Friday, January 02, 2009

The 100 Greatest English-Language Novels of the 20th Century

In 2000, a board of authors and literary critics created a list for Random House of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th Century. This is that list. I've bolded the works that I've read.

1. (1922) Ulysses James Joyce
2. (1925) The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. (1916) A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce
4. (1955) Lolita Vladimir Nabokov

5. (1932) Brave New World Aldous Huxley
6. (1929) The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
7. (1961) Catch-22 Joseph Heller
8. (1940) Darkness at Noon Arthur Koestler
9. (1913) Sons and Lovers D. H. Lawrence
10. (1939) The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
11. (1947) Under the Volcano Malcolm Lowry
12. (1903) The Way of All Flesh Samuel Butler
13. (1949) Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
14. (1934) I, Claudius Robert Graves
15. (1927) To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
16. (1925) An American Tragedy Theodore Dreiser
17. (1940) The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers
18. (1969) Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut
19. (1952) Invisible Man Ralph Ellison
20. (1940) Native Son Richard Wright
21. (1959) Henderson the Rain King Saul Bellow
22. (1934) Appointment in Samarra John O'Hara
23. (1938) U.S.A. (trilogy) John Dos Passos
24. (1919) Winesburg, Ohio Sherwood Anderson
25. (1924) A Passage to India E. M. Forster
26. (1902) The Wings of the Dove Henry James
27. (1903) The Ambassadors Henry James
28. (1934) Tender Is the Night F. Scott Fitzgerald
29. (1935) Studs Lonigan (trilogy) James T. Farrell
30. (1915) The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford
31. (1945) Animal Farm George Orwell
32. (1904) The Golden Bowl Henry James
33. (1900) Sister Carrie Theodore Dreiser
34. (1934) A Handful of Dust Evelyn Waugh
35. (1930) As I Lay Dying William Faulkner
36. (1946) All the King's Men Robert Penn Warren
37. (1927) The Bridge of San Luis Rey Thornton Wilder
38. (1910) Howards End E. M. Forster
39. (1953) Go Tell It on the Mountain James Baldwin
40. (1948) The Heart of the Matter Graham Greene
41. (1954) Lord of the Flies William Golding
42. (1970) Deliverance James Dickey
43. (1951-1975) A Dance to the Music of Time (series) Anthony Powell
44. (1928) Point Counter Point Aldous Huxley
45. (1926) The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway
46. (1907) The Secret Agent Joseph Conrad
47. (1904) Nostromo Joseph Conrad
48. (1915) The Rainbow D. H. Lawrence
49. (1920) Women in Love D. H. Lawrence
50. (1934) Tropic of Cancer Henry Miller
51. (1948) The Naked and the Dead Norman Mailer
52. (1969) Portnoy's Complaint Philip Roth
53. (1962) Pale Fire Vladimir Nabokov
54. (1932) Light in August William Faulkner
55. (1957) On the Road Jack Kerouac
56. (1930) The Maltese Falcon Dashiell Hammett
57. (1924-1928) Parade's End Ford Madox Ford
58. (1920) The Age of Innocence Edith Wharton
59. (1911) Zuleika Dobson Max Beerbohm
60. (1961) The Moviegoer Walker Percy
61. (1927) Death Comes for the Archbishop Willa Cather
62. (1951) From Here to Eternity James Jones
63. (1957) The Wapshot Chronicle John Cheever
64. (1951) The Catcher in the Rye J. D. Salinger
65. (1962) A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess
66. (1915) Of Human Bondage W. Somerset Maugham
67. (1902) Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
68. (1920) Main Street Sinclair Lewis
69. (1905) The House of Mirth Edith Wharton
70. (1957-1960) The Alexandria Quartet Lawrence Durrell
71. (1929) A High Wind in Jamaica Richard Hughes
72. (1961) A House for Mr Biswas V. S. Naipaul
73. (1939) The Day of the Locust Nathanael West
74. (1929) A Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway
75. (1938) Scoop Evelyn Waugh
76. (1962) The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark
77. (1939) Finnegans Wake James Joyce
78. (1901) Kim Rudyard Kipling
79. (1908) A Room with a View E. M. Forster
80. (1945) Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh
81. (1953) The Adventures of Augie March Saul Bellow
82. (1971) Angle of Repose Wallace Stegner
83. (1979) A Bend in the River V. S. Naipaul
84. (1938) The Death of the Heart Elizabeth Bowen
85. (1900) Lord Jim Joseph Conrad
86. (1975) Ragtime E. L. Doctorow
87. (1908) The Old Wives' Tale Arnold Bennett
88. (1903) The Call of the Wild Jack London
89. (1945) Loving Henry Green
90. (1980) Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie
91. (1932) Tobacco Road Erskine Caldwell
92. (1983) Ironweed William Kennedy
93. (1965) The Magus John Fowles
94. (1966) Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys
95. (1954) Under the Net Iris Murdoch
96. (1979) Sophie's Choice William Styron
97. (1949) The Sheltering Sky Paul Bowles
98. (1934) The Postman Always Rings Twice James M. Cain
99. (1955) The Ginger Man J. P. Donleavy
100. (1918) The Magnificent Ambersons Booth Tarkington

Notes
Lolita -- Nabokov did not so much write words as he sculpted them. The opening lines to this novel are the best that I've read anywhere.

