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Greatest novel ever written

14 replies

JoonT · 14/03/2023 22:48

What would be your contender for greatest novel ever written? And why? I don't mean your favourite novel. And I don't mean the novel that cheers you up or comforts you, etc. I mean the novel you consider the best.

There are so many classics I've never read it's embarrassing. For example, I've never read Wuthering Heights, Bleak House, Middlemarch, Emma, Robinson Crusoe, Mrs Dalloway, 1984, Brideshead Revisited, Moby Dick, Catch 22, Madame Bovary, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, (I could go on and on). But based on the novels I have read, my vote would go to Dickens' David Copperfield. Pride and Prejudice, Kipling's Kim, Sons and Lovers, The Great Gatsby, etc, would fight it out for second place.

Plenty of novels have given me as much pleasure (Wodehouse's Right Ho Jeeves, for example), but nothing else seems so universal. D.H. Lawrence described the novel as "the bright book of life," and that's a perfect description of David Copperfield. Everything is there, the whole range of human experience. It opens with a beautiful description of childhood, and the way it becomes a lost paradise, and then covers pretty much every human experience, from the death of a parent to the infatuation of sexual love (and the disillusion that follows).

It also contains more characters than any novel I have ever read. And they are so vivid and real. I doubt there is any novel out there (with the possible exceptions of War and Peace and Proust's A La Recherche, neither of which I have read) with so many people and so many voices: Uriah Heep, Mr Micawber, Aunt Betsy, Mr Dick, Steerforth, Peggotty. Amazing. Most novelists can't create one memorable character. Dickens creates at least six in this novel alone.

I also admire the heart of the novel. Dickens rejects moral relativism, and re-affirms what we all, deep down, know is true – that kindness, loyalty, love, courage, dignity, etc, are good, and cruelty, bullying, sadism, betrayal, cowardice, etc, are bad.

OP posts:
HelloWorldMessage · 14/03/2023 22:58

I am also a huge fan of Charles Dickens. His characterisation is wonderful. I've read Great Expectations numerous times and watched the various films over the years too.

Greatest novel ever is very difficult to answer. What immediately springs to mind for me is, "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" and "Animal Farm" due to their thought provoking social commentary.

As an educator I'm interested in learning and intelligence and have have enjoyed re-reading Flowers for Algernon over the years.

I read "Five People You Meet In Heaven" one evening (well into the early hours!) as it had me completely gripped. A really interesting look at how our lives impact on others.

Allthegoodnamesarechosen · 14/03/2023 23:31

I’m not sure this is a race with a winner. ‘Greatest’ …but in what way?
To whittle down to ten would be hard….. but in no particular order
Pride and Prejudice
Little Dorritt
The Left Hand of Darkness
Tale of Two Cities
I Claudius / Claudius the God. ( because this is really one story)
The Last of the Wine
Mansfield Park
Our Mutual Friend

but the tenth place goes to all the not ‘ great’ novels which are sources of comfort and inspiration, and intrigue , and excitement : the glorious works of imagination

So thank you Terry Pratchett, Norah Lofts , Bernard Cornwall, AgathaChristie, Mary Gaskell, Penelope Fitzgerald, Margaret Drabble, Tolkien, Lewis….

and I know what you mean about Kim, Op. Time to read that again.

Reclinershunt · 31/03/2023 18:26

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JaneyGee · 02/04/2023 17:49

Interesting question. Obviously it's impossible to say – literally impossible. But it's fun to try.

I'd go for Middlemarch, with D H Lawrence's Women in Love in second place and Pride and Prejudice in third. Howard Jacobson thinks Women in Love and Ulysses are the best novels of the 20th-century (in English). Nabokov would have gone for Kafka's Trial or Proust's A La Recherche. He also thought Dickens' Bleak House was up there.

Those are not my favourite novels, btw. If I was choosing the books that have given me most joy and pleasure, it would be P G Wodehouse's Jeeves novels, Brideshead Revisited, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, etc. But to be the greatest, you need a certain breadth and depth that they lack. Actually, Anthony Burgess' Earthly Powers and Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point are also novels with enormous range and depth. But greatest, I don't think so. Powell's Dance to the Music of Time (if you think of it as one novel)? Maybe., I'll stick with Middlemarch. To be greatest ever, you need to combine three things: beautiful prose, a vast range of characters, and a profound comment on what it means to be alive. George Eliot achieves all of that.

Of course, I don't read any other languages. A Frenchman would go for Proust and a Russian would choose War and Peace.

Highdaysandholidays1 · 02/04/2023 17:53

I would probably go with Middlemarch in the absence of anything else, it's epic and less flawed than most!

CriticalAlert · 02/04/2023 17:59

I'd say the greatest novel ever written is Ulysses, it's just so damned clever....but inaccessible. I studied it at university so had help.

JaneyGee · 03/04/2023 21:46

CriticalAlert · 02/04/2023 17:59

I'd say the greatest novel ever written is Ulysses, it's just so damned clever....but inaccessible. I studied it at university so had help.

Maybe. But there is a strange lack of heart or warmth to Ulysses. Joyce writes superbly, of course, and the novel is tender and humane and life-affirming...but, somehow, cold. With Dickens, George Eliot, Henry Fielding, etc, you feel the author is in on the novel, crying and laughing and celebrating alongside the characters.

Time40 · 03/04/2023 23:23

1984 - because the subject matter is so profoundly important.

LuckOfTheDrawer · 03/04/2023 23:28

I also think 1984.

CurlewKate · 03/04/2023 23:29

Sense and Sensibility
The Mask of Apollo.
Maybe Madame Bovary?

Aaron95 · 03/04/2023 23:30

Time40 · 03/04/2023 23:23

1984 - because the subject matter is so profoundly important.

1984 is probably the most influential novel. Many of the ideas and phrases have become everyday parlance. But I would struggle to say it's the greatest. It's quite boring in places.

Redebs · 03/04/2023 23:33

I love Orwell, but I think Dostoevsky's Crimeand Punishment is a Great

Time40 · 03/04/2023 23:34

Crime and Punishment is truly great novel.

AnuSTart · 20/04/2023 06:50

Oh Crime and Punishment is a great call. One of the books where my feelings of dread were really physical while reading.

I have to say Ulysses. When I finally read it, I then read it annually for a few years.
That said I do understand the comment that it is cold though is never really seen that until I just read it here!

There are just too many amazing and life changing beautiful books to even refine a list!

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