A few of you wrote in and asked me to match this Guardian list of the top one hundred English-language novels of all time. (It is notable how many second-rate English novels made that list, and how few second-rate American ones did…) Well, one hundred is too many but here is twenty, in no particular order:
James Joyce, Ulysses
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Charles Dickens, Bleak House
William Faulkner, Light in August, Absalom, Absalom, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury
Joseph Conrad, Nostromo
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, The Waves, Mrs. Dalloway
Nabokov, Pale Fire
Henry James, The Golden Bowl
Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure
J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Sterne, Huxley, Lawrence, Beckett, and Wharton are all knocking on the door and probably would have rounded out a top twenty-five. Scott and Trollope too, more Hardy. I consider the omission of Austen to be my flaw, not hers, but I just don’t love them.
You’ll note I made no attempt to be “balanced.” I gladly would have awarded all twenty spots to the same author, had such a choice been justified. There is also no attempt at racial, ethnic, gender, or geographic balance, none whatsoever. I simply picked what I think are the best books.
And if you think there are some obvious omissions, they probably are intentional. There are plenty of fine books, but no I don’t put 1984 in the top twenty, and while America has many very good novels from the latter part of the twentieth century, only a few (V?) would receive my serious consideration for a top thirty list or even top forty list. Not many are better than Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, or for that matter John Galsworthy.