We continue Underrated Week, noting that this entry is sure to inspire philosophic debate. Can it plausibly be argued that Michael Jordan is an underrated basketball player? That Wayne Gretzky is an underrated hockey player? Yes, I say.
When it comes to the Western classics, I hold a few works above all others, and by an order of magnitude: Homer, the Hebrew Bible, Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Shakespeare, Proust, Moby Dick, Joyce’s Ulysses (shriek if you wish), and the two major novels of Tolstoy.
Yes, those are the most underrated classics. There are simply too many people who lump them in with Rabelais, Stendhal, Twain, Mann and other totally splendid but slightly less than divine works. If I could read Italian, Dante might also make the list.
Next in line would be Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Goethe’s Faust (German language version only), and of course Bleak House of Charles Dickens; read the latter carefully and you will see plot twists that very few if any critics catch. If you’re simply listing the best novel whose wonders most educated people have no clue of (one extreme form of underrating), Bleak House is the clear winner (loser?) on the entire list.