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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by
"Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the only one of Mark Twain's various books which can be called a masterpiece. I do not suggest that it is his only book of permanent interest; but it is the only one in which his genius is completely realized, and the only one which creates its own category." - T. S. Eliot. Huckleberry Finn, rebel against school and church, casual inheritor of gold treasure, rafter of the Mississippi, and savior of Jim the runaway slave, is the archetypical American maverick. Fleeing the respectable society that wants to "sivilize" him, Huck Finn shoves off with Jim on a rhapsodic raft journey down the Mississippi River. The two bind themselves to one another, becoming intimate friends and agreeing "there warn't no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft." As Huck learns about love, responsibility, and morality, the trip becomes a metaphoric voyage through his own soul, culminating in the glorious moment when he decides to "go to hell" rather than return Jim to slavery. Mark Twain defined classic as "a book which people praise and don't read"; Huckleberry Finn is a happy exception to his own rule. Twain's mastery of dialect, coupled with his famous wit, has made Adventures of Huckleberry Finn one of the most loved and distinctly American classics ever written.
Anna Karenina by
Vladimir Nabokov called Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina“ one of the greatest love stories in world literature.” Matthew Arnold claimed it was not so much a work of art as “a piece of life.” Set in imperial Russia,Anna Karenina is a rich and complex meditation on passionate love and disastrous infidelity. Married to a powerful government minister, Anna Karenina is a beautiful woman who falls deeply in love with a wealthy army officer, the elegant Count Vronsky. Desperate to find truth and meaning in her life, she rashly defies the conventions of Russian society and leaves her husband and son to live with her lover. Condemned and ostracized by her peers and prone to fits of jealousy that alienate Vronsky, Anna finds herself unable to escape an increasingly hopeless situation. Set against this tragic affair is the story of Konstantin Levin, a melancholy landowner whom Tolstoy based largely on himself. While Anna looks for happiness through love, Levin embarks on his own search for spiritual fulfillment through marriage, family, and hard work. Surrounding these two central plot threads are dozens of characters whom Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together, creating a breathtaking tapestry of nineteenth-century Russian society. From its famous opening sentence—“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”—to its stunningly tragic conclusion, this enduring tale of marriage and adultery plumbs the very depths of the human soul.
The Call of the Wild and White Fang by
Jack London’s two greatest novels, The Call of the Wild and White Fang—originally intended as companions—are here compiled in one volume. The Call of the Wild centers on a domesticated dog, Buck, who is kidnapped and sold to Klondike gold hunters. To survive Buck must listen to the Call and learn the ways of his wolf-ancestors, who guide him from within. White Fang tells the story of a half-wolf, half-dog nearly destroyed by the vicious cruelty of men. Brought to the very brink of his existence, White Fang is lucky enough to experience the one thing that can save him—human love. Adventurer and activist, philosopher and alcoholic, Jack London was a man of great contradictions and greater talent. Both of these novels are written in a simple, direct, and powerful style that decades of readers have admired and that writers have imitated.
The Complete Sherlock Holmes by
The Complete Sherlock Holmes comprises four novels and fifty-six short stories revolving around the world’s most popular and influential fictional detective#151;the eccentric, arrogant, and ingenious Sherlock Holmes. He and his trusted friend, Dr. Watson, step from Holmes’s comfortable quarters at 221b Baker Street into the swirling fog of Victorian London to exercise that unique combination of detailed observation, vast knowledge, and brilliant deduction. Inevitably, Holmes rescues the innocent, confounds the guilty, and solves the most perplexing puzzles known to literature. Volume I of The Complete Sherlock Holmes starts with Holmes’s first appearance, A Study in Scarlet, a chilling murder novel complete with bloodstained walls and cryptic clues, followed by the baffling The Sign of Four, which introduces Holmes’s cocaine problem and Watson’s future wife. The story collections The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes feature such renowned tales as #147;A Scandal in Bohemia,” #147;The Red-Headed League,” and #147;The Musgrave Ritual.”
The Count of Monte Cristo by
Dashing young Edmond Dantès has everything. He is engaged to a beautiful woman, is about to become the captain of a ship, and is well liked by almost everyone. But his perfect life is shattered when he is framed by a jealous rival and thrown into a dark prison cell for 14 years. The greatest tale of betrayal, adventure, and revenge ever written,The Count of Monte Cristo continues to dazzle readers with its thrilling and memorable scenes, including Dantès’s miraculous escape from prison, his amazing discovery of a vast hidden treasure, and his transformation into the mysterious and wealthy Count of Monte Cristo—a man whose astonishing thirst for vengeance is as cruel as it is just.
