Grove City College Publications

Literature To Renew The Mind
 

125th Anniversary - 1876-2001

In honor of Grove City's College's 125th anniversary the English department put together a list of 125 Authors to Renew the Mind as a sequel to the college's 125 Books to Renew the Mind. Take a look at some of the literary greats that have inspired writers and readers throughout history.

Classical (list) / Classical (summaries)
Medieval (list) / Medieval (summaries)
Renaissance (list) / Renaissance (summaries)
Enlightenment & 18th Cent. (list) / Enlightenment & 18th Cent. (summaries)
19th Century Prose Fiction (list) / 19th Century Prose Fiction (summaries)
20th Century Prose Fiction (list) / 20th Century Prose Fiction (summaries)
19th Cent. Prose Non-Fiction (list) / 19th Cent. Prose Non-Fiction (summaries)
20th Cent. Prose Non-fiction (list) / 20th Cent. Prose Non-fiction (summaries)
Drama (since 1800) (list) / Drama (since 1800) (summaries)
19th Century Poetry (list) / 19th Century Poetry (summaries)
20th Century Poetry (list) / 20th Century Poetry (summaries)
Addendum (list) / Addendum (summaries)

Classical
Homer
Aeschylus
Sophocles
Euripides
Ovid
Virgil

Top of Page

Medieval
Anonymous
Geoffrey Chaucer
Dante Alighieri
Thomas Malory

Top of Page

Renaissance
William Shakespeare
Christopher Marlowe
Miguel de Cervantes
John Donne
George Herbert
John Bunyan
John Milton

Top of Page

Enlightenment & 18th Century
Moliere
Voltaire
Daniel Defoe
Thomas Gray
Samuel Johnson
Alexander Pope
Jonathan Swift

Top of Page

19th Century Prose Fiction
Jane Austen
Charlotte Bronte
Emily Bronte
Lewis Carroll
Stephen Crane
Charles Dickens
George Eliot
Gustave Flaubert
Thomas Hardy
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Victor Hugo
Herman Melville
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Leo Tolstoy
Ivan Turgenev
Mark Twain
Henry James
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Oscar Wilde

Top of Page

20th Century Prose Fiction
Chinua Achebe
Sherwood Anderson
Margaret Atwood
Jorge Luis Borges
Albert Camus
Willa Cather
Joseph Conrad
Robertson Davies
Ralph Ellison
William Faulkner
F. Scott Fitzgerald
E. M. Forster
Graham Greene
Ernest Hemingway
Zora Neale Hurston
Aldous Huxley
James Joyce
Franz Kafka
D. H. Lawrence
Harper Lee
C. S. Lewis
Jack London
Thomas Mann
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Toni Morrison
Flannery O'Connor
George Orwell
Alan Paton
Walker Percy
Marcel Proust
Dorothy L. Sayers
Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Wallace Stegner
John Steinbeck
J. R. R. Tolkien
Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa
Miguel de Unamuno
John Updike
Robert Penn Warren
Edith Wharton
Charles Williams
Virginia Woolf

Top of Page

19th Century Prose Non-Fiction
Frederick Douglass
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Henry David Thoreau

Top of Page

20th Century Prose Non-fiction
G. K. Chesteron
Annie Dillard
Thomas Merton

Top of Page

Drama (since 1800)
Samuel Beckett
Anton Chekhov
T. S. Eliot
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Henrik Ibsen
Arthur Miller
Eugene O'Neill
Luigi Pirandello
George Bernard Shaw
Tom Stoppard

Top of Page

19th Century Poetry
Charles Baudelaire
Robert Browning
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Emily Dickinson
Gerard Manley Hopkins
John Keats
Christina Rossetti
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Walt Whitman
William Wordsworth

Top of Page

20th Century Poetry
W. H. Auden
Elizabeth Bishop
T.S. Eliot
Robert Frost
Seamus Heaney
Langston Hughes
Federico Garcia Lorca
Robert Lowell
Pablo Neruda
Rainer Maria Rilke
Wallace Stevens
William Carlos Williams
William Butler Yeats

Top of Page

Addendum
Frederick Buechner
A.S. Byatt
Umberto Eco
Susan Howatch
John Irving
Kazuo Ishiguro
Bobbie Ann Mason
Farley Mowat
Kathleen Norris
Tim O'Brien
Michael Ondaatje
Chaim Potok
Salman Rushdie
Luci Shaw
Amy Tan
James Wright

Top of Page

If we knew . . . that all students wished to be corporate executives, would we train them to be good readers of memos, quarterly reports, and stock quotations, and not bother their heads with poetry, science, history? I think not. Everyone who thinks, thinks not. Specialized competence can come only through generalized competence, which is to say that economic utility is a by-product of a good education. Any education that is mainly about economic utility is far too limited to be useful, and, in any case, so diminishes the world that it mocks one's humanity. At the very least, it diminishes the idea of what a good learner is.
- Neil Postman -

On the map of American higher education, the mission of Grove City College stands out in bold relief. Enjoying a solid niche in the market place, Grove City ranks as the only evangelical Christian college among the 50 most competitive colleges and universities in America. As American higher education moves in a direction contrary to the Grove City mission, increasing numbers of outstanding prospective students and their parents look for what Grove City offers. By filling a major void in the market place of American higher education, Grove City has expanded its market share, especially among the most academically gifted students.

What accounts for this success? What explains this difference? As much as anything else . . . the study of literature. More than any other discipline, English has succumbed to the subversion of historically accepted canons of content and standards of instruction. Professor of English James G. Dixon III observes that Grove City English faculty swim upstream against the relativism of various postmodern currents in the study of literature:

We affirm the classical tradition in literary studies, especially as challenged and shaped by Christian thought from the medieval period to the present. True to that tradition, we believe that literature provides general revelation of universal truths of the human condition and engages us in what the Greeks called psychagogia, the leading of the soul to virtue. We believe that all truth is God's truth, wherever it is found, and that our study of literature should be a quest for the ongoing revelation of that truth in our reading and in our lives.

To honor the 125th anniversary of Grove City College, the English faculty prepared an annotated bibliography of 125 great authors of literature. Of their task, Professor Dixon states:

We despaired of limiting the rich treasure of world literature to only 125 titles. So we developed an annotated list of 125 Great Authors, which allowed us to discuss more than one title for each author (For example, how could we list just one of Shakespeare's 37 plays?). With each annotation our goal was to suggest two things: (1) What has this author contributed to the world? and (2) Why should anyone bother to read this author's work? As with any such list, many notable writers had to be excluded. But we are convinced that the writers and works noted here will provide thoughtful readers a lifetime of rewards-both in their first-time encounters with a given work as well as in a succession of rereadings over the years.

Under Professor Dixon's leadership, all faculty in English actively participated in this project:

· Janice B. Brown (Ph.D., Memorial University of Newfoundland)
· Diane M. Dixon (Ph.D., Indiana University of Pennsylvania)
· James G. Dixon III (Ph.D., Northwestern University)
· William F. Donnelly (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin)
· Eric A. Potter (Ph.D., University of Virginia)
· Michael W. Price (Ph.D., Purdue University)
· Gloria Stansberry (Ph.D., Kent State University)

Their annotations encompass 125 authors in twelve categories plus an addendum of 16 contemporary authors.

Literature To Renew The Mind, a sequel to Books To Renew The Mind, evolved from the Grove City Humanities Program. Under the leadership of Professor Gary S. Smith, Program Coordinator, the humanities faculty annotated 125 important classical and contemporary books in Books To Renew The Mind. While participating with the humanities faculty in writing Books To Renew The Mind, the English faculty decided to prepare annotations of 125 important authors solely within their own discipline. Thus, Literature To Renew The Mind complements and supplements Books To Renew The Mind, which focuses on culture, economics, education, history, politics, science, and theology. The two share the same goals, namely to:

  • Provide prospective students and their parents with a catalogue of authors, books, and poetry considered significant by the Grove City faculty;
  • Encourage greater breadth and depth of reading among Grove City students;
  • Help Grove City students prepare for Rhodes, Marshall, and Fulbright Scholarship competitions, and other post-graduate opportunities;
  • Assist alumni and other interested persons in quickly identifying important books on subjects of critical concern; and
  • Invite interaction with readers by allowing them to suggest additions and deletions of books and to recommend books in other significant areas of interest.

Literature To Renew The Mind and Books To Renew The Mind acknowledge the truth spoken by Jacques Barzun:

The college is not for either vocational or social ends. It is for education, which is bigger than social or vocational goals. Specifically, it is for injecting the necessary dose of the liberal arts into the undergraduate before he enters economic and social life.

As Harvey Mansfield said, education should introduce students "to things worth learning for their own sake."

