Classics Club


The idea of The Classics Club  is to make a list of fifty or more classics you want to read within the next five years. There is no strict definition of what constitutes “a classic”. 

What is a classic?  For the purposes of your project list, it’s your choice, really. Modern classics, ancient classics, Eastern canon, Western canon, Persephone, Virago, African literature, children’s classics… You make your own goal, and you decide what is “a classic.”

My Goal: Read 50 ‘classics’ in five years

Start date: August 2012

End date:  Long since elapsed 

Progress so far: as of July 2019 I’ve read 45 of the books from my list. I started another four but failed to finish them so I haven’t counted those. Clearly the ‘deadline’ came and went without completion of the list but the Classics Club never sent around the classic cops so I suppose I can just continue to read the books. 

About my Classics Club list 

My list is an attempt to fill in the gaps in my reading of the great and the good from the literary world. The eagle eyed among my readers will notice that there are more than 50 titles listed here. The reason is simple: I want plenty of choice so I can pick a novel to suit different moods. 

Some of the authors listed here are people I have never read before (mainly the non British authors like Maupassant or Voltaire).

Others are novels I feel I ought to have read but somehow never got around to it (Crime and Punishment; Washington Square for example).

There is a third category of novels I read long long ago as a teenager (Mrs Dalloway; The Plague) and frankly didn’t understand so I’m hoping my more mature self will do better.

And for those days when I need a book that feels as comfortable as a hot water bottle, there are my old favourites of George Eliot and Jane Austen.

