Less Well-Known Novels from the 19th Century that are Among My Favorites

For this list, I am bypassing ‘War and Peace’, ‘Middlemarch’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, etc. in order to highlight some of the lesser known novels and novelists of the 19th century which I have read and found to be among my favorites.

 

51u72qino1l-_sy264_bo1204203200_ql40_‘Don Juan’ by Lord Byron (1819) – Here is a satiric epic poem this novel reader really likes.  Of course there is also Alexander Pushkin’s novel-in-verse ‘Eugene Onegin’ which is also a must-read.

 

res_t_9780285647299‘Mysteries’ by Knut Hamsun (1892) – Hamsun’s most famous work was ‘Hunger’, but he wrote several novels in the 19th century which are exceedingly good including ‘Mysteries’ and ‘Pan’ and ‘Victoria’.  You may want to avoid this Norwegian writer’s later work in the 20th century though.

 

gaskell‘Cousin Phillis’ by Elizabeth Gaskell (1864) – Her pen name was Mrs. Gaskell, and her real name was Elizabeth Gaskell.  Her most famous novel was probably ‘Cranford’, but I have found all of her work I’ve read uniformly good.

 

51yvk59xyxl-_ac_ul320_sr204320_‘The Relic’ by Jose Maria de Eca de Queiroz  (1887) – So far I have discovered three wonderful Portuguese writers:  Jose Maria de Eca de Queiroz, Fernando Pessoa,  and Jose Saramago.  Of the three, Eca de Queiroz was the earliest.  In ‘The Relic’, its anti-hero is ridiculed with comic irony.

 

000385253‘Marianne’ by George Sand (1876) – Her real name was Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin.  She dressed like a man, smoked in public, and had affairs with a number of artists including musician Frederic Chopin.   Ivan Turgenev said of Sand, “You breathe freely when you read her.”

 

1054622-_uy200_‘Torrents of Spring’ by Ivan Turgenev (1872) – Of all the great Russian writers of the 19th century, Turgenev is probably the lightest.  That may be due to his connection to the French and George Sand.  ‘Fathers and Sons’ is his most famous work, but I find all his fiction uniformly good.

 

dom-casmurro‘Dom Casmurro’ by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1899) – No question here, Machado de Assis is the greatest Brazilian writer of all time.  After reading his most famous work, ‘Epitaph of a Small Winner’, I plunged into all of his work available which was all fine.  Ultimately I plunged into a lot of Latin American fiction which I continue to find vastly rewarding.

 

882108-_uy200_‘Castle Rackrent’ by Maria Edgeworth (1800) – Here is the first historical novel, the first Anglo-Irish novel, and the first saga novel with an unreliable narrator.  I must warn you that the style of this novel is somewhat old-fashioned and different from the styles of today so that it might be difficult to fully appreciate.

 

135x190_new-grub-street‘New Grub Street’ by George Gissing (1891) – It is Gissing’s most famous novel, but I’ve read another, ‘The Odd Women’,  which was also good.  This is a doubly literary novel, because it is about writers pursuing literary careers.

 

51futussqcl-_sy344_bo1204203200_‘The People of Hemsö’ by August Strindberg (!887)  – Strindberg was most famous as a Swedish playwright competing with Norwegian  Henrik Ibsen for European audiences.  I have only read this one fine novel by Strindberg so far, although I have read at least a couple of his plays.

 

 

Since female writers are somewhat underrepresented in this list just as they are in 19th century literature (except at the very top with Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and George Eliot), I will finish with a poem from my favorite 19th century poet, Emily Dickinson.  Emily Dickinson wrote over 1700 poems, but less than a dozen were published during her lifetime.

emily-dickinsonIf I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Emily Dickinson     (1864)

 

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7 responses to this post.

  1. I haven’t read a single one of these – though I have read Turgenev, Sand, Edgeworth, Gaskell and Gissing. Their better known ones, as you say.

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    Reply

    • Hi Lisa,
      I expect that you could come up with a list of ten lesser known novels of the 19th century that you’ve liked, and I might not have read a one. You did read five of these authors. My favorite of the ten at the moment is ‘The Relic’ by Eca de Queiroz.
      I tried to include an Australian writer, but I couldn’t find even one from the 19th century that I have read.

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  2. Don Juan is wonderful isn’t it – hilarious at times! I can echo your thoughts on Dom Casmurro. I had never heard of this book but asked some colleagues in Brazil for recommendations and this was their number 1 choice.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Booker,
      Yes, Don Juan is a mock-heroic epic that is great fun. I always lumped Byron with the other two great Romantic poets Shelley and Keats, but with Don Juan I found that Lord Byron was much more accessible to the general reader than the other two.

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      Reply

  3. Great selection – and I loved Dom Casmurro too!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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