Oh my, we’ve really come a long way haven’t we? Last time, we talked about what we think the Great American Novel is and why America has such a hard time deciding its representative text. Today, we’re going to look at something slightly different but along the same path. Last week, I told you that the novel England considers the “representative” text in most cases is Middlemarch. To some extent, I agree with this—but I want to show you some other novels that could also represent England in a good and overall, very meaningful light.
The first text I would choose would probably be Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. In this novel you get the difference between generations, the lives of the working class, the lives of the poor and you get a very realistic situation in which children and adults had to work in order to survive. I feel like this is completely representative of its time because it shows us a slice of life we wouldn’t normally see because, as readers, we are mostly on the outside of this situation. But, nonetheless, it is still very realistic.
The next book I would choose is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. As a work of the domestic gothic, we get a situation in which there is a woman who works for a rich man, we get the life of poor schooling, the lives of the rich and the poor, and even colonialism and questions concerning the British Empire. This book encompasses the time it was written in and makes good use of the context of Britain in the day that it was published. I believe it too, alongside Middlemarch by George Eliot and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, is a good contender for the novel that represents England.
The next book I would consider would most likely be Mrs. Dalloway or Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf. Both of these texts are good contenders as they both deal with the physical and the psychological states of not only the character, but the tensions of England during the time they are written. They are representative of the constant anxiety concerning control and power over one’s own life and land. I feel like Mrs. Dalloway probably represents less of what Jacob’s Room does and that the latter would be the one that I put forward as the contender for the novel representing the English People. Jacob’s Room is an amalgamation of physical things to represent psychological states and contextual anxieties - which I feel, especially in Woolf’s own day, was very important to the country and to the people living in it.
Now that you’ve had enough of me talking about the English Novel contenders, I want to move on to the list. I’ll go through thirty books I’ve read and mark my favourites with a (*)—I’ll also talk about some intermittently throughout the article but seriously, I think you’ve had enough of me talking about books too passionately already. So hopefully, we can carry on without further anxieties of our own. Here’s numbers 1531-1560…
1531. A Capote Reader (published by Penguin) by Truman Capote*
1532. 'Exile’s Return' by Malcolm Cowley*
I read this book quite recently because it was in my Amazon recommendations, and I can say that a literary odyssey of the 1920s couldn’t have been written better. It takes you through the war culture and then through the post-war dislocation and dismantles the myths of high society—showing you the real lives of writers. Some writers went to Paris if they were rich and the others went to the famed Greenwich Village.
1533. The Book of Chuang Tzu
1534. Selected Tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne
1535. The Penguin Anthology of 90s Poetry
1536. Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
1537. Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse
1538. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
1539. The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
1540. The Penguin Book of Civil War Verse
1541. An Ice Cream War by William Boyd
1542. A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines
1543. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
1544. Any Human Heart by William Boyd
1545. Selected Writings by William Hazlitt
1546. A Month in the Country by JL Carr
1547. Regeneration by Pat Barker
1548. The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak*
1549. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
1550. Ancient Light by John Banville
1551. How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston
1552. The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
1553. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
1554. Foe by JM Coetzee
1555. Life Class by Pat Barker
1556. In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
1557. The Photograph by Penelope Lively
1558. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
1559. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
1560. The Penguin Anthology of 40s Poetry*