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On the classical English literature side, three highly descriptive novels are Conan Doyle's The White Company and Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the d'Ubervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd. Doyle's novel gives great detail on the countryside, castles, and places of business, like inns, as Doyle speculates they would have been in the 1300s when the hero has his adventures. The story itself is a thrilling and excellently written one. Hardy's novels have surprising detail about flowers and birds and clothes and social habits and laborers' lives and hiring practices along with details about the setting in 18th and 19th century England. His novels are controversial yet still interesting to read though for different reasons than Doyle's thrilling novel about knights in armor.
The first two novels that came to my mind when reading your question were The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd. Though they describe very different kinds of times, places, and characters, both give the reader great sensory detail, true word pictures.
In Gatsby, one of my favorite chapters is Chapter 3, in which Nick attends one of Gatsby's famous parties. The novel takes place in the Roaring Twenties, and his parties are emblematic of the era. There are vivid descriptions of food, guests, the grounds of Gatsby's mansion, and the piling on of sumptuous detail allows us to see the scene as though we were there.
The Secret Life of Bees takes place in the rural South in the Sixties, and there are many fine descriptions in the novel. But the scene I lilke the best insofar as description is concerned is the scene in which Lily first encounters the inside of August's house, in Chapter 4. The "parlor" is evinced for the reader in incredible details, drawing on sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
One activity I like to do with high school students is ask my students to make lists of how an author appeals to all the senses in a passage or chapter. This opens up their eyes to all the possibilities and the power of description in their own writing.
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