Books I’ve read are in blue and link to my reviews

    1. Medea:  — Euripedes 431 BC Read 2012
    2. Pamela  —  Samuel Richardson 1740 did not finish
    3. Candide  — Voltaire 1759
    4. The Vicar of Wakefield  — Oliver Goldsmith 1766. Read March 2019
    5. Evelina  — Frances Burney 1778
    6. **Mansfield Park   — Jane Austen 1814 Read May 2015   
    7. Ormond – Maria Edgeworth 1817
    8. Old Goriot  — Honore Balzac 1835 Read October 2015   
    9. Old Curiosity Shop  — Charles Dickens 1840 Read March 2015
    10. The Black Sheep  — Honore Balzac 1842
    11. Mary Barton —  Elizabeth Gaskell 1848 Read May 2019
    12. Bleak House  — Charles Dickens 1852 (did not finish)
    13. Basil – Wilkie Collins 1852
    14. Little Dorrit  — Charles Dickens 1855  read Feb-March 2013
    15. North and South  — Elizabeth Gaskell 1855 – read Oct 2012
    16. Dr Thorne  – Anthony Trollope 1858 – read February 2017
    17. Adam Bede  — George Eliot 1859 Read Nov 2015
    18. Tale of Two Cities  — Charles Dickens 1859 – did not finish
    19. Framley Parsonage  – Anthony Trollope 1861 
    20. Wives and Daughters  — Elizabeth Gaskell 1864 read Dec 2014
    21. ** Can You Forgive Her  — Anthony Trollope  1864
    22. Crime and Punishment  — Fyodor Dostoevsky 1866 read Feb-March 2013 
    23. The Fortune of the Rougons  — Emile Zola 1871 Read May 2015
    24. The Kill/La Curée – Emile Zola 1871-2
    25. ** Anna Karenina  — Leo Tolstoy 1873-77
    26. The Way we Live Now  by Anthony Trollope – 1875
    27. Daniel Deronda  — George Eliot 1876
    28. L’Assommoir  — Emile Zola 1877 read March 2014
    29. Washington Square/Daisy Miller  — Henry James 1879 read January 2015
    30. The Brothers Karamazov  — Fyodor Dostoevsky 1880
    31. The Ladies’ Paradise by Emile Zola — read March 2018
    32. The Diary of a Nobody  — George Grossmith 1888 read April 2017
    33. New Grub Street – George Gissing 1891
    34. The Turn of the Screw Henry James 1898  Read June 2015
    35. Lord Jim – Joseph Conrad 1899
    36. My Brilliant Career — Miles Franklin  1901 Read January 2019
    37. Anna of the Five Towns  — Arnold Bennett 1902
    38. The Secret Agent  — Joseph Conrad 1907
    39. Clayhanger by Arnold Bennett 1910
    40. O pioneers —  Willa Cather  1913
    41. A Room with a View  — E M Forster 1915  Read March 2014
    42. The Voyage Out  — Virginia Woolf 1915
    43. Return of the Soldier  — Rebecca West 1917 Read January 2019
    44. Gone to Earth  — Mary Webb 1917
    45. My Antonia Willa Cather 1918 Read May 2017
    46. Age of Innocence  — Edith Wharton 1920 Read August 2018
    47. **Mrs Dalloway  — Virginia Woolf 1925 Read February 2016
    48. **The Lighthouse  — Virginia Woolf 1927
    49. The Last September —  Elizabeth Bowen 1929
    50. Farewell to Arms — Hemmingway 1929 Read March 2013 
    51. All Passion Spent – Vita Sackville West 1932
    52. A Room of One’s Own  — Virginia Woolf 1932 Read August 2017
    53. **Frost in May  — Antonia White 1933
    54. Old Soldiers Never Die – Frank Richards 1933
    55. Turf or Stone  — Margiad Evans 1934
    56. South Riding Winifred Holtby 1936. Read November 2018
    57. Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier 1936  Read June 2017
    58. Of Mice and Men  — Steinbeck 1937  Read April 2013
    59. The Grapes of Wrath  — John Steinbeck 1939
    60. **The Power and the Glory  — Grahame Greene 1940 Read December 2013
    61. Never No More – Maura Laverty 1942
    62. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith 1943
    63. Cannery Row  — John Steinbeck 1945 Read Dec 2013
    64. **The Plague  — Albert Camus 1947
    65. **Cry, the Beloved Country  — Alan Paton 1948 Finished April 2015
    66. Heart of the Matter  — Grahame Greene 1948 Finished August 2013
    67. The Franchise Affair – Josephine Tey 1948 Finished May 2019
    68. Love in a Cold Climate  — Nancy Mitford 1949  Read August 2018
    69. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote 1950 Read July 2019
    70. Troy Chimneys  — Margaret Kennedy 1952
    71. The Quiet American  — Graham Greene 1955
    72. The Fall  Albert Camus 1956
    73. Things Fall Apart  — Chinua Achebe 1958 Read March 2015
    74. The Leopard  — Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa 1958 did not finish
    75. The Country Girls  — Edna O’Brien 1960 Read June 2013
    76. We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson 1962 Read August 2017
    77. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings  — Maya Angelou 1969 – Read Nov 2012
    78. Bottle Factory Outing  — Beryl Bainbridge 1974 Read August 2013
    79. The Human Factor — Graham Greene 1978 Read October 2017
    80. The Girls of Slender Means  — Muriel Spark Read Dec 2012
    81. Love in the Time of Cholera  — Gabriel Garcia Marquez 1985
    82. The Infinite Plan  — Isabel Allende 1991 Read June 2014
    83. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont  — Elizabeth Taylor 2005 Read April 2014

Changes January 2019


  • A Kiss Before Dying  — Ira Levin 1953

Changes July 2018

Added the following titles

  • My Brilliant Career — Miles Franklin  1901
  • O pioneers —  Willa Cather  1913
  • The Fall  — Albert Camus 1956
  • Anna of the Five Towns  — Arnold Bennett 1902
  • The Last September —  Elizabeth Bowen 1929
  • Old Soldiers Never Die – Frank Richards 1933
  • Troy Chimneys  — Margaret Kennedy 1952
  • Gone to Earth  — Mary Webb 1917
  • Never No More – Maura Laverty 1942
  • Return of the Solider  — Rebecca West 1917
  • A Kiss Before Dying  — Ira Berlin 1953
  • Turf or Stone  — Margiad Evans 1934


  • Canterbury Tales  —  Geoffrey Chaucer c1380 – read about a quarter so far

Changes November 2016

  • Removed A Parisian Affair and other stories  — Guy de Maupassant 1880s. Will find an alternative
  • Removed The Charioteer by Mary Renault published 1953
  • Removed The Invisible Man by H G Wells published 1897
  • Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim published in 1922