Nineteen Eighty-Four -- Along with Animal Farm, where would our political discourse be without Orwell's vision of statism at its worst. His dire visions for the future are a rhetorical firewall that help to normalize the notion that government is a predatory menace.

To the Lighthouse -- I read it in AP English. Or rather, I read the Cliffs' Notes for them, due to the work's sheer incomprehensibility. Wolf makes James Joyce seem straight-forward in comparison.

Lord of the Flies -- Golding reminds us that we would become monstrous without social constraints and legal consequences.

What books here have you read?


What book wasn't on this list, but should have, in your opinion?

32 comments:

Keith Taylor said...

I've read (I can't believe this is all I've read on the list)

1984
Animal Farm
A Farewell to Arms
Call of the Wild
The Grapes of Wrath
Lord of the Flies
The Great Gatsby


Much of this doesn't seem like what I consider classical literature. It seems more like a list of popular movies from the 1960s and 1970s.

For some of them like Deliverance I felt like Jethro Boding saying, "you mean they made a book outta that?"

I am surprised that Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind isn't on the list.

I am also surprised that Hemmingway's The Old Man and the Sea isn't here.

For a list of the 20th century, I only saw one novel written after 1980. That means that 20% of the century really isn't represented. I guess those books haven't stood the test of time.

larry said...

John,

Have not read quite as many that are on the list as you have, but makes me want to. The only thing I noticed is that I have read all of the EM Forester books, due to a specialized course my senior year in high school. I thought someone or other had "crowned" Tolkien as the most important writer in the English language of the 20th century - didn't see him represented at all, but I just scanned it and perhaps I missed him. I am just now reading the Hobbit for the first time in my life - got about 60 pages left and loving each page! Not sure Tolkien belongs on the list, but just reminds me how subjective these lists can be.

Anonymous said...

No "To Kill a Mockingbird"?!?

John said...

Yes, it does seem heavily weighted toward the first half of the 20th Century. And it is odd that Tolkein and Hemingway are not present, not to speak of the great Tabor Evans.

Dan Trabue said...

As to Keith's note about the lack of recent books, I'd suggest they should add some Wendell Berry fiction to the list - his Jayber Crow was published in 2000, does that qualify it as a 20th century book?

I've read (I believe):

Gatsby
Brave New World
Grapes of Wrath
Lord of the Flies
Farewell to Arms
Invisible Man
Sun Also Rises
(I don't care much for Hemingway, sorry)
On the Road
The Sheltering Sky
(about 2/3 of it currently - doesn't do much for me, either)

I'm not convinced of the appeal of this list to me, but maybe I'll strive to give some of them a chance this year.

And... WHAT??? I had never noticed Tolkien's absence from the list!?? You're kidding me, how is that possible?

And no Mockingbird??

I think this list tends towards the dry and faux-erudite, but that may be the bumpkin in me shining through. I'm probably not classy enough to appreciate fine literature.

All I know is that I went to see A Room with a View when it was on in the theaters and thought it was the worst movie I'd ever ever seen (and that includes some deliberately bad movies, like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes), so... I'm just saying...

Dan Trabue said...

I'd add some Barbara Kingsolver novels on (The Bean Trees) there to beef up the last few years and how about Alice Walker (The Color Purple)? That should be on the list. And there's at least one other female author whose name is escaping me that should be on the list because she deserves to be but also to help offset the HEAVILY male (white male, of course) roster.

bob said...

I'm always moved to look for titles to read when I see a list like this one.
I would nominate Stranger in a strange land by Heinlein
If translations are allowed I would nominate Crime and Punishment or House of the Dead by Dostoyevsky
I read only 10 of the titles odd how these lists can make one feel practically illiterate.

jackburden said...

Dan, you're trying to think of Toni Morrison, whose "Song of Solomon" and "The Bluest Eye" might deserve mention (I'm not such a fan of "Beloved").

