18 Wonderful Classic Novels You May Have Overlooked
When it comes to classic novels, there are several stories that have earned their reputation as household staples—Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and who could forget the acid-trip vivid imagery that spills out of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby?
But what about the lesser-known works, the ones that have been forgotten over time or simply overlooked?
These books are just as worthy of attention and can offer insightful glimpses into different eras, cultures, and perspectives. We’ve prepared a list for you to discover and explore.
How many of these have you read?
1.) Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Enter the world of Cry, the Beloved Country, where racial injustice tears apart a land and its people. Meet Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom in this profoundly moving story. With its unforgettable characters and lyrical prose, this classic work offers love, hope, courage, and endurance in the face of the human struggle for dignity.
2.) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, The Neglected Bronte
Experience Anne Brontë’s feminist testament, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, where Helen Graham fights for domestic independence and creative freedom. This Penguin Classics edition, edited by Stevie Davis, features a powerful narrative style, wit, and irony. A testament to women’s strength, resilience, and enduring fight for equality.
3.) North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is a captivating love story highlighting the clash between profit and humanitarian ideals. Follow Margaret Hale’s journey from her comfortable life to the poverty of industrial Milton, as she develops a passion for social justice and a tumultuous relationship with mill owner John Thornton.
4.) Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susann
Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls features three iconic heroines — Anne, Neely, and Jennifer—whose desires remain unfulfilled, leading to their self-destruction. The novel, though melodramatic, is irresistible and timeless, a perfect portrayal of female yearning and defeat. It remains an unforgettable read that blends sex and sorrow, ambition and defeat.
5.) Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Queneau
In Queneau’s cult classic, Zazie’s irreverent and foul-mouthed antics take Paris by storm. All she wants to do is ride the metro, but a strike forces her to seek other forms of entertainment. The resulting comic adventure is a riot of wordplay and phonetic games, made even more memorable by Louis Malle’s iconic film adaptation. Penguin Classics’ edition of Zazie in the Metro continues to entertain with its timeless wit and style, offering readers a wealth of classic literature across genres and disciplines.
6.) The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe: and Other Stories by Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers’ classic collection of stories, including “The Ballad of the Sad Café,” continues to enthrall readers with its haunting tales of love and longing. The title novella follows the enigmatic Miss Amelia and a love triangle that culminates in an unforgettable brawl. With “Wunderkind,” written when McCullers was just 17, this is a stunning showcase of one of the South’s most gifted writers.
7.) The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G.B. Edwards
Ebenezer Le Page, an elderly, cantankerous, yet endearing resident of the Channel Island of Guernsey, shares his life story and that of his acquaintances. A vividly detailed account of family secrets, friendships, love, and loss, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is also a poignant reflection on the traumas of the twentieth century, including the German Occupation of Guernsey during World War II. G.B. Edwards’ posthumously published masterpiece is a triumph of storytelling that brings to life the voice of a remarkable man.
8.) In A Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu
Delve into the eerie and mysterious world of ghosts with this collection of stories, first published in 1872. Dr. Hesselius, a “metaphysical” doctor, presents five cases that blur the line between reality and hallucination. The reader is left questioning what is real and what is not, creating an atmosphere of chilling uncertainty. This annotated edition features an introduction and explanatory notes, inviting readers to explore the supernatural experience with curiosity and intrigue.
9.) Shutter of Snow by Emily Holmes Coleman
With prose as shocking as its content, “Shutter of Snow” depicts the postpartum psychosis of Marthe Gail, who is institutionalized after giving birth to her son. Convinced that she is God, she navigates a world that is both frightening and sorrowful, reminiscent of the settings in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Snake Pit.” Drawing from the author’s personal experience, this 1930 novel remains as powerful and poignant as ever.
10.) Evelina by Fanny Burney
Evelina Anville, the kind-hearted and good-looking ward of a country parson, navigates her way from rural life to fashionable London at seventeen. This 1778 novel, written in the form of letters, provides a witty commentary on eighteenth-century society’s problems, with comic misadventures that influenced Jane Austen’s work.
11.) Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov
Invitation to a Beheading is a surreal tale of Cincinnatus C.’s last days before his execution. Condemned for an imaginary crime in a nameless country, Cincinnatus navigates a nightmarish world of absurd jailers, in-laws who bring furniture into his cell, and a fellow prisoner who’s also his executioner.
12.) The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley
Jane Carruth’s retelling of Charles Kingsley’s beloved children’s classic, The Water-Babies, follows the story of a young chimney sweep’s magical transformation into a water-baby, embarking on underwater adventures and learning lessons about morality and kindness. Anne Grahame Johnstone’s stunning full-color illustrations bring this abridged tale to life, making it a must-have addition to any child’s bookshelf.
13.) The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressel
In Robert Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Edwardian England’s impoverished underclass suffers at the hands of corrupt employers and civic and religious authorities. With a sprawling scope, the novel shows how laissez-faire mercantilism ruins the lives of working-class men, women, and children, and advocates for socialist politics as the only means for a civilized and humane society. Honored by the Trade Union movement, this timeless work’s message remains just as relevant today as it did during Tressell’s time.
14.) Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley (1921)
In his debut novel, Aldous Huxley skewers the snobbish and pretentious guests who descend upon the lavish house parties of wealthy socialites. With biting satire and sharp wit, Huxley exposes the hypocrisy and parasitic nature of these self-proclaimed “artists” and “intellectuals.” Based on his own experiences, this timeless work remains a scathing commentary on high society and its excesses.
15.) The Heptameron by Marguerite of Navarre
Stranded in a Pyrenean abbey by floods, ten young nobles share stories in a contest of wit and imagination, but the stories soon give way to an acerbic battle of the sexes. Marguerite de Navarre’s The Heptameron captures the colorful characters and intrigues of sixteenth-century France’s upper class, in this Penguin Classic edition.
16.) Love in Excess by Eliza Haywood
Liza Haywood’s novel, Love in Excess, was a huge success in the 18th century, second only to Robinson Crusoe. Its melodramatic storylines explore love and ambition, and its frank portrayal of female sexuality challenged social norms. This new edition includes expanded responses from the era, offering valuable insight into its impact on society.
17.) Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein, patron and mentor to Hemingway and Fitzgerald, pushed the limits of language with her experimental approach to writing. Her masterpiece, Tender Buttons, is a fascinating exploration of words for their melody and color, stripped of their usual associations. Comparing her work to music and Cubist imagery, Sherwood Anderson described it as an “entire new recasting of life, in the city of words.” With its thought-provoking experimental techniques, Tender Buttons remains an important influence on contemporary literature.
18.) Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
Enter the world of Jorge Luis Borges, one of the greatest writers of all time, as he takes you on a journey through 17 mind-bending tales. From the depths of Pascal’s abyss to the surreal labyrinths of books, Borges’s imagination is boundless. His Prologues offer a window into his genius, sharp wit, and obsession with fantasy, revealing Heaven, Hell, and everything in between. Ficciones is a whirlwind of brilliance that will leave you breathless.