Changes November 2015

  • Removed The Riddle of the Sands  — Erskine Childers 1903 (started reading it and realised quickly it wasn’t going to be to my taste)
  • Added Ormond by Maria Edgeworth. Meant to be one of her finest novels

Changes August 2015

  • Added Basil by Wilkie Collins ( I liked most of Collins’ work but have never come across this before)
  • Added All Passion Spent – Vita Sackville West . One of her most popular works
  • Added New Grub Street – George Gissing 1891. One of the Guardian’s top 100 novels

Changes February 2015

  • Removed The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov 1967. After hearing details of this via A Year of Reading Dangerously by A Miller I decided it was definitely not my kind of book.
  • Added Frost in May by Antonia White 1933. A re-read from many years ago. Will I love it as much second time around?

Changes August 2014

  • Removed Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe 1719
  • Removed Moby Dick by H Melville

The Undecided List (titles I’m not entirely sure I want to read – but not entirely sure either that I don’t)

  • Walter Scott – Waverley
  • Tom Jones – Henry Fielding
  • Castle of Otranto  – Horace Walpole
  • Iron in the Soul – Jean Paul Sartre
  1. I like how you list the changes you’ve made to your list by year. I just revised my list for the second time and color-coded it a bit, but during the first revision, I didn’t keep notes. Sad to see you’ve removed Moby Dick. I hope he gets back on your list one of these days.

  2. A v good list (I do The Classics Club as well). I saw the “did not finish” by Tale of Two Cities, haha – an honest reader 🙂 I have a few of those myself (Moby Dick, Midnight’s Children and Ulysses, come to mind). I’ll keep an eye on your blog.

  3. I love how you add to your list with changes. I suspect I’ll end up doing that as well. And you’re making great progress! I might add a couple of these to my list. 🙂

  4. Just googled it and I am right, it’s Old Goriot. I read it fifty years ago so I wasn’t sure, but it appears in this instance my memory didn’t fail me!

  5. I’m pretty sure it’s Old Goriot by Balzac, not Old Gariot!!

  6. I love Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov and The Master and Margarita…well, I guess I love Russian literature. The Tale of Two Cities had an ending I’ll never forget, but it is tough getting there. As Bleak House was a bit tough going.

    • The tale of two cities is one book I absolutely cannot get through and I struggled with bleak House so much I’m not sure I will finish it. Brothers Karamazov does have an attraction for me though.

  7. Great list you have here, we have some of the same books on our lists.

    I really look forward to reading your review of North & South, not sure yet whether I”ll read it before or after I read the book myself.

  8. Karen, please please please read Half of a Yellow Sun very soon! I saw Chimamanda at the Hay Festival. She is well worth travelling to see. Something very magical about her, she’s totally delightful! It has opened my eyes to Nigeria and sparked (another) interest. I haven’t read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart yet but have just started his latest novel which tells the history of the Biafran War which is the backdrop of Half of a Yellow Sun. Without a shadow of a doubt it is the book that has probably had most influence on me 🙂

  9. Dragonflydaydreams

    We share lots of the same titles…but you are the only other person, so far, that has Silent Spring on their list as well.

    • I love being different don’t you!. It’s been on my shelf for a long time – I keep dipping into it periodically and though i don’t understand a lot of the science, the beauty of her writing is astonishing. Karen Heenan-Davies


  10. I have Gaskell on my list as well – somehow I’ve never read anything by her. Unfortunately, I just finished The Moonstone – the day before I signed up for the challenge. 😉

    • Moonstone could still count – I don’t think anyone is paying that close attention!

      The only Gaskell I have read is Cranford which I found rather insubstantial but others who know her work better tell me that North and South has much more depth Karen Heenan-Davies


  11. This seems like a good list, got a bit of everything. 50 classics in 5 years, would be like 10 a year — sounds maybe manageable eh? I’m considering whether join the club as well. I’m a bit on the fence

    • I’ve no idea whether I can do 10 a year to be perfectly honest, particularly since I’m also doing a Booker prize challenge and studying for a children’s lit degree. But I thought I would give it a go on the basis that if I read 40 or 30 its still more than I would have done without the challenge. Give it a go – you may be surprised. Karen Heenan-Davies


  12. Welcome to the club! The Quiet American is on my list as well.

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