Which is the best English novel? Since it is a matter of opinion, I am offering the question for general discussion. My personal opinion is that the best English novel--that is, the best novel...

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Literature

Which is the best English novel?

Since it is a matter of opinion, I am offering the question for general discussion. My personal opinion is that the best English novel--that is, the best novel written by an English author--is Great Expectations--by Charles Dickens. But I am sure there must be a wide range of opinions. I am also wondering whether amit97 means the best English novel or the best novel in English, which would include James Joyce's Ulysses  and a lot of American novels. I might vote for The Ambassadors  by Henry James if he were in the running.

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kellyleastmead's profile pic

Posted on

I agree that Dickens' works framed the Vistorian Era. Yet, Frankenstein stands out in my top three, along with Jane Erye. The romantic, gothic, and alleghorical richnesses still are as fresh and fascinating as they were when the book came out (from what I've read:-) I wasn't around then;-)

kplhardison's profile pic

Posted on

Sometimes we feel bound to answer a question in the very terms it has been formulated without deciding first whether the question itself poses a formulation problem. This is what I would call "a poorly defined question."

I find that any direct answer to "the best English novel" implies a subjective choice that automatically strikes off a very large number of outstanding works. The English novel has a long tradition and evolution. We cannot compare 19th century English novels to experimental, early 20th century works, mid-20th century postmodernism, or late 20th century political thrillers. I find it as irrational as comparing oranges and chairs.

Following the changes to the canon of the novel, shouldn't we first reduce the scope of the question and then answer accordingly, justifying our choice?

I agree that Great Expectations is probably the best 19th century novel, but find no valid standards to compare it to, for example, Mrs. Dalloway, nor can I compare either of them to John Fowles's The Magus

I'd love some feedback on the above.

Well, then, and "best" is further complicated by the question of the literary definition of "best": story? crafting? mastery of English? enjoyment, moral quality, psychological effect, social value, all of the above, some of the above, definitely notsome of the above? Defining what is good in literature is very complicated and, it seems to me, the current definition(s) is vague, ambiguous, and perhaps too all-inclusive. For instance, the more I analyze Hemingway's works, the more I recognize him as a great writer, though I still decline to read anymore of his books because I don't like the psychological effect they produce. The end result is that the only answer that can be given to "the best English novel" must be derived from "in your opinion" and "based on your criterion." For instance, I say Spenser's Epithalamion is the best English poetry, ever, based on all of the above; and I say Austen's Pride and Prejudice is the best English novel based on all of the above and because I can read it year after year without being bored stiff by the language. But, who agrees with me? Not too many, I think. [That was fun.]

mimerajver's profile pic

Posted on

Sometimes we feel bound to answer a question in the very terms it has been formulated without deciding first whether the question itself poses a formulation problem. This is what I would call "a poorly defined question."

I find that any direct answer to "the best English novel" implies a subjective choice that automatically strikes off a very large number of outstanding works. The English novel has a long tradition and evolution. We cannot compare 19th century English novels to experimental, early 20th century works, mid-20th century postmodernism, or late 20th century political thrillers. I find it as irrational as comparing oranges and chairs.

Following the changes to the canon of the novel, shouldn't we first reduce the scope of the question and then answer accordingly, justifying our choice?

I agree that Great Expectations is probably the best 19th century novel, but find no valid standards to compare it to, for example, Mrs. Dalloway, nor can I compare either of them to John Fowles's The Magus

I'd love some feedback on the above.

mstultz72's profile pic

Posted on

According to William S. Burt's The Novel 100: A Ranking of the Greatest Novels of All-Time, the greatest English novel is Joyce's Ulysses (#3).  (see http://www.adherents.com/people/100_novel.html)

The Observer listed its greatest as Pilgrims Progress (#2) and Robinson Crusoe (#3), "the first English novel."

A composite list of Authors' Favorite Works ranks Middlemarch (#11) and Great Expectations (#13)

Modern Library lists Ulysses (#1) and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (#3) as their modern classics.  

For me, it's got to be 1984.  One professor I've heard say that the 20th Century will be remembered for its cruelty and inhumanity, and no other novel captures that better than 1984.  It's beautifully and painfully written, translates so well to the 21st Century, appeals to mass audiences, and plays as comedy and tragedy.  

ognesperanza's profile pic

Posted on

For my money I would say that Sherlock Holmes consitutes one of the greatest characters of all time and as such his first appearance - A Study in Scarlet, constitutes the greatest novel.  I wont say that it is perfect, nor will I content that the plot was particuarly original but the mode of exploration and character are so engaging. 