Great Expectations by
Great Expectations, described by G. K. Chesterton as a “study in human weakness and the slow human surrender,” may be called Charles Dickens’s finest moment in a remarkably illustrious literary career. In an overgrown churchyard, a grizzled convict springs upon an orphan named Pip. The convict terrifies the young boy and threatens to kill him unless Pip helps further his escape. Later, Pip finds himself in the ruined garden where he meets the bitter and crazy Miss Havisham and her foster child Estella, with whom he immediately falls in love. After a secret benefactor gives him a fortune, Pip moves to London, where he cultivates great expectations for a life which would allow him to discard his impoverished beginnings and socialize with the idle upper class. As Pip struggles to become a gentleman and is tormented endlessly by the beautiful Estella, he slowly learns the truth about himself and his illusions. Written in the last decade of his life, Great Expectations reveals Dickens’s dark attitudes toward Victorian society, its inherent class structure, and its materialism. Yet this novel persists as one of Dickens’s most popular. Richly comic and immensely readable, Great Expectations overspills with vividly drawn characters, moral maelstroms, and the sorrow and pity of love.
Jane Eyre by
Immediately recognized as a masterpiece when it was first published in 1847,Charlotte Brontë’sJane Eyreis an extraordinary coming-of-age story featuring one of the most independent and strong-willed female protagonists in all of literature. Poor and plain, Jane Eyre begins life as a lonely orphan in the household of her hateful aunt. Despite the oppression she endures at home, and the later torture of boarding school, Jane manages to emerge with her spirit and integrity unbroken. She becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she finds herself falling in love with her employer—the dark, impassioned Mr. Rochester. But an explosive secret tears apart their relationship, forcing Jane to face poverty and isolation once again. One of the world’s most beloved novels,Jane Eyreis a startlingly modern blend of passion, romance, mystery, and suspense. Susan Ostrov Weisseris a Professor of English at Adelphi University, where she specializes in nineteenth-century literature and women’s studies. Her research centers on women and romantic love in nineteenth-century literature, as well as on contemporary popular culture. Weisser also wrote the introduction to the Barnes & Noble Classics edition ofPersuasion.
The Jungle by
Upton Sinclair’s muckraking masterpiece The Jungle centers on Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant working in Chicago’s infamous Packingtown. Instead of finding the American Dream, Rudkus and his family inhabit a brutal, soul-crushing urban jungle dominated by greedy bosses, pitiless con-men, and corrupt politicians. While Sinclair’s main target was the industry’s appalling labor conditions, the reading public was most outraged by the disgusting filth and contamination in American food that his novel exposed. As a result, President Theodore Roosevelt demanded an official investigation, which quickly led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug laws. For a work of fiction to have such an impact outside its literary context is extremely rare. (At the time of The Jungle’s publication in 1906, the only novel to have led to social change on a similar scale in America was Uncle Tom’s Cabin.) Today, The Jungle remains a relevant portrait of capitalism at its worst and an impassioned account of the human spirit facing nearly insurmountable challenges.
Pride and Prejudice by
When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Mr Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Mr Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is a sparkling comedy of manners which explores the folly of judging by first impressions, and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life in early nineteenth-century England.
Robinson Crusoe by
Widely regarded as the first English novel,Daniel Defoe’sRobinson Crusoeis one of the most popular and influential adventure stories of all time. This classic tale of shipwreck and survival on an uninhabited island was an instant success when first published in 1719 and has inspired countless imitations. In his own words, Robinson Crusoe tells of the terrible storm that drowned all his shipmates and left him marooned on a deserted island. Forced to overcome despair, doubt, and self-pity, he struggles to create a life for himself in the wilderness. From practically nothing, Crusoe painstakingly learns how to make pottery, grow crops, domesticate livestock, and build a house. His many adventures are recounted in vivid detail, including a fierce battle with cannibals and his rescue of Friday, the man who becomes his trusted companion.
A Tale of Two Cities by
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” With these famous words,Charles Dickens plunges the reader into one of history’s most explosive eras—the French Revolution. From the storming of the Bastille to the relentless drop of the guillotine, Dickens vividly captures the terror and upheaval of that tumultuous period. At the center is the novel’s hero, Sydney Carton, a lazy, alcoholic attorney who, inspired by a woman, makes the supreme sacrifice on the bloodstained streets of Paris. One of Dickens’s most exciting novels,A Tale of Two Cities is a stirring classic of love, revenge, and resurrection.
Treasure Island by
The story grew out of a map that led to imaginary treasure, devised during a holiday in Scotland by Stevenson and his nephew. The tale is told by an adventurous boy, Jim Hawkins, who gets hold of a treasure map and sets off with an adult crew in search of the buried treasure. Among the crew, however, is the treacherous Long John Silver who is determined to keep the treasure for himself. Stevenson's first full-length work of fiction brought him immediate fame and continues to captivate readers of all ages.