Collab: Our Favourite Classic Novels


There is such a wealth of classic literature out there from Dickens to Austen to Conan Doyle that at times it can be hard to know which ones to read first. Here we discuss our favourite classic novels and why we love them so much.

Wives and Daughters (Elizabeth Gaskell)

I purchased Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell from the British Heart Foundation earlier this year. It was a very nice copy, part of the Penguin English Library collection of books, and the spine had not been broken. Travelling on the rail replacement bus to Winchester with a friend, I decided to give it a go. I had bought it after all, so it seemed only right to actually flick through the pages and see what it was all about. I must say, this novel surprised me and had caught my attention more than some books that I had gone out of my way to buy.

Wives and Daughters is far from unconventional, in fact, for a story serialised in the 1860s, it resembles the work of Jane Austen from 40 years beforehand. There is, however, a distinctly Victorian element to the plot and characters. Wives and Daughters centres around Molly Gibson, the only child of a widowed doctor, and her interactions with others living around her provincial town. Molly befriends a local gentry family and is later taken under the wing of Lady Harriet Cumnor, the daughter of the local lord, who helps restore her reputation following a misunderstanding.

The most pivotal relationships within the novel are, unsurprisingly, between the wives and daughters themselves. Dr Gibson remarries and Molly gains a step-mother and step-sister, Cynthia Kirkpatrick. The friendship and sisterhood that grows between Molly and Cynthia is a joy to read as both are endearing, sympathetic and, in their own ways, charming. Their dramas and escapades remain relatable and relevant even today and it is truly lovely to have this example of a firm female friendship in a piece of classical literature.

This book is on the longer-side, even for a classic novel, with my edition being 816 pages long, but don’t let that put you off as the characters really do carry the story. I will warn you, though, as Elizabeth Gaskell passed away before completing Wives and Daughters, this novel is unfinished. However, sources suggest that her work was nearly finalised and the story’s end is pretty clear.

As with most classic novels, Wives and Daughters is available to read online for free. You get a good impression of the writing style and characters from the first few pages so I recommend that you check it out!

Susanna Robertson-Sheath

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)

Charlotte Brontë‘s Jane Eyre is hardly unknown. Considered (if held slightly in contention) as a gothic feminist classic, its merits have inspired countless adaptations, fan-fictions, literary criticisms, and spin-offs alike (most famously Jean RhysWide Sargasso Sea). What has always seemed as an injustice to the great piece of literature however is its living in the shadow of another gothic novel, Wuthering Heightswritten by none other than Charlotte Brontë’s sister, Emily. However, Jane Eyre is a story that has captured the minds of generations, elegantly written as a bildungsroman that follows the titular character as she grows from a young abused girl into a woman with only love, compassion, and caring in her heart. It’s a story of forbidden love haunted by gothic elements that are excellently crafted with the techniques of the greats like a pathetic fallacy and pathos.

Jane Eyre is simply a masterpiece, a shining example of the standards of Victorian literature that deserves to be at the forefront of any curriculum or Victorian literature module. Simply put, it deserves so much more notoriety, and that’s saying something for a title most people know. I for one, think it deserves far more praise than the tedious, unlikeable characters of Wuthering Heights – a hot take I’m sure.

Sam Pegg


About Author

Deputy Editor and third year history student. Interested in all sorts but particularly film & TV history, lost media, fashion and literature.

Previous News Editor (20-21), previous Editor-In-Chief (21-22), and now the Deputy Editor & Culture PR duo extravaganze, I'm just someone trying to make their way through the world of journalism... (trying being the keyword here).

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