Do you love reading classics? If yes, chances are, you’re already familiar with some of the popular names in this genre – authors like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and George Eliot transport us to a bygone era in English history. Likewise, gothic writers like Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley pioneered the horror genre. Centuries later, classics continue to be read, analyzed, discussed and enjoyed because of their timeless charm.
The Best Lesser-known Classics! 📚
But chances are, you’ve only heard of (and read) the one or two books that catapulted these authors to eternal fame. But of course, the most celebrated books aren’t necessarily their best offerings. So if you’re on the lookout for gems hidden in plain sight, look no further. This list of underrated novels from these famous writers will have you scouring the internet for an e-copy.
1. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility are more than just famous novels at this point. From numerous film adaptations of her books becoming runaway successes to shows like Bridgeton being influenced by Austen’s works, her stories continue to live even today, two centuries later. So chances are, what you imagine when you think of a Lord, a Lady, or Austen influenced romance in aristocratic society.
Many Austen fans consider Northanger Abbey to be the most underrated Austen novel; perhaps even Austen herself would have agreed. However, Austen is said to have sold the novel in 1803 to a publisher for a sum of 10 pounds, who decided never to publish the manuscript. Frustrated by their inaction, Austen bought the novel back after the success of Pride and Prejudice but did not manage to publish it before her untimely death.
Possibly Austen’s earliest work, Northanger Abbey, stars Catherine Morland, a seventeen-year-old girl raised in rural England who gets swept up into high society. Far from the helpless innocent, Catherine is an ardent reader who uses her understanding of human emotions to help herself and those around her. With a touch of gothic elements, Northanger Abbey is perfect for the seasoned Austen lover. You can get the book here! 📖
2. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
From Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities to David Copperfield, Charles Dickens left the world with a plethora of enduring stories and unforgettable characters. Dickens is also particularly well known for writing stories about the under trodden of Victorian England, such as the poor, the orphans and those unjustly punished for their crimes.
A well-known critic of the wealth gap between the industrialists and the working class, Charles Dickens was one of the most revolutionary authors to come out of the Victorian era, choosing to tell stories that nobody else seemed to want to. And so, Dickens’ protagonists, like the famous orphan Oliver Twist, lead less than privileged lives. Our Mutual Friend, however, does a total 180 on this trend.
The last novel finished by Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, is considered to be his most sophisticated. When a rich misanthropic miser dies, his fortunes end up in the hands of his faithful but naive working-class employees, Mr. and Mrs. Boffin. Again, the cast features an assortment of characters who try to claim a piece of the fortune for themselves and help Dickens paint his complex satirical portrait of Victorian Society and “money, money, money, and what money can make of life”. You can get the book here! 📖
3. The Jewel of The Seven Stars by Bram Stoker
Who in the entire world doesn’t know of Dracula? Bram Stoker’s brooding vampire changed the horror genre forever – and for the better. It’s impossible to say how many books and movies this one novel inspired. Dracula was so successful that it overshadowed the fame of its own creator, to the point that not many people can name a single book by Bram Stoker other than it.
If you’re a fan of the whole gothic, mythical and horror vibe, I have a surprise for you. Bram Stoker pioneered the vampire genre and wrote the first book that brings mummies to life. The Jewel of The Seven Stars is the classic version of all the mummy movies, rolled into one. Summoning Egyptian queens, young possessed women, reanimating dead mummies and more, Bram Stoker had been there and done that a hundred years ago. You can get the book here! 📖
4. The Sleeper Awakes by H.G Wells
H.G. Wells is a pioneer of the science fiction genre. His legendary works The Invisible Man and The Time Machine combine the fantasy of science fiction with the need to analyze the social and humanistic implications of these advancements. The science fiction genre shares many similarities with the dystopian genre, and it was only natural that Wells would explore this extension himself.
The Sleeper Awakes stars Graham, an 1890s century radical pamphleteer with fantastical hopes for the future of humankind, can’t wait to see what wonders the 1900s will bring. Wracked by insomnia, Graham finally resorts to taking sleeping medication and wakes up 200 years later. Overnight, he wakes up to a strange world he discovers he is the master of.
A chilling vision of the widening gap between the working class who struggle to survive day today and the rich who live in pleasure domes and euthanize themselves at will, this book makes the reader wonder if Wells got his hands on a crystal ball. Wells’ ability to see the gaping flaws in capitalistic society much before they actually solidified makes for a truly fascinating read. You can get the book here! 📖
5. The Gilded Age by Mark Twain
Okay, I’ll admit it. The Gilded Age is hardly as unknown or underrated as some of the other books on this list. But I consider it an injustice that Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn vastly overshadow this masterpiece that named this era of American history. The Gilded Age demonstrates Twain’s gift for social criticism in a way his other works struggle to match.
Arguably the first major novel to probe into the corrupt political system, unrestricted wealth and the aftermath of the Civil War, the Gilded Age wrote about the rampant industrialization and broken political systems of its time. One of the reasons for its relatively low popularity is that Twain co-wrote The Gilded Age with Charles Dudley Warner. As a result, some ardent Twain fans feel that the prose lacks in some areas that are hypothesized to be written by Warner.
However, for the casual reader, this is hardly a concern. The Gilded Age’s criticisms continue to resonate today because, as you will soon discover, not much has changed since 1873. But don’t worry – Twain’s humour still manages to shine through to make what ought to be a depressing reminder of how broken our world is into a hilarious parody of (then) modern America. You can get the book here! 📖
Which is your favorite lesser-known classic from your favorite author? Let’s discuss in the comments below!
A final year law student from Chennai with an interest in policy, debate, and dogs.