🙂 The Corn King and the Spring Queen sounds really interesting – I'll have to check it out!

  2. Great idea for this post. I have been really wanting to read North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. I haven't heard of a lot of these works The Odd Women sounds very interesting.

  3. North and South is also highly recommended. The Odd Women is good if you have a tolerance for depressing social commentary.

  4. Wow, the only one of these books I'd actually heard of is Wives and Daughters. I've only recently discovered that Astrid Lindgren wrote books other than Pippi Longstockings (what? things like that don't seem important when you're eight.) There are so many good sounding books on this list. I shall have to note them down and try and read some lesser known classics.

  5. I came looking for the alphabet meme, but instead found this – I have the Mirrles, von Arnim, Crews, and Gissing on my shelf unread, so must get around to them! Love the Gaskell.