Some Nearly Forgotten Novels from the 1910s that are Exceptionally Good

The following novels, written in the decade of the 1910s, are nearly 100 years old or just over 100.  This was the decade of World War I when fiction writing nearly stopped for several years.  Still there were many good novels written early in the decade.

 “Petersburg” by Andrei Bely (1913) – In this novel, the city of St. Petersburg, Russia is as much a character as the people.  I remember thinking while reading this novel that it should be up there with those Russian classics “War and Peace” and “Crime and Punishment” on the list of finest Russian novels.   This is a modernist novel that can not be summarized in a few sentences.  There is so much there, all told with a great deal of charm.    

The Vagabond” by Colette (1910) – This backstage novel, Colette’s best, is about Renee, a dancer on the music hall stage in Paris.  It is based on Colette’s own experiences.  After her divorce, Renee got this job dancing, and the men do come around, but Renee isn’t ready for courtship yet. 

Here are a few Colette quotes.

“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”

“Be happy.  It’s one way of being wise.”

“You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.”

“The Song of the Lark” by Willa Cather (1915) – No woman could have been more different from Colette than Willa Cather, who often wore masculine clothing and whose most significant relationships were with women.  “The Song of the Lark” is about a young woman from Colorado who is talented and strong enough to become a successful world-class opera singer, just as Willa Cather was talented and strong enough to become an outstanding world-class novelist.   

“The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge” by Rainer Maria Rilke (1910) – This is the only novel by the poet Rilke.  It is a unique novel which if you can get into the poetic spirit and subtle depth of it, can have profound effects on your life. 

Here are some Rilke quotes.

“I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other”

 “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.”

“The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.”

“Le Grand Meaulnes” by Alain-Fournier (1913) – This is the great novel of young obsessive love where ‘The Grand Meaulnes’, a boy of 17, meets a beautiful young woman at a wedding party and immediately falls madly in love, only to lose all traces of her and end up back at school.  The novel is about Meaulnes’ efforts to find her again. I remember being 16 and a junior in high school and falling in love with a sophomore girl whom I never did find the courage to actually talk to.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Amritorupa Kanjilal on April 9, 2012 at 3:18 AM

    I have read and loved Vagabond… thank you for the other suggestions


  2. Another one for my Russian shelf – thank you!


  3. What a great list! I’ve never heard of Bely and love Russian novels. Colette and Cather get my seal of approval.


  4. Hi Frisbee,
    There were several other novels I considered including such as ‘Jenny Gerhardt’ by Dreiser and ‘Ethan Frome’ by Edith Wharton and ‘Sons and Lovers’ by D.H. Lawrence and ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ by James Joyce, but decided those were all famous already.


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