Charles W. Dunn
Dean of International Studies, Graduate Advancement and Faculty Development
Grove City College
Grove City, Pennsylvania

Top of Page

Classical

1. Homer (8th century BC). The Iliad. With the Odyssey, the Iliad became the Bible of Greek civilization. This epic of the Trojan War raises issues that shaped the classical humanism that has remained formative in the West: the arete (excellence) that makes an individual heroic; the hubris (pride) that tarnishes that arete; the gusto for every human activity; the duty owed to one's friends and compatriots; and ultimately the compassion even for one's enemies that makes one more fully human. These themes find their focus in the god-like warrior Achilles, who grows from a selfish but unstoppable warrior to one who can weep with the grief of his enemy, Priam, King of Troy. The Homeric Question leaves open the possibility that two (or more) authors composed these two foundational works of Western literature.

2. Homer (8th century BC). The Odyssey. This epic poem recounts Odysseus' ten-year struggle to reach his home, Ithaca, after the Trojan War. The story is replete with exotic, spine-tingling adventures that rival any in literature or film. The poem climaxes when Odysseus rids his palace of the men attempting to steal his wife, Penelope, then reunites with her and their son Telemachus after a twenty-year absence. Penelope is portrayed as the picture of patience and faithfulness, and Odysseus as the epitome of the courageous warrior who, through his cunning and strength, is able to overcome every obstacle in his quest to return home. The definitive statement of Greek humanism, this poem celebrates the family as the foundation of civilization.

3. Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.). Aeschylus was the first of the three great tragic playwrights of 5th century B.C. Athens. His most significant work, a trilogy of plays entitled the Oresteia, demonstrates how the sins of the fathers are visited on the children to the third and fourth generation, until Athena, goddess of wisdom, ends the cycle of blood revenge by establishing a trial by law. The trilogy thus celebrates civilization's emergence from barbarism in an appeal to a natural law that rises above the chaos of personal revenge.

4. Sophocles (496-406 B.C.). The second of the three great tragic playwrights of 5th century B.C. Athens, Sophocles is most famous for the three plays of his Theban Cycle. Oedipus the King explores how hubris (pride) taints even the noblest of humans and explores the mysterious balance of fate and free will. Antigone presents one woman's defiance of tyrannical authority for the sake of a higher law. Oedipus at Colonus is a profound study of purgation and redemption.

5. Euripides (480-406 B. C.). The third of the Athenian tragic writers is the most cynical and troubling of the three. His plays challenged the confidence of Greek humanism. Medea, for instance, is a pagan sorceress who rages against the "rational" political utilitarianism of her Greek husband Jason. The Bacchae shows how the rationalism of the Greek ruler Pentheus is incapable of managing the complex range of passions that lurk beneath the surface of the human soul.

6. Ovid (43 BC-17 AD). The Metamorphoses. This anthology of approximately 250 Greco-Roman myths, all united by the theme of transformation, begins with a creation account and proceeds chronologically up to Ovid's present, the glorious reign of Caesar Augustus. The first 6 ½ books deal with the gods, the rest with humans. The work became a treasure trove from which many later writers (including Dante and Shakespeare) adapted characters, stories, and themes. Some myths either parallel Bible stories or reinforce biblical themes (e.g., the great flood; the dangers of hubris).

7. Virgil (70-19 BC). The Aeneid. Considered the greatest literary work of Roman civilization, this epic poem recounts the mythic founding of Rome. It focuses upon the Trojan hero Aeneas, who leads a band of refugees from burning Troy through many adventures throughout the Mediterranean world, before settling in Latium, where they must win an epic war to found their civilization. Aeneas' devotion to public duty over private happiness became an ideal character trait in Roman civilization. Virgil deliberately models his epic after Homer's epics: Books I-VI parallel The Odyssey; Books VII-XII, The Iliad. C. S. Lewis ranked this work among the most important he ever read.

Top of Page


Medieval

8. Anonymous. Sir Gawain and The Green Knight (c. 1375-1400). This 14th century tale of knightly adventure is told in a unique poetic form. The pride of King Arthur's court is cunningly challenged, and the virtue of the chivalrous hero is severely tested. The reader is left wondering who has won. This perfectly crafted work is the finest Arthurian romance in English because it avoids pat idealism, and instead realistically explores the issues of temptation and moral integrity.

9. Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400). The Canterbury Tales. On a pilgrimage to Canterbury to visit the shrine of St. Thomas Becket, thirty pilgrims agree to tell two tales each, one on the way there, and one on the return trip. Although Chaucer finished only twenty-four tales, the collection is brilliant for its encyclopedic cross-section of so many kinds of characters and stories, each fascinating in itself, but even more so when combined with the others. Some of the tales are bawdy (e.g., the Miller's Tale); some are highly moral (e.g., the Nun's Priest's Tale); some reveal remarkable character portraits (e.g., the Wife of Bath).

10. Dante (1265-1321). The Divine Comedy. The greatest poem of the Middle Ages, this epic depicts Dante's journey through the three regions of the afterlife: Inferno (Part I), Purgatory (Part II), and Paradise (Part III). Dante's work is the supreme synthesis of the Classical and Christian traditions. In many ways Dante patterns his epic after the Aeneid, so it is no surprise that Virgil serves as Dante's mentor and guide through most of the journey. At the top of Mt. Purgatory, Dante is reunited with his lifelong love, Beatrice, who brings him to heaven and the climax of his journey: his vision of the Trinity. This experience completes the progress of his soul's salvation and thus renders the poem a glorious celebration of the love of God.

11. Sir Thomas Malory (d. 1471). A large number of Arthurian tales were brought together and edited by Malory in the 1460s. They were published in 1485 by William Caxton, the first English printer, under the title Le Morte d'Arthur (The Death of Arthur). Malory's sources include Celtic folklore and the work of French writer, Chretien de Troyes. Malory created a magical world that continues to inspire artists and writers. Appearing at the end of the Middle Ages, and encompassing many of the struggles and ideals of that turbulent millennium, the Morte d'Arthur still stands as the most comprehensive and influential version of the Arthurian legend.

Top of Page



Renaissance

12. William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Shakespeare's 37 plays and 154 sonnets are considered the greatest contribution to literature by a single author in history. He is unsurpassed both in his mastery of the poetic possibilities of the English language and in his profound insights into human nature. Many have made his collected works a life-long odyssey: encountering new works on the page and stage, and revisiting familiar works that grow richer with age. Among his many "must-reads" are the tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear; the comedies: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, The Merchant of Venice; the histories: Julius Caesar, Richard II, 1 Henry IV, Henry V, Richard III; and the romances: The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest. Among his most famous sonnets are Sonnets 2, 18, 29, 30, 55, 60, 73, 116, 129, 130, and 147.

13. Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). Marlowe was a poet and dramatist and, until his untimely death, a contemporary of William Shakespeare (he appears, for example, as a character in the 1998 film, Shakespeare in Love). His most famous play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, depicts an arrogant genius who, disdaining earthly knowledge (e.g., philosophy, theology), sells his soul to the devil for twenty-four years of power and pleasure. The play ultimately, perhaps inadvertently, affirms Christianity because it illustrates the punishment of a person who rejects it.

14. Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). Don Quixote. Cervantes started out to write a satire on Chivalric romances, but his characters Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza have achieved archetypal status, representing both our love and our suspicion of the heroic, our passion for creating worlds of the imagination and our practical compromise with the status quo. This poignant mix of the ideal and the real, satire and celebration continues to inspire us to value the Quixotic.

15. John Donne (1572-1631). Collected Poetry and Prose. Donne is most famous for introducing a new and unusual type of poetry known as The Metaphysical Manner. This style compares images that, at first, seem dissimilar, but upon reconsideration, actually correlate. Discovering this similarity yields both delight and surprising insights. His poetry ranges from erotic love poems to deeply pious religious poems. In his religious poems, he usually presents himself as a penitent who converses with God intimately yet quivers with self-doubt ("batter my heart, three-personed God"). His religious works repay the effort invested in deciphering them.

16. George Herbert (1593-1633). In his collection of spiritual poems, The Temple, written in the metaphysical manner, Herbert does not sugarcoat the Christian experience; rather, his poetry depicts both the author's despair and joy, his fluctuations between faith and doubt. Like Donne, he interacts with God on a very intimate level. Masterpieces in their own right, his poems influenced later religious poets such as Thomas Traherne. Herbert is of the most popular poets among Christians today, and C. S. Lewis ranked The Temple as one the most important books he ever read.

17. John Bunyan (1628-88). The Pilgrim's Progress. Written by a lay preacher who spent twelve years in jail rather than compromise his beliefs, this religious allegory depicts the journey of the character Christian from his original home (The City of Destruction) to his new home (The Celestial City). During his journey, Christian undergoes many trials (e.g., The Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, Doubting Castle), encounters many characters (e.g., Faithful, Hopeful, Apollyon, Giant Despair), and engages in many dialogues-all depicting via allegory the Protestant view of sanctification during this life. A work of incalculable influence, it has been translated into 100 languages.

