In a conversation about classic literature, Mark Twain once said that a classic novel was “a book which people praise but don’t read.” Well, no disrespect Mr. Samuel Clemens, but nothing could be further from the truth. We not only recommend that these novels should be on every woman’s shelf, but we have read them cover to cover as well.
We have rounded up our ten favorite classic novels that, despite their publication date, have themes that continue to resonate with a modern audience, which is probably why they have been read year after year and repeatedly show up on lists of the best written novels of all time. Oh, and we should mention, each one of these books was authored by a female who was penning stories that were well before her time. Happy reading.
Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
“It is a truth universally acknowledged” that Pride and Prejudice is one of the greatest pieces of literature of all time, and its author, Jane Austen, is one of the most renowned and beloved female writers to ever live. Her entire canon is worth a read, but the fiery Elizabeth Bennet and reserved Mr. Darcy still excite and delight readers with their enemies-to-lovers romance.
“I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
North and South
by Elizabeth Gaskell
Speaking of enemies to lovers, if you like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, then you will love Elizabeth Hale and Mr. Thornton in Elizabeth Gaskell‘s novel North and South, about the industrial revolution in England. But don’t be mistaken — while there is plenty about cotton mills, unions, and poverty vs. wealth, the unlikely romance between the two protagonists who sit on opposite sides of the table will keep you turning the page in anticipation.
“I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you do not understand me.” ― Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South
“North and South” by Elizabeth Gaskell
by Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott‘s most autobiographical novel, Little Women, tells of her life growing up as the second of four daughters while her father is away fighting in the war. Each sister and relationship is brought to life in such a real and complex way, one feels as if her sisters are your own. Warning: this book should not be read without a box of tissues on hand for the heart-breaking as well as heart-warming moments that color the portrait of her family.
“Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
by Emily Brontë
If there was ever a novel about the wildness, rawness, passion, and unrelenting power of love, then this is it. In her novel Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë haunts her readers with the epic love story of two childhood friends from different backgrounds whose love transcends the bonds of life. Heathcliff and Cathy are unquestionably meant for each other, but are torn apart by life’s circumstances as they grow older. However, in a twist of fate, Brontë defines the meaning of a love so deep that it defies the constraints of life by finding each other in death.
“Be with me always — take any form — drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!” ― Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë
by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein, the chilling tale of scientist Victor Frankenstein — who creates a sapient creature that triggers the release of tragedy upon his life — was written by Mary Shelley after she, Lord Byron, and her future husband, Percy B. Shelley, had a competition to see who could write the best horror story. Sometimes considered the birth of science-fiction novels, we think Mary Shelley must have won that competition in a landslide.
“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” ― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley
by Charlotte Brontë
Emily Brontë’s sister, Charlotte Brontë, wrote a masterpiece to rival her sisters with her novel Jane Eyre. A young, plain girl (Jane Eyre) with a sad past, moves in with a handsome and wealthy bachelor, Mr. Rochester, as the new governess for his somewhat spoiled young charge. Despite his vanity, the two are quickly drawn to each other, only to have obstacles out of their control stand in the way of their happiness. The book, while a brilliant love story, is also a commentary on where beauty is truly found.
“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal — as we are!” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë
The Mill on the Floss
by George Eliot
Mary Ann Eliot, best known by her pen name, George Eliot, wrote The Mill on the Floss about Tom and Maggie Tulliver, a brother and sister who grew up in a mill situated on the River Floss. Although the narrative deals mostly with Maggie and her relationships (particularly her romantic ones), the central plot follows the siblings as they grow from children to adults and how their roles in the family, different temperaments, and love for each other ultimately leave them undivided.
“The Mill on the Floss” by George Eliot
Uncle Tom's Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by American author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, is said to have helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War and fueled the abolitionist movement. A heartbreaking read that follows the story of two slaves, Tom and Eliza, the former sold and the latter who tried to escape to save her son, is an eye-opening look at the sinister realities of slavery. It is not only a fantastic novel, but it is an important read that should be on everyone’s list.
"Of course, in a novel, people's hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story this is very convenient. But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us.” ― Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe
by Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton wrote her disturbing novel Ethan Frome in 1911. The novel is told from the point of view of a narrator who sees Ethan Frome, an older man in town with a pronounced limp and an intense gaze, and desires to learn more about the mysterious man who suffered a secret accident 24 years before. He soon begins to uncover the story of Ethan Frome, the farmer who fell in love with his ailing wife’s cousin, Mattie, and the consequences and surprising twist of fate of their unrequited love.
“They had never before avowed their inclination so openly, and Ethan, for a moment, had the illusion that he was a free man, wooing the girl he meant to marry. He looked at her hair and longed to touch it again, and to tell her that it smelt of the woods; but he had never learned to say such things.” ― Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome
“Ethan Frome” by Edith Wharton
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, known simply as “Colette,” may be most famous for being the female novelist who was locked in a room by her husband, Henry Gauthier-Villars, until she wrote enough pages to appease him, which he then published under his own pen name, “Willy.” Her Claudine novels, about the all-girl school run by a seductive, female teacher, earned her husband notoriety and wealth, but it is Gigi, the story of a young girl being groomed as a French courtesan who defies expectations when she marries her wealthy benefactor, which is her most famous novel and regarded as her best work.
“Gigi”, “Julie De Carneilha”, And “Chance Acquaintances”: Three Short Novels by Colette