My list:
Gatsby
Brave New World
Sound and Fury
Darkness at Noon
Grapes of Wrath
Invisible Man
Animal Farm
As I Lay Dying
All the King's Men
Lord of the Flies
The Sun Also Rises (there's your Hemingway)
Light in August
Catcher in the Rye
A Farewell to Arms (I think I've read this) (more Hemingway)

Thoughts:
Embarrassed I haven't read: 1984, Heart of Darkness, Native Son

Want to read: The Moviegoer, Sophie's Choice

Surprised by absence: To Kill a Mockingbird (figured it would get mention, even if it not as meaty as the others); In Cold Blood (guess the non-fiction novel doesn't count); no Toni Morrison (figured at least one, and maybe two or three, would make top 100); Of Mice and Men (a novella doesn't count? If Catcher in the Rye made it, then Of Mice and Men should make it); The Winter of Our Discontent; what about A Confederacy of Dunces -- too light, I suppose, but don't we deserve at least one comedy?

Shocked: no Tolkien? But when you remember who is compiling the list, not as surprising.

Should be higher: without a doubt -- All the King's Men should be in the top 10.

Surprised by absence until realized she wrote in Russian: Ayn Rand

Marcel said...

Drop "Tobacco Road;" seriously, is that even a novel? Vonnegut and Heller are way over-rated. Good job avoiding them and Salinger; I wish I had. Better than either is Mary Renault's "The Bull From the Sea." I'd add "The Winter of our Discontent," by John Stenibeck, and "The Lord of the Rings." To represent more recent things, "Master and Commander," by Patrick O'Brian, and maybe Annie Proulx's "The Shipping News."

jackburden said...

More thoughts: where is John Irving? Either The World According to Garp or A Prayer for Owen Meany, or both, should be here.

I'm also partial to Tom Wolfe, though I'm not surprised he was left off. Bonfire of the Vanities probably deserves mention.

Because the list was compiled in 2000, it's not surprising that 1980-forward is not well represented -- none of these guys are going to go out on a limb before a novel has proven its timelessness. Still, I'd like to see a little courage...

Anonymous said...

Books on this list I have read:

10. (1939) The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
18. (1969) Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut
41. (1954) Lord of the Flies William Golding
42. (1970) Deliverance James Dickey
67. (1902) Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
78. (1901) Kim Rudyard Kipling
85. (1900) Lord Jim Joseph Conrad
88. (1903) The Call of the Wild Jack London
91. (1932) Tobacco Road Erskine Caldwell

Books I think should be on this list:

The Man Who Would Be King - Rudyard Kipling
The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Old Man and The Sea - Ernest Hemingway
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
A Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams
To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Sounder - William H. Armstrong
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn - Betty Smith
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

truevyne said...

I've willingly and unwillingly read many of those books. Hated Invisible Man... nothing redemptive whatsoever.

Larry B said...

I've read:
#2, #5, #6, #10, #13, #15, #17, #19, #28, #31, #35, #41, #45, #46, #64, #65, #67, #74, #85, #88, and #96.

I would have liked to have seen GK Chesterton's The Man who Was Thursday on the list.

If you count widely translated books, I would include Albert Camus The Stranger, The Fall, and The Plague.

John said...

My wife says that To Kill A Mockingbird is often regarded by elite literary critics as overly-sentimental rubbish. She disagrees, as do I.

Ayn Rand was a great speechwriter, but a mediocre novelist. Her characters are two-dimensional and her dialogue wooden. I loved Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged because of their political and philosophical content, but I can't deny her literary limitations.

jackburden said...

Regarding Rand,

Granted, but seems you could say the same about Orwell (whose works I generally love for the same reasons you love Rand's).

johnmeunier said...

How is Brave New World that high on the list?

Bebinn said...

I've read

1984--it was that year at the time, teachers thought was a good idea
Slaughterhouse Five
Native Son
Animal Farm
Lord of the Flies
Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Call of the Wild

tried to read Ulysses once, couldn't get through it.

Some, well most, I was forced to read for high school English classes. There's quite a few on the list I've always wanted to read, just haven't gotten to them yet.

Insomniac Maniac said...

Surprised that Ayn Rand is missing from the list. The literary aspect of her books is no worse than George Orwell's or The Catcher in the Rye. Atlas Shrugged is one of the all time best-sellers, and one of the greatest English-language novels of this century.

And jackburden, Ayn Rand did not write in Russian. Why would she?

thirtyframes said...

"To the Lighthouse -- I read it in AP English. Or rather, I read the Cliffs' Notes for them, due to the work's sheer incomprehensibility. Wolf makes James Joyce seem straight-forward in comparison."

So...incomprehesibility equals greatness? Huh. I guess my standards have been wrong all this time.

Ezanee said...

I, too, am a little surprised not to see Ayn Rand or Cormac McCarthy on this list.. anyway, it's all a matter of taste at the end of the day. I'm not well-read enough to make a comprehensive list, but if I was, I'm sure my list would be vastly, vastly different ;)

yvgeny said...