18. John Milton (1608-74). Paradise Lost. Written by the most erudite author in the English language, this epic poem is deliberately patterned after the epics of Homer, Virgil, and others. A magnificent synthesis of Classical form and Christian content, this poem "pursues/ Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme:" the fall of Satan and his angels, the fall of man, and the redemptive love of God. Milton's majestic style made him "the organ voice of English poetry," and his detailed knowledge of theology, philosophy, history, and the recesses of the human heart make his work second in erudition only to the works of Shakespeare in the English language.

Top of Page



Enlightenment & 18th Century Literature

19. Moliere (1622-73). This 17th century French playwright is one of the greatest masters of comedy and satire in all literature. His most famous play, Tartuffe, ridicules both the use of religion to mask greed and the gullibility of those who fall for such deceptions. His play The Misanthrope (considered by some to be Moliere's Hamlet) follows the comic travails of one caught in the snares of a mind made overly pessimistic by the follies of mankind.

20. Voltaire (1694-1778). Candide. Satiric spokesman for the age of enlightenment, Voltaire wrote this philosophical tale to make fun of smug optimism, caricatured in Pangloss. This biting, witty narrative indicts the many follies and cruelties of mankind as Candide is taken advantage of on his travels. More than a genius for mockery, Voltaire is a courageous, humane fighter for the liberation of the human mind.

21. Daniel Defoe (1660-1731). Robinson Crusoe is the story of a man who, shipwrecked on an island off South America, survives 23 years on his own. It uniquely combines at least three major genres of literature: the spiritual biography, the exotic adventure story, and the account of worldwide exploration known as travel literature. Upon its release, it became an immediate sensation and remains so even today. It is an early form of the novel.

22. Thomas Gray (1716-71). Gray's most famous poem, "Elegy in a Country Churchyard," provides a beautiful portrait of the sights and sounds found at dusk in a rural setting. As the poet surveys the graves in the churchyard, he meditates upon life's transcendent questions: human mortality; the dilemma between choosing a peaceful but obscure life or opting for an ambitious career in the spotlight; and the way that death renders all ranks of people equal. The poem celebrates and attempts to preserve the peaceful way of life found in the pastoral countryside.

23. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Collected Poetry and Prose. A writer of exceptional breadth, piety, and common sense, he wrote poetry (e.g., "The Vanity of Human Wishes"); a dictionary of the English language (considered his greatest triumph); travel literature; periodic essays; literary criticism (e.g., The Lives of the Poets); a biography; and a novel (Rasselas). He is often compared to C.S. Lewis because he championed Christian morality with clear common sense, in delightfully lucid prose.

24. Alexander Pope (1688-1744). This 18th century poet was the epitome of neoclassical refinement in his sparkling wit and polished heroic couplets. His works include The Rape of the Lock, a mock heroic epic that satirizes 18th century aristocratic society, and the two philosophical treatises, An Essay on Criticism, and Essay on Man, both of which brilliantly articulate the tenets of the English Enlightenment. A prime example of his mastery of the heroic couplet is his famous definition of wit: "True wit is nature to advantage dressed: / What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed."

25. Jonathan Swift (1667-1745). Collected Poetry and Prose. Irish-born Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, he is best known for his biting satire, such as "A Modest Proposal" and, more importantly, Gulliver's Travels. Gulliver's Travels is a four-part account of the sea voyages of Lemuel Gulliver, each part recounting his adventures in an exotic, undiscovered land. At each place he must adapt and learn the folkways and mores of the host country. At times humorous, at times, bawdy, at times bitter, but always wildly inventive, these episodes offer thinly veiled critiques of English society-and of human nature in general.
 

Top of Page


19th Century Prose Fiction

26. Jane Austen (1775-1817). One of the greatest English novelists, Austen consciously confined herself to depicting the limited world of rural upper class families. The tensions associated with courtship and marriage are the central focus of her works, which include Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and Emma. These novels are remarkable for their brilliantly drawn characters, their detailed and frequently comic observation of 19th century English manners, and their witty insight into human nature.

27. Charlotte Bronte (1816-55). Other literary families may have produced more than the Brontes, but none have done so within such a narrow range of life experience. Nurtured by the majestic solitude of the Yorkshire moors, Charlotte and Emily wrote novels that were daringly individualistic. Although Charlotte was the most prolific of the three sisters she, like her sister Emily, owes her reputation to a single novel. Jane Eyre follows the emotionally resilient heroine through deprivation, humiliation, and rejection, to the haven of a loving marriage-a relationship based on integrity rather than compromise.

28. Emily Bronte (1818-48). Emily's unique gift is evident from a small body of poems and the novel Wuthering Heights, a towering monument of English fiction. Inexperienced in the ways of the world, Emily soars beyond the boundaries of conventional expectations with searing energy. Her literary greatness is a function of her instinctive empathy with the spiritual forces that empower physical realities. Wuthering Heights is the passionate story of several generations of two Yorkshire families. The unusual layering of narrative voices lends compelling credibility to the violent liaisons that become almost surreal in their emotional intensity.

29. Lewis Carroll (1832-98). Lewis Carroll is the pen name of Charles Dodgson, an Oxford mathematician who produced the most famous children's books of all time. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are, however, much more than children's books; they are witty commentaries on Victorian education, child psychology, social conventions, and moralistic literature. The humor ranges from punning, to farce, to satire. Characters like the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, and Humpty Dumpty achieve archetypal stature. Central to it all is the resilient Alice, intelligent, happy, and confident-a joyous contrast to the repressed, morose child produced by rigid Victorian families.

30. Stephen Crane (1871-1900). Journalist and fiction writer, Crane lived hard and died young, though he left behind a great deal of writing. His fiction is impressionistic in style, astute in its psychological insight, and naturalist in philosophical outlook. In shipwreck and war, he found fit metaphors for the struggle for life in an indifferent world. In his best novel, The Red Badge of Courage, which tells the story of a Union soldier as he wrestles with his fear, Crane ironically exposes how society's conventions and ideals fail to match experience.

31. Charles Dickens (1812-70). Dickens was the novelist who most fully reflected the gaiety, hopes and fears of the Victorian era. From the merriment of Pickwick Papers, the pathos of Oliver Twist, the nostalgia of A Christmas Carol, and the personal introspection of David Copperfield, Dickens moved on to works of greater thematic and moral complexity. Bleak House, Hard Times, and A Tale of Two Cities probe central social issues and events. The pinnacle of his work, Great Expectations, traces a misguided hero through a maze of wrong values, to a redeemed understanding of what it is to be a "gentleman" -a person of genuine quality.

32. George Eliot (1819-80). Marian Evans took this pen name in an attempt to circumvent the lingering prejudice against women writers, but the strengths that made her the best novelist of the late 19th century are the strengths of a woman. Her greatest works are The Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch. Both show an intelligent heroine struggling in a society incapable of recognizing the intellectual and moral capacity of a "mere" woman. Maggie, of the first novel, loves nobly and loses; Dorothea, of the second, loves nobly and wins. Evans' major contribution to novel development is her intensely realistic development of character.

 Top of Page

33. Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880). Madame Bovary. This story of the adultery and suicide of a doctor's wife in provincial Normandy is notable for psychological development and impersonal narrative that does not judge, but rather records events without moral sentiment. Madame Bovary's disease is her passion for believing herself better than she is. Flaubert has influenced the novel to focus on the discrepancy between our ideal lives and the actual gray ones we live.

34. Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). Tess of the D'Urbervilles. In defying many sexual, religious, and philosophical taboos of his time, Hardy's novels are a bridge between Victorian and modern fiction. His view is bleak, his temperament brooding, but his humor and sensitivity to the magic of his beloved countryside of Wessex prevent his work from being depressing. Hardy's novels include complex plots, sympathetic portrayals of rustic characters, elaboration of tragic struggles against the indifferent force that rules the world, and an atmosphere of thoughtful compassion.

35. Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64). Hawthorne found the past both an obsession and a burden, and he set many of his works during Puritan times. While criticizing these forebears, he shared with them a sense of human evil and guilt. As such his work counters optimistic views of America as a new Eden in which the past has no hold. Besides many superb stories and good novels, like The House of the Seven Gables, he is best known for The Scarlet Letter, which explores the results of sin, showing the destructive nature of unconfessed guilt, impenitence, desire for revenge, and an unforgiving community.

36. Victor Hugo (1802-85). Poet, novelist, and dramatist, Hugo was the central figure of French romanticism. His play Hernani caused riots in Paris when it was first performed because of its departure from the strict neoclassical rules that reigned in French drama up to that point. He is more widely known today for his sprawling epic novels, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables, which most people today have experienced in the hit musical version. Hugo merges Christian themes with his romantic sensibility, as seen in the themes of redemption and grace in the character of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.