The impact of A.C.D's beloved character of Holmes, the man in the ubiquitous deerstalker cap has been vast! He arguably birthed the modern detective novel and half of the TV shows, movies and novels since its creation owe their construction to it.  Even now the love of the person of Holmes and his brand of mystery still captivates audiences - From Patricia Cornwall, to Castle, House, CSI and Robert Downey Jr and Benedict Cumberbatch the character and plots of Sherlock Holmes are as effective now as they were at the time of publication. 

As a fan of Holmes I am jealous of those who have never read any of the texts before, it means that you are approaching a reading of Holmes for the first time.  While the stories can be read over and over for their characterisation and dialogue only once will you get to truly experience the case as it unfurls, notice as Holmes notices, be fascinated when Watson is fascinated, or as was my experience, stand with Lestrad and be utterly confused until Holmes deigns to enlighten you!  

bullgatortail's profile pic

Posted on

I'd have to go with Dickens' Great Expectations and Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Great Expectations will always be able to stand on its own because of the great story line, characters and Dickens' way with words. Conrad's story is also one that defies time, evidenced by its adaptation to film in Apocalypse Now.

sanukriti59's profile pic

Posted on

Mrs. Dalloway by Woolf for the writing technique. D.H. Lawrence's 'Sons and Lovers' is also a good one. 'Heart of Darkness' can also be counted though I am a bit not in favor of the way women are represented by Conrad.

rrteacher's profile pic

Posted on

I agree with the choice of Heart of Darkness. Few authors have ever crammed so much meanings into such a relatively short novel. Also, few authors have been so successful at creating and maintaining a mood, while simultaneously loading it with so much meaning. It is a brilliant novel. For best English language, I would go with The Sound and the Fury. 

lmetcalf's profile pic

Posted on

I too would have to say Pride and Prejudice but my mind also went to Wuthering Heights for its darker themes and characterizations -- it is arguably a more "sophisticated" work and more clearly a novel reflective of its Romantic time period.

e-martin's profile pic

Posted on

Personally, I'd give my vote to Heart of Darknessbecause I find it to be enigmatic, engaging, re-readable, poetic, and timeless. The social trappings of the work of Dickens, Austen, and even Woolf are not part of Conrad's masterpiece. This stark little work is a testament to man's most profoundly individual impulses.

mwestwood's profile pic

Posted on

This is such a difficult choice as it is unfair to evaluate novels against one another when they are from different social periods since authors are so much a part of their era. 

Indeed, Charles Dickens is at the top of my list of profoundly influential and artistic English authors. But, Thomas Hardy's Tess of d'Ubervilles is an absolutely wonderful and darkly pensive narrative that certainly challenged his era.  His originality of thought and poignant perspective is amazing. And, his style of writing is superior to the didacticism of Dickens.  For, Hardy is ever the poet even when he writes prose. ( It is a shame that he was so criticized that he retreated from prose.)  

Writer and critic Albert Guerard writes of Tess of the d'Ubervilles,

Hardy the novelist is a major transitional figure between the popular moralists and popular entertainer of Victorian fiction and the serious, visionary, often symbolizing novelists of today.

lorrainecaplan's profile pic

Posted on

My vote would be for Great Expectations as well, if we are speaking about novels written by people who are English.  However, if we are speaking of novels written in English, my vote would be tied for The Great Gatsby and Huckleberry Finn.  What a difficult decision! 

lentzk's profile pic

Posted on

I agree with post #1, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, is phenomenal in so many ways, and a classic example of English literature.

But... I would counter this with my all-time favorite English novel, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  With all of its social commentary on social class, love, marriage, and women's roles, Pride and Prejudice is a stand-out contribution to English literature.  It is brilliantly written and enjoyable to read (and re-read!).

udonbutterfly's profile pic

Posted on

I am a big fan of classic romantic novels. So books (books by English writers) like Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility tops the cake for me. But if we are talking about books that are written in English some of my favorites would have to be Ethan Frome, and Catch-22. All the plots are so well delivered and executed I love it!. Once you get past certain Vernacular reading becomes much easier and themes and symbolism become more easy to spot.

aimal's profile pic

Posted on

typical discussion but i do rate to wuthering height and sond and fury because of its narrative techniques .

 

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