My list:
Gatsby
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Lolita
Brave New World
Sound and the Fury
Catch-22
Grapes of Wrath
1984
To the Lighthouse
Slaughterhouse-Five
Invisible Man
U.S.A.
Winesburg, Ohio
A Passage to India
The Ambassadors
The Good Soldier
Animal Farm
As I Lay Dying
All the King's Men
The Heart of the Matter
Lord of the Flies
The Sun Also Rises
Women in Love
Tropic of Cancer
The Naked and the Dead
Portnoy's Complaint
On the Road
Maltese Falcon
Age of Innocence
From Here to Eternity
Catcher in the Rye
Of Human Bondage
Heart of Darkness
House of Mirth
Day of the Locust
A Farewell to Arms
Scoop
Angle of Repose
A Bend in the River
Call of the Wild
Loving
Midnight's Children
Wide Sargasso Sea
Sophie's Choice
Sheltering Sky
Magnificent Ambersons

Don't have much of a problem with what's included but it seems to be very modernist heavy and missing some post fifties stuff, especially postmodern/experimental like Barth, Gaddis, Barthelme, Coover, Pynchon or, to be daringly recent, Wallace. Why are good candidates like J.M. Coetzee, Kingsley Amis, William Saroyan, John Updike missing? It could have been more diverse, too: Gordimer, Lessing, Atwood, Munro, Oates, Morrison, Achebe, Mukerjee, Ishiguro, Okri, Ondaatje, McCarthy, Didion, Stein. But I guess they only had 100 spots. These things get to be pretty arbitrary when the limitations are severe.

Anonymous said...

Apart from Ulysses at the top of the list, the whole thing seems a little arbitrary, with some entries and omissions a little baffling. As the list skews toward Joyce, Hemingway and Nabokov--3 authors that I favor, I have read exactly 20% of the list.

Anonymous said...

uh, where are all the female authors?

Anonymous said...

Why in the world is Philip Pullman missing? The "His Dark Materials" trilogy went straight to the top of my list last year and I had to read it twice, back-to-back. It's something I will re-read the rest of my life.

Bendistraw said...

Why isn't Gravity's Rainbow or V on the list? Boggles the mind!

I agree Mockingbird should be there as well

Anonymous said...

Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, and Infinite Jest

Holly West said...

The absence of any mark Twain works renders this list immediately null in my opinion.

Holly West said...

The absence of any works by Mark Twain renders this list null, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

@Holly West, et al: It's a 20th century list so Twain and Melville aren't really possibilities.

Anonymous said...

I have probably read only a few of the books on this list, those being

The Great Gatsby
Lolita
Brave New World
Catch-22
The Grapes of Wrath
Nineteen Eighty-Four
Slaughterhouse-Five
Animal Farm
The Maltese Falcon
The Catcher in the Rye
Heart of Darkness
A House for Mr Biswas
Midnight's Children

It is sad that the Hitchhiker's Guide didn't make it, but what can you expect from a board of editors at Random House...?!
But it strikes me that apart from a few token non-europeans like Rushdie (whose entry is by far too low) and Naipaul (you cannot leave out a Nobel Laureate, can you?), this list is a load of anglo-american-centered bullcrap.
What about the likes of R.K.Narayan or Chinua Achebe - not "english" enough? What about Katherine Mansfield or Margaret Atwood or any other woman not writing in the US or Britain??

Anonymous said...

Here are the ones I have read:

http://willingthrall.multiply.com/journal/item/466/The_100_Greatest_Novels_in_English_of_the_20th_century

Steve Morrison said...

I've read these:

Ulysses (deserves it's 1st-place status)
The Great Gatsby
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
The Sound and the Fury
Nineteen Eighty-Four
To the Lighthouse
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Invisible Man
A Passage to India
The Wings of the Dove (glad to see this was included)
Animal Farm
As I Lay Dying (Faulkner's best, imo)
Lord of the Flies (hugely overrated)
The Sun Also Rises
The Rainbow
Women in Love
Light in August
Death Comes for the Archbishop
Heart of Darkness
Main Street
A Farewell to Arms
Finnegans Wake (it's cosmically great--is it really a novel, though?)
Kim
The Call of the Wild
The Grapes of Wrath

I think overall it's a list of "most well-known" rather than "greatest." Morrison, McCarthy, Wodehouse, Beckett, Flann O'Brien, Banville, Achebe, Barth, Gaddis, Barthelme, Pynchon, Coetzee, Stein, Angela Carter, Atwood, Zora Neale Hurston, Flannery O'Connor, John Crowley, Ishmael Reed, and Don DeLillo are all grave omissions. Especially BECKETT, O'CONNOR, MORRISON, HURSTON, and PYNCHON--each of these writers have produced work a hundred times more vital than Lord of the Flies--it's like leaving Stendhal or the Brontes off a 19th-century list.