37. Herman Melville (1819-1891). In Moby Dick, a whaling ship becomes the stage for a grand drama as Captain Ahab commands the hearts and minds of his crew in pursuit of the thing which to Ahab is the embodiment of all evil, the great white whale. In the manner of classic tragic heroes, Ahab's hubris dooms his mission. Echoes of Shakespeare and the Bible, pulpit rhetoric, voices of primitive seamen, and journalistic accounts of whaling suggest Melville's complex view of reality. In the posthumously published Billy Budd, a popular and virtuous young sailor accidentally kills an officer. The story questions the value of legal justice when it conflicts with principles of "natural" right and wrong.

38. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96). Uncle Tom's Cabin. Born into a family of clerics, Stowe wrote her influential, melodramatic tale "to show how Jesus Christ who liveth and was dead, and is alive forevermore, has still a mother's love for the poor and lowly." Uncle Tom's Cabin stirred great public feeling from its description of the sufferings caused by slavery-particularly the anguish of parted families. Uncle Tom, a pious, suffering slave, has ironically become a pejorative symbol of passively collaborating with the oppressor. In the novel, however, he is depicted with great compassion as a figure of Christ's sacrificial love.

39. Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). War and Peace; Anna Karenina. Tolstoy's works are among the greatest novels ever written, but they are also accessible chronicles of characters who become our lifelong companions. Sprawlingly long with complex casts, yet natural and timeless, these books are well worth the investment of time. War and Peace portrays the impact of Napoleon's invasion on Russia; Anna Karenina presents the story of two marriages: Anna's is ruined by adultery, Levin's is nurtured by a relationship of growing respect. Tolstoy once said, "The one thing necessary, in life as in art, is to tell the truth," which he does in his deep love for his characters and for the spectacle of life itself.

Top of Page

40. Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883). Fathers and Sons. By living as an expatriate, Turgenev widened Russia's perspective on the larger European culture, although he drew his central inspiration from his native land. Fathers and Sons is a study of the conflict between generations. In the character of Bazarov it also is the classic presentation of a Russian character type: the nihilist, a figure assuming several forms-terrorist, anarchist, atheist-materialist, science-worshiper, and dedicated Communist.

41. Mark Twain (1835-1910). "Mark Twain" is the pen name of Samuel Clemens, one of the best-loved American writers, most famous for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The latter, one of the great American novels, follows the adventures of Huck, a 14-year old white boy, and Jim, an escaping slave, as they travel on a raft down the Mississippi seeking freedom. On this journey, Huck gradually recognizes Jim's humanity and learns of the corruption and potential for evil in his society. The continuing controversy surrounding this book testifies to its powerful treatment of race relations.

42. Henry James (1843-1916). Portrait of a Lady. When an idealistic young American, Isabel Archer, comes into an inheritance in Europe, she sets high goals for her life. Shunning the attentions of both an American entrepreneur and a British lord, she declares her independence from materialistic values. Unfortunately, her idealism blinds her to evil in its more subtle manifestations. She fails to recognize that people who love art are not necessarily morally superior. James is famous for his "international themes" contrasting American and Old World values. A Realist, he helped to establish fiction as a major art form.

43. Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881). Collected Prose. The works of this towering Russian novelist of the late 19th century are exceptionally deep, resonating with profound insight into human nature and philosophical and theological issues. Dostoevsky is best known for Crime and Punishment, and his masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov. A committed Christian and sophisticated thinker, he defended Christianity against the onslaught of socialism and nihilism then sweeping his country. A major Christian thinker/writer in the Western tradition, he was as important in his time as C.S. Lewis was in his.

44. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). The Picture of Dorian Gray. A wish preserves a young man's youthful good looks while his portrait ages, corrupted by his sinful life. Enthralled by the process, the young man becomes fascinated by the effects of evil. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a short novel, or perhaps a long fairy tale, or a grab bag of attitudes about art, paradox, and morality. The most frequently quoted Victorian writer in our times, Wilde in his only novel sparkles with the wit for which he is best remembered (see his play, The Importance of Being Earnest), dabbles in melodrama, and reflects on his age's attitudes toward truth and beauty.

Top of Page



20th Century Prose Fiction

45. Chinua Achebe (1930- ). Things Fall Apart. One of the most highly regarded African writers, Achebe's work has entered the worldwide canon. He was raised in a Nigerian village during the difficult transition from traditional customs to life under British missionary and colonial influence. Things Fall Apart tells the story of a tribal "big man" whose life is destroyed by changes he can neither understand nor halt.

46. Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941). An early 20th century American writer of novels and short stories, he is best known for Winesburg, Ohio. This novel was pathbreaking for two reasons: first, it consists of interrelated short stories which, collectively, comprise a new sort of whole; second, its prose style was admired (and emulated) by major American writers such as Hemingway and Faulkner. Brutally unsentimental, the novel depicts the often bleak, disappointing lives of lonely characters in a small town. Although depressing, the novel features character sketches so intriguing that they make the book worth reading.

47. Margaret Atwood (1939- ). The Handmaid's Tale. Canada's foremost writer, this articulate, persuasive feminist is a prolific and versatile author of poetry, stories, essays, and novels. Her best known novel, The Handmaid's Tale portrays a dystopian future in which the protagonist's survival is threatened by a patriarchal right-wing religious autocracy. In Surfacing, the narrator goes to the Canadian wilderness to find renewal through self-discovery.

48. Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). Labyrinths; Dreamtigers. Widely traveled Argentinian writer, Borges composed stories that range in style from expressionism to magic realism. His stories are labyrinthine in form, metaphysical in speculation, and dreamlike in their reflected aspects of reality. For Borges "ambiguity is richness," hence his continually shifting positions, his logical nightmares, his recurring metaphors of the maze, the mirror, and the double, as seen in "The Garden of Forking Paths."

49. Albert Camus (1913-60). Existentialist thinker, dramatist, and novelist, this French writer dramatized the "absurd" nature of human experience in such novels as The Fall, The Plague, and, most famously, The Stranger. In that novel, he renders the world through the bewildered perspective of his protagonist, Merseult, a man who drifts from experience to experience. After being accused of a crime, he realizes he is a stranger to his society's views of meaning and value. Camus's vivid writing allows the reader to experience the world from within the perspective of existentialism.

50. Willa Cather (1873-1947). My Antonia. A first person narrator, Jim Burden, expresses Cather's own love of the prairie and her appreciation of the Bohemian immigrants who built thriving farms in the West. Her pictures of the prairie are poetically drawn, but Cather's vision is not simplistic. Violence interrupts her characters' lives, and the harsh, daily grind of rural life can brutalize or break the sensitive. Finally, however, she makes us aware of the human potential for community and growth. My Antonia is considered Cather's best work.

51. Joseph Conrad (1857-1924). Heart of Darkness. Conrad explores man's vulnerability and corruptibility, particularly in the enigmatic Kurtz. Marlow, the narrator, provides a commentary on human nature under moral stress as he journeys down the river into the heart of the Congo. Conrad takes the reader on a psychological journey into the heart of man. At the same time, he explores the very meaning of civilization-and the barbarism that always lurks beneath the surface, waiting for every opportunity to manifest itself.

52. Robertson Davies (1913-95). Davies is a late 20th century Canadian writer whose witty novels track matters of spiritual significance in the lives of his characters-with a unique mixture of comedy, magic, and mystery. His most famous work is the Deptford Trilogy, a series of novels including Fifth Business, Manticore, and World of Wonders. In these works he explores with dramatic flair the relationship between religion, psychology, and magic in the worlds of his characters.

53. Ralph Ellison (1914- ). Invisible Man. One of the most significant works of literature produced by African-Americans, this novel charts the life experiences of an unnamed black male, detailing major events along the way (college, employment, etc.). It explores what it meant to be black in America in the 1940s and early '50s; it is also a profound search to find one's identity in a hostile culture. This challenging but deeply rewarding work provides a deeper understanding of African-American experience.

54. William Faulkner (1897-1962). Regarded by most as the greatest American novelist of the 20th century, Faulkner combined formal experimentation, a storyteller's gift, and a sense of Southern society to create his mythical Yoknapatawpha County. In such novels as The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom!, he explores the power of the past over the present, the human struggle to find meaning in experience, and the tortured history of race relations in America. In all of his work he attends closely to what he once called the "human heart in conflict with itself."

Top of Page

55. F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940). Fitzgerald's life and writing served as a mirror of his times, reflecting the Jazz Age glitter and the morning-after gloom of the 1929 stock market crash. Author of numerous stories and several novels, he is best known for The Great Gatsby. In this book Fitzgerald's beautiful prose style matches the dreams of his protagonist, Jay Gatsby, who becomes a millionaire to win the woman of his youthful dreams. Instead, he discovers that his dreams are illusions and that he cannot defeat time by recovering the past. In Gatsby's story, Fitzgerald explores the relationship of dream and reality in American experience.

56. E. M. Forster (1879-1970). Passage to India. The blazing sun, the echoing caverns of the dull Marabar hills, the dense population of India take their toll on the emotional stability of a naïve British woman visiting her fiancé, a British colonial administrator. Her search for "authentic" experience with "the natives" provokes an intercultural collision. David Lean's award-winning film treatment of the novel is visually rich, but Forster's rounded characterizations and his portrayal of the conflicting perspectives of Hindu, Moslem, and British are even more satisfying. Passage to India is considered Forster's masterwork.

57. Graham Greene (1904-1991). The Power and the Glory. An alcoholic priest trying to stay alive at a time when Mexico was killing or expelling clergy, becomes an improbable source of inspiration to a cynical youth. The reader comes away from this novel aware that God works in mysterious ways, sometimes using the lowliest of beings for His purposes. One of the best novels by this highly acclaimed British author.

58. Ernest Hemingway (1899-1962). This American writer won the Nobel Prize in 1954 for his short stories and novels, most notable of which are The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. The Sun Also Rises is set in Paris and Spain and portrays the lives of the Lost Generation, disillusioned by WWI. Hemingway's terse style effectively renders the emotional detachment of his focal character, Jake Barnes, an American journalist injured in the war. Jake's friendships and his passion for the artistry of bull-fighting prove sometimes inadequate substitutes for the love and meaning lost to him in the degeneracy of his time. Hemingway's mastery of the short story genre is apparent in The Nick Adams Stories. These semi-autobiographical stories portray in a novel-like sequence Nick's coming of age in northern Michigan, going to war, and later marrying and becoming a writer.

59. Zora Neale Hurston (1901-60). Their Eyes Were Watching God. An account of the lives of blacks in the rural American south, mainly in the 1930s, this novel focuses upon Janie, a woman who searches to find her identity and the nature of love. Often humorous, often touching, the narrative evokes sympathy for Janie as she matures into womanhood, overcomes patriarchal barriers, grapples with the unsentimental parts of living, and, most importantly, strives to find both herself and the meaning of love.

60. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963). Brave New World is the quintessential dystopian novel of the 20th century. Though it was written in 1932, some of its issues are remarkably relevant today, particularly the questions regarding genetic and social engineering. It is to literature what the 1997 film Gattaca is to cinema: a cautionary tale about the potentially dehumanizing effects of scientific "progress."

61. James Joyce (1882-1941). The Dubliners; A Portrait of the Artist; Ulysses. This major writer presents a variety of Irish vignettes in the stories of The Dubliners and a largely autobiographical account of his Irish childhood and education in Portrait. These works are helpful in approaching Ulysses, a work many consider the magnum opus of 20th century literature. This highly organized, original work built on Homer's Odyssey produced an angry outcry at its vision of life as reflected in the thoughts and actions of Stephen Dedalus, the modern intellectual, and his spiritual father, the ordinary man, Leopold Bloom. Experimental techniques including stream of consciousness, parody, puns, dream sequences, word coinages imaginatively reflect the thoughts and mental processes of Joyce's characters.

62. Franz Kafka (1883-1924). The Trial; Metamorphosis. 'Kafkaesque' sums up this German writer's portrayal of enigmatic reality in which the individual is lonely, perplexed, threatened, and guilt-ridden. The Trial tells the story of a man who feels guilty but is never able to discover what he is accused of. Metamorphosis foresees the dehumanization, terror and bureaucratic tyranny of our time. These parables of guilt and punishment reflect the heart of the age of anxiety.

63. D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930). Sons and Lovers. In this novel, Lawrence portrays his early life, which was dominated by his mother's excessive love. More importantly, Lawrence's passionate gusto for life-always vibrant but often morally transgressive-surfaces in this work. Lawrence saw himself as a prophet standing against the industrial culture of his time, which he believed had dried up the springs of emotion, alienating humans from natural life.

64. Harper Lee (1926- ). Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird earned her the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and quickly became a masterpiece of American literature. The story is told by the young daughter of a southern lawyer who unsuccessfully defends a Negro falsely accused of rape. The plot focuses on the lawyer's family, using the events surrounding the trial as a crucible in which to test their love and faith. In spite of the humor and winsomeness of the child's point of view, the novel frankly probes the issues of innocence and experience, cruelty and compassion, prejudice and brotherly love.

65. C. S. Lewis (1898-1963). Dubbed the 20th century "apostle to the skeptics," Lewis made significant contributions to theology, literary criticism, and fiction. His literary masterpiece is his 7-volume Chronicles of Narnia. The enduring brilliance of these works of fantasy is evident both in their ongoing appeal to children and in their ongoing revelation of theological and philosophical delights for older readers. Lewis's space trilogy (also known as the Ransom trilogy) also involves very imaginative explorations of theology in literary form. Perelandra, the most famous of the three, reenacts Genesis 2-3 on another world. Lewis's own favorite novel-and also perhaps his most difficult and profound-is Till We Have Faces, based on the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche and centered on the theme of the mysteries of faith and divine love.

Top of Page

66. Jack London (1876-1916). In Call of the Wild, Buck, a California dog kidnapped from the lap of luxury, gains strength and courage as he is forced to adapt to the harsh life of an Alaskan sled dog. Naturalist London celebrates Buck's recovery of primal strength as he finally runs free at the head of a wolf pack. A self-educated man raised in harsh poverty, London throughout his career dramatized the struggle for survival. His work became highly popular.

67. Thomas Mann (1875-1955). The Magic Mountain; Death in Venice. This German novelist and essayist attempts to sum up the mental life of the West. In Magic Mountain, a young German visits a friend in a Swiss tuberculosis sanitarium where he is infected and stays for seven years before being swept into the holocaust of the Great War. Mann's themes include psychoanalysis and spiritualism, links between art, disease, and death, and the relation between the artist and society; these are further explored in the novella, Death in Venice. His gift is his ability to combine reflection with character and atmosphere; ideas are part of subtle human relationships.

68. Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1928- ). One Hundred Years of Solitude. This Columbian writer's world of 'magic realism' moves beyond what he claims is "the mistaken and absurd world of rational creatures." One Hundred Years of Solitude is the story of a remote village seen through the eyes of multiple generations of the Buendia family, a story mingling the ordinary and the miraculous. This great Latin American novel is a kind of allegory of South American history as well as a remarkably imaginative-and frequently comic-exploration of the meaning of time.

69. Toni Morrison (1931- ). Beloved; Song of Solomon. Morrison, the 1993 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, is the best known Black woman writer in contemporary literature. Her novels are notable for the poetic lyricism of their language, their sensitive analysis of the dynamics of Black culture, and her ability to draw on the rich wellsprings of Black folklore and oral stories to illuminate contemporary themes. Beloved is the story of an escaped slave mother Sethe who kills her daughter to save her from a fate worse than death. Haunted by the ghost and then physical presence of Beloved, Sethe must work through the legacy of slavery to exorcise it.

70. Flannery O'Connor (1925-64). A Georgia-born writer renowned for startling readers, O'Connor wanted her fiction to touch on the realms of mystery and manners. With a sharp eye, she presents the Southern society she knew so well, including its class pride and racism. As for mystery, her Christian understanding helped her see the reality of grace and trace the shocking ways it breaks into the everyday. Best known for her stories, available in The Complete Stories, she ranks not only as a leading Southern writer but also as one of the best Christian writers of the century.

71. George Orwell (1903-50). A masterful prose stylist in both his essays and fiction, Orwell is known chiefly for two political satires, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four. Both illustrate his lifelong opposition to totalitarianism. In the latter, he portrays a dystopian future where the world is divided among totalitarian regimes perpetually at war and where individual human liberty is impossible. That book, especially, has shaped the culture with such terms as "double think," "double speak," and "Big Brother."

72. Alan Paton (1903- ). Cry, the Beloved Country. Written before institutional apartheid, South African Paton's lyrical novel tells the story of a black priest, Kumalo who leaves his impoverished Natal to find his son Absalom in Johannesburg. He discovers that Absalom has murdered the white son of his neighbor, Jarvis. Through this event, Jarvis and Kumalo rise above their tragedy to help this poor black community. Paton offers a moving plea for racial understanding and cooperation.

73. Walker Percy (1916-90). Trained in medicine, Percy converted to Christianity and joined the Roman Catholic Church. He began writing articles on linguistics and philosophy but turned to the novel to reach a wider audience. In novels such as The Moviegoer (National Book Award), The Second Coming, and The Thanatos Syndrome, Percy employs humorous satire and penetrating insight as he diagnoses the sickness of contemporary American culture and hints toward a possible cure. Aware that religious words have lost their value for most readers, he searches for a new language to express the truths of God and redemption.

74. Marcel Proust (1871-1922). This French writer is best known for his seven-volume set of novels grouped collectively as Remembrance of Things Past. Proust is credited, along with James Joyce and others, with making successful experiments in the ways time and reality are portrayed in the novel. The narrator, a disillusioned middle-aged man, reflects upon the events of his life, but those reflections do not unfold in chronological, linear order. Instead, the novels depict the erratic, surreal activity of memory and subjective perception.

75. Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957). Sayers became famous in the 1920s and 30s as a detective writer who raised the whodunit to new literary heights. Her twelve novels include Murder Must Advertise, The Nine Tailors, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon. In the 40s she produced outstanding Christian drama, writing plays for cathedral festivals (including that of Canterbury), and a series of radio plays on the life of Christ (The Man Born to Be King) for the BBC. In the last years before her death she produced much scholarly work on Dante's Divine Comedy.

Top of Page

76. Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918- ). This 20th century Russian novelist was imprisoned and eventually deported for criticizing the communist regime in the U.S.S.R. He wrote One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Cancer Ward, The First Circle, and the massive Gulag Archipelago, in which he revealed the horrors of Stalinist labor camps. His August 1914 begins a series of novels designed to provide an alternative to "official" Soviet history. His deep Christian convictions made him the conscience of Russia, for which he was deported in 1971.

77. Wallace Stegner (1909-1993). Crossing to Safety. This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a story of enduring friendships and marriages. Two couples meet at the University of Wisconsin, where the husbands are professors of English. Their friendship survives the challenges of career reversals, illness, children, changes of address, and encroaching age. With numerous allusions to Greek culture, the work celebrates the classical values of stoicism and rational thought. It is a refreshing read in an era of infidelity. His earlier novel, Angle of Repose, also won the Pulitzer Prize, and The Spectator Bird won the National Book Award.

78. John Steinbeck (1902-68). Among the leading American fiction writers of the early 20th century, Steinbeck often wrote of the poor, especially during the Great Depression. He is most famous for Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. The latter traces the misfortunes of the Joad family as they escape drought-ravaged Oklahoma and travel to California hoping to find a better life, though they fail. As in most of his fiction, the novel's portrayal of the poor is both sympathetic and admiring of their perseverance as they struggle against forces beyond their control.

79. J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973). Close friend of C. S. Lewis and member of the Inklings, Tolkien is the undisputed master of fantasy literature. The Hobbit begins seemingly as a children's story but starts to take on epic significance when Bilbo Baggins discovers the mysterious ring of power. The 3-volume Lord of the Rings takes Bilbo's nephew Frodo and other characters on a quest of profound significance in a remarkable exploration of cosmic evil and heroic good in opposing it. Tolkien's work is stunning in the rich texture of its detail in creating another world, his ability to build a scene, his memorable characters, and his haunting portraits of high elvish beauty fading from the world of Middle Earth.

80. Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa (1896-1957). The Leopard. Recognized as one of the most striking characters in Italian literature, the Prince Don Fabrizio, known as The Leopard, wrestles with finding his identity in changing times. Uncouth bourgeoisie are replacing the landed aristocracy in the social order of the 1860s. The Leopard manages a wry self-humor as he strives to maintain his dignity and ward off a sense of mortality. He loves his dog who digs up the gardens and his telescope which takes his mind to distant stars. The baroque rooms of his palace and the antics of his family are delightfully sketched.

81. Miguel de Unamuno (1964-1936). This Spanish writer and early existentialist sought to understand the reasons for Spain's decline. In The Tragic Sense of Life, Unamuno wrote about the struggle in a world where our longing for meaning and faith clashes with rationality and science. This conflict is illustrated in his novella, Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr, where the hero-priest, though unable to believe, strives to preserve the faith of his people.

82. John Updike (1932- ). Considered by some to be the current dean of American letters, Updike has written numerous novels and stories in addition to poetry, memoir, and criticism. Besides the virtuosities of its style, his fiction chronicles middle-class America over the last half century, especially in his Rabbit series, which follows his protagonist Harry ("Rabbit") Angstrom through the 60s, 70s, and 80s. While a professing Christian and one who sometimes traces the slight motions of grace working in his characters' lives, Updike's frank treatment of sexual material makes his work not for the faint-hearted.

83. Robert Penn Warren (1905- ). Kentucky-born novelist, poet, literary theorist and critic, Warren was a leading man of letters in the mid-20th century. As a theorist he was instrumental in developing the New Criticism. As a poet, he was early associated with the southern Fugitive movement and continued to write poetry that, while concerned with the burdens of history and aware of the darkness in human nature, affirms nature and human life. He is best known for his novel, All the King's Men, whose protagonist, a Louisiana politician reminiscent of Huey Long, combines innocence and guilt, ideals and corruption.

84. Edith Wharton (1862-1937). House of Mirth; Age of Innocence. An observer of high society, Wharton's witty, satiric portrayal of social nuance has introduced many readers to the Gilded Age. Lily Bart is a social climber, doomed by a rigid, censorious society in House of Mirth. In Age of Innocence, Newland Archer is torn between his love for the unconventional Countess Olenska and his timid but determined wife, May, who with the authority of society keeps Newland within the finely calibrated lines of social decorum.

85. Charles Williams (1886-1945). This member of the Oxford "Inklings" was a close friend of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. He wrote a series of seven strange novels, sometimes referred to as "theological thrillers." The most remarkable of these is Descent Into Hell, which charts the opposing paths of damnation and redemption for two central characters. In exploring the process of redemption, Williams develops his notion of "coinherence," or the doctrine of substitutionary love.

86. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). To the Lighthouse. This work is one of Woolf's most successful modernist experiments in stream-of-consciousness. Male and female become complementary principles in her portrayals of an intuitive, nurturing woman, Mrs. Ramsey, and her husband, an academic philosopher. Their summer home in the Hebrides brings together their large family of children and numerous colleagues. One guest, Lily Briscoe, is a painter troubled by a sense of inadequacy as artist and as woman. By the conclusion, however, she provides a synthesis of male and female qualities. "I have had my vision," she declares, as with a stroke she completes the design of a painting.

Top of Page



19th Century Prose Non-Fiction

87. Frederick Douglass (1818?-95). Born into slavery, Douglass became the major voice of African-American experience in the 19th century. His major work, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, recounts his childhood in slavery and his growing hunger for freedom as a young man. His path to freedom and self-respect parallels his teaching himself how to read and learning how to make a living wage. Douglass rails against the so-called "Christianity" that could condone slavery, but he does come to discover a true Christianity that values every human being as made in the image of God.

88. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Emerson became the center of a New England group known as the Transcendentalists and helped to inspire a generation of writers whose brilliant work transformed American literature. He inspired confidence in human nature by declaring that all people possess a divine soul that links them with ultimate Truth or "the Oversoul." In "Self Reliance," he challenged individuals to avoid conformity and to pursue the Truth knowable intuitively through their own souls. His "American Scholar Address" called upon American writers to express what is uniquely American rather than imitating British writers.

89. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). Walden. Building a house is analogous to building a life, proclaimed Thoreau, as he picked up an ax in 1845 and began an experiment in living at Walden Pond. Challenging the American success ethic, he simplified his life, eliminating all material goods beyond those required to meet basic needs. Walden is both an investigation of values and an enjoyable account of living a contemplative life in the woods. In "Civil Disobedience," Thoreau challenges readers to passively resist the machinery of government when it acts in violation of universal truth.

Top of Page



20th Century Non-Fiction

90. G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936). In his wit, erudition, and brilliant prose style, Chesterton is a major Christian apologist. No one can compete with him in the blending of hilarious exuberance with theological argument. Orthodoxy is his early statement of faith. The Everlasting Man is a later defense of orthodox Christianity, less lively, but more systematic than Orthodoxy. A prolific journalist and essayist, he waged a tireless battle in the public press against the increasing secularism of his age. His fictional works blend a rollicking plot with spiritual symbolism; the best of these is the double-agent spoof called The Man Who Was Thursday. His delightful short mysteries known as the Father Brown stories feature an unprepossessing Catholic priest as a very different kind of Sherlock Holmes.

91. Annie Dillard (1945- ). In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Dillard makes the leap of faith to acknowledge the existence of God as author of an extraordinary creation that both astonishes and repulses us. In sometimes breathless prose, her essays challenge us to open our eyes even though what we see may shock us. A giant water-bug sucking the life out of a frog, parasitic worms emerging from amazing life cycles, the bloody paw prints of a fighting tom cat, the "fecundity" of barnacles all become sources of fascination and contemplation.

92. Thomas Merton (1915-1968). Originally a poet, Merton established his international reputation with the publication of his spiritual autobiography, Seven Storey Mountain. In it he tells of his spiritual awakening while participating in a retreat at a Cistercian Abbey near Louisville, Kentucky. Converting to Catholicism, he became a monk in the silent Trappist order. His work conveys the beauties and challenges of the silent, contemplative life. In later years he became interested in correspondences between Eastern and Western religious traditions, as revealed in The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton.

Top of Page



Drama (since 1800)

93. Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). This Irish novelist-turned-playwright is the most famous writer in the genre known as Theatre of the Absurd. Waiting for Godot depicts two tramps on a country road in the middle of nowhere waiting for a man named Godot who will surely give them instructions. He never comes, but they continue to wait, filling their time with conversational banter-sometimes comic, sometimes religious, always poetic in a spare, absurdist style. Endgame is an even bleaker play about four characters slowly dying in a shelter long after some catastrophe has destroyed the outside world.

94. Anton Chekhov (1860-1904). Russian playwright and short story writer of the late 19th /early 20th century, Chekhov is the epitome of psychological realism in drama. His four full-length plays: The Seagull, Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, and The Cherry Orchard, all depict multi-dimensioned characters caught in a time of difficult social and political transitions in pre-revolutionary Russia. Because of the exquisitely detailed layering effects of his characterizations, actors consider Chekhov's plays the highest challenge to their art. Constantin Stanislavski created a new acting "method" to perform Chekhov's work.

95. T. S. Eliot (1888-1964). Eliot, of course, was the foremost poet of the 1st half of the 20th century. He also wrote five plays, including The Cocktail Party and Murder in the Cathedral. The latter, about the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170, is considered the greatest verse drama of the 20th century. In dazzling choral and dramatic poetry, it explores the meaning of faith and martyrdom as Thomas struggles to resist the Four Tempters, especially the last, who tempts him to commit "the greatest treason:/ To do the right deed for the wrong reason": to pursue martyrdom for his own glory.

96. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). Faust. In Goethe's lifelong emphasis on growth, change, and striving to understand the world, he is himself a Faustian man, exemplifying the modern Western Weltanschauung (world-view). In retelling the legend of a man who sells his soul to the devil for power, Goethe sets his Faust on a cosmic stage. The two parts of this epic play portray changing visions of life: first, the individual's ambition and disillusionment with the promise of redemption through love; second, the great Western post-Renaissance world in a kind of historical, challenging phantasmagoria.

97. Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). This Norwegian playwright of the late 19th century is considered the father of realism in modern drama. He daringly peeled back the layers of Victorian respectability to explore onstage the social problems of his day, including venereal disease in Ghosts, and the repression of women in A Doll's House. His play An Enemy of the People features a doctor who defies the vested interests of local businessmen to publish information about the infected hot springs of their resort town (the role Ibsen saw himself playing in his society). Hedda Gabler provides one of the most intriguing female characters in modern literature. All his characters find themselves trapped in a society that would shape them in destructive ways.

98. Arthur Miller (1915- ). Considered the dean of living American playwrights, Miller wrote powerful realistic plays that address social issues, much in the style of Ibsen. His most significant works include All My Sons (about a manufacturer of defective airplane parts), Death of a Salesman (about a traveling salesman who is crushed by his inability to keep up with the modern world), and The Crucible (about the Salem witch trials of 1692). In these last two plays, his characters Willy Loman and John Proctor have achieved archetypal status in American culture.

99. Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953). American playwright O'Neill experimented with a wide range of dramatic forms, but the style for which he is best known is his tragic realism. Among his most significant works in this genre are Desire Under the Elms, The Iceman Cometh, Mourning Becomes Electra (a trilogy of plays set after the American Civil War and based on Aeschylus' Oresteia), and his masterpiece, A Long Day's Journey Into Night (a largely autobiographical play). In most of these works, O'Neill raises serious theological questions concerning the nature of good and evil, God, and man.

100. Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936). In challenging the conventions of theatrical realism, this Italian playwright became the precursor of theatre of the absurd. His most famous play is Six Characters in Search of an Author, in which he explores and calls into question the nature both of the theatre itself and of the "reality" it purports to reflect.

101. George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). Shaw lived 94 years and wrote over 50 full-length plays. His comic realism, biting wit, and radical social and political views earned him a place as the pesky gadfly of British society throughout his life. His major works include Major Barbara (which pits the Salvation Army against the modern military/industrial complex), Pygmalion (the basis for the musical My Fair Lady), Arms and the Man (a comic anti-war play), The Devil's Disciple (about the American Revolution), Man and Superman (exploring his notion of the Life Force), and what some consider his masterpiece, Saint Joan, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1925.

102. Tom Stoppard (1937- ). Stoppard is the most prolific and influential of contemporary British playwrights. From Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (his absurdist take on Hamlet) in 1966 to The Real Thing in 1982 to Arcadia in 1992 to his screenplay for Shakespeare in Love in 1997, Stoppard has combined a considerable intellect with a virtuosic wit and an experimentation with theatrical form that make his work challenging, entertaining, and deeply rewarding.

Top of Page



19th Century Poetry

103. Charles Baudelaire (1821-67). One of the greatest French poets of the 19th century, Baudelaire was also an important critic, a translator of Edgar Allan Poe's tales, and an influence on the later Symbolist movement. He is best known for his collection, The Flowers of Evil, in which he tries to produce beauty and harmony by discovering hidden "correspondences" in a world that otherwise appears ugly. His emphasis on loneliness, isolation, evil, and boredom anticipates much of 20th century poetry.

104. Robert Browning (1812-89). Browning, the sanest of poets, characteristically depicts states of mind that are unhealthy and often insane. His specialty is the dramatic monologue, a form that was not particularly popular with his Victorian contemporaries, but which earned him immense respect in later decades. Like the 20th century poets that he anticipated, Browning typically exposes the devious workings and complex motives of the human mind. Nonetheless, the energy and vitality of his poems reflect his essential Victorianism.

105. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). Close friend of Wordsworth and co-founder with him of the romantic movement in English poetry, Coleridge also made significant contributions to literary criticism and theory. His most famous poetry-including "Kubla Khan," "Christabel," and "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"-evidences a fascination with the exotic and the supernatural as well as a profound Christian mystical sensibility. His work also demonstrates an almost magical use of words to evoke atmosphere.

106. Emily Dickinson (1830-86). Although she only published a few poems in her lifetime, Dickinson is recognized as one of the greatest American poets. Freely varying the hymn stanza common in her time, Dickinson wrote condensed poems that open out on huge subjects such as God, death, immortality, love, loss, grief, and depression. A nonconformist, Dickinson questioned her society's conventions regarding art, women, marriage, and religion. As for the latter, her work often explores the possibilities and impossibilities of belief. Her work is best approached in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, which preserves her capitalization and punctuation.

107. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89). At the time of his death the poetry of this Jesuit priest was essentially unknown, but in 1918 Hopkins' friend Poet Laureate Robert Bridges introduced it to the world and it became a major influence on 20th century poetry. Hopkins was a true original in style. His godly discipline and holy acuteness produced poetry that is among the most challenging and spiritually rewarding ever written.

108. John Keats (1795-1821). Though he died at the young age of 25, Keats made some of the most remarkable contributions to English romantic poetry. His most significant poems include his series of odes, especially "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn," both of which evidence his recurring theme that "a thing of beauty is a joy forever." Other significant works include The Eve of St. Agnes, an exquisitely crafted neo-gothic poem, and his collected letters, in which he explicates some of his literary theories.

109. Christina Rossetti (1830-94). Christina Rossetti, now regarded as the greatest female poet of the 19th century, displays a sensitivity to physical beauty that is informed by a profoundly Christian spirituality. Some critics have seen the strong religious commitment that characterized her life and art as curtailment of her creativity. No such curtailment is apparent, however, in her more than 900 poems that include merry lyrics, narrative fables, ballads, introspective studies, and devotional verse. She has become increasingly admired for her subtle and eloquent portrayal of the dilemmas with which women perennially struggle.

110. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92). Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson was unquestionably the poetic spokesperson of the Victorian age. Remarkable for the melodious quality of his verse and for a strong identification with the emotional issues of his day, Tennyson was more greatly loved in his own lifetime than any other English poet. His masterpieces include Idylls of the King, a twelve-poem sequence on the Arthurian legend, and In Memoriam, a long poem sequence that explores the pain of bereavement and the impact of Darwinian determinism on Christian faith and the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. Paradoxically, Tennyson's depiction of religious doubt is ultimately an adventure in faith.

111. Walt Whitman (1819-1892). His anthology of poems, Leaves of Grass, written in sweeping lines of free verse, revolutionized the practice of poetry. Believing that the user of words uses things, this American Romantic created huge "catalogues" of concrete imagery in "Song of Myself" to celebrate the diversity of life in all of its beauty and crudeness. Convinced that our senses serve as pathways to the soul, he challenged Victorian prudery. "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," written in commemoration of Lincoln's assassination, portrays the process of mourning, and suggests that Death is but one phase of Life.

112. William Wordsworth (1770-1850). The father of English romanticism, Wordsworth is revered both for the conversational intimacy of his poetic style and for his spiritual experience of the transcendent in his personal encounters with nature. "Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey" expresses most memorably his romantic spirituality. The Prelude is his lengthy autobiographical poem, in which he recounts the various "spots of time"-primarily experiences in nature-that shaped his soul. His publication of the Lyrical Ballads with Coleridge in 1798 revolutionized English poetry.

Top of Page

 

20th Century Poetry

113. W. H. Auden (1907-73). When he first began publishing in England in the 1920s, Auden's poetry reflected his sympathy with left-wing politics, especially in its concern for preserving "private spheres" in the midst of "public chaos" and its resistance to totalitarianism. In the 1940s Auden converted to Christianity (and also became a U.S. citizen) and his work from that time on is increasingly Christian in tone. In addition to poetry, he wrote a number of plays and librettos. His writing strongly influenced succeeding generations of poets.

114. Elizabeth Bishop (1911-79). Although American born, Bishop lived her earliest years in Nova Scotia and a large portion of her adult life in Brazil. She consistently employed images of geography and travel, beginning with her first book, North & South and continuing through her last, Geography III. Renowned for the clarity of her descriptions, Bishop writes poems that are clear as a still pool and as deep and refreshing. Her poems enact her repeated efforts to come to know a world of things and people that both invites and resists the self.

115. T.S. Eliot (1888-1965). A leading 20th century poet, Eliot was by turns a leader of literary modernism and one of the great Christian poets. In its apparent formlessness, along with its themes of deadness, decline, and brokenness, Eliot's The Waste Land expressed the fragmentation and alienation felt by a whole generation. In such a world, it was the burden of the individual consciousness, especially the poet's, to create order. Following his conversion to Christianity, Eliot wrote his second great long poem, Four Quartets, in which he explores a source of order outside the self: the Logos, Christ.

116. Robert Frost (1874-1963). Frost is one of the best-loved American poets. His main technical achievement was capturing the words and rhythms of spoken language, especially that of rural New England, while writing in traditional verse forms. His poems delight with their accessible subjects: walks in the woods, physical labor, trees and flowers, young love, love gone awry, and married life. At the same time, these poems, though leavened with humor, offer a tough-minded exploration of the struggle for existence in a world that Frost often finds hostile and chaotic.

117. Seamus Heaney (1939- ). Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet, Heaney may be the best poet writing in English today. He writes primarily in traditional forms and with a lyrical grace reminiscent of Yeats and Frost. Although not obsessed with the politics of Northern Ireland, he does not avoid them; rather they enter his poetry as part of the fabric of daily life. This focus on human experience, love and loss and work and memory, as well as the Irish countryside makes his poetry profound. His collection, Seeing Things, could stand for his whole work, which records his ability to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Heaney recently published a highly acclaimed translation of Beowulf.

118. Langston Hughes (1902-67). The leading African-American poet of the 20th century, Hughes rose to prominence during the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. He draws on spirituals, blues, and jazz in shaping the content and form of his work. His poetry provides a realistic expression of African-American experience: sorrow and joy, suffering and celebration, fatigue and fortitude, bitter anger and, in varying degrees, hope for the future. In addition to poetry, Hughes wrote essays and fiction and was an important anthologist.

119. Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936). This Spanish poet and playwright's folkloric themes and rich imagery, inspired by Andalusian gypsy music, earned him the admiration of many American poets. Even without recognizing the cultural meanings of his symbols, Americans can enjoy the texture and lyricism of his work. Images of death prevail. In "Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias" he portrays the death of the bullfighter, a personal friend. Blood Wedding (Bodas de sangre), part of a folkdrama trilogy, is a powerful poetic tragedy. Lorca's own life ended violently. He was shot without trial by Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War.

120. Robert Lowell (1917-77). Descendant of prominent Bostonians on both sides of his family, Lowell became one of the leading American poets after World War II. Thematically his work concerns itself with history, private and public; stylistically it reflects many of the shifting concerns of postwar verse. In his early work, Lowell criticizes society for its militarism and materialism. With Life Studies, Lowell helped inaugurate the confessional movement. In his later sonnet sequences, he attempts to arrest moments in the flux of temporal experience. Throughout his work, he recognizes the potential for violence and evil in society and the individual.

121. Pablo Neruda (1904-1973). Known as the Picasso of poetry, this Chilean poet wrote short, intense lyrics (Twenty Love Songs and a Song of Despair) as well as political meditations and epics (The Heights of Macchu Picchu). Traveling widely as a diplomat and political activist, Neruda exemplifies the committed poet; he also is a kind of surrealist of the natural world.

122. Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). Rilke is the most important lyric poet of 20th century Germany. His earliest work, marked by a subjective emotionalism, gave way by 1907 to a more objective work. His greatest achievements include The Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus. In the former, written during World War I, he searches for a satisfactory spiritual position in a decaying reality. In Sonnets he presents the jubilant outcome of that effort.

123. Wallace Stevens (1875-1955). Insurance executive by day and poet by night, Stevens ranks as one of the great modernist American poets. Combining lush language with philosophic speculation, his work explores the relationships among mind, nature, and imagination. More specifically he contemplates what might take the place of religion in a post-religious age, given the need to believe and the conviction that there is nothing to believe. As such his work is a record of his profound wrestling with a central problem of our age.

124. William Carlos Williams (1883-1963). A leading American modernist, Williams experimented endlessly with free verse and sought to get the "American idiom" into poetry. A physician, Williams brought a tactile and visual sensibility to his poetry, which celebrates the things of the world, focusing on what is often overlooked. Best known for such short lyrics as "The Red Wheel Barrow" and "Spring and All," he also wrote stories, novels, plays, and a long poem, Paterson, which combines his interest in place, language, and the imagination's revitalizing power. Neglected early on, he received recognition late in his career and influenced many of today's poets.

125. William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). One of the greatest 20th century poets who wrote in English, the Irish-born Yeats was a nationalist who helped create an Irish national theater. A master of traditional verse forms, he ranges over such subjects as mythical Irish figures, the struggle for independence, love, and aging. His poems reflect his vision of history as a cycle of birth followed by hardening, then violent destruction, presaging a rebirth (see especially "The Second Coming"). As such it testifies to the modernist feeling of an old order undone through violence and the mixture of hope and fear as the world waits to see what new order will be born.

Top of Page



Addendum: In addition to the classic authors noted above, members of the English faculty recommend the following contemporary novelists and poets for their literary treatment of ethical and spiritual issues:

1. Frederick Buechner (1926- ). Ordained Presbyterian minister and writer, Buechner has written novels, memoir and theology. Whether about the evangelist, Leo Bebb, or medieval saints (such as the Pulitzer-Prize winning Godric, and Brendan), or the biblical Jacob (The Son of Laughter), his novels explore two themes: the challenge of living by faith and the power of God's grace to work in and through fallen individuals. His memoirs trace these themes in his own life, and his accessible theological works offer a novelist's fresh language and perspective on old truths.

2. A.S. Byatt (1936- ). Possession. In this Booker Prize-winning novel, a frustrated graduate student gains possession of a letter that blows apart established scholarly views of two famous Victorian poets. This literary sleuth story becomes an extraordinary exercise in postmodern writing. It is a pastiche of voices drawn from folklore, Victorian poetry, modern critical theory, and personal letters. Two romances emerge-one from a collection of Victorian letters and the other between the modern students of the letters. In a parody of Victorian plots, Byatt's conclusion playfully stitches together the novel's many pieces.

3. Umberto Eco (1932- ). Italian philosopher and semiotician, Eco has also written challenging but fascinating novels that merge profound philosophical themes with extremely complex mystery plots. The Name of the Rose (made into a major film starring Sean Connery) is a murder mystery in a medieval monastery involving the quest for Aristotle's lost treatise on Comedy. Foucault's Pendulum involves a dizzying international quest in the postmodern world to uncover the activities of the ancient Knights Templar.

4. Susan Howatch (1940- ). Howatch is an English author with an international following for her mastery of the genres of the historical romance and the family saga. After her conversion to Christianity, she began a series of six novels on the Church of England, all set in the fictional cathedral town of Starbridge. Beginning with Glittering Images and concluding with Absolute Truths, these novels reveal Howatch's deep interest in theology as well as a remarkable ability to weave those interests into intriguing plots and engaging characters. She is unflinching in her realistic portraits of the spiritual warfare of the soul.

5. John Irving (1942 - ). A Prayer for Owen Meany. Rich in quirky, sometimes irreverent humor yet serious in theme, this novel is a favorite of college students. Owen, a diminutive boy with a weird voice and a creative mind, grows up with a strange sense of his destiny. A vision he had while playing a role in Dickens' Christmas Carol convinces him he will meet an early but meaningful death that somehow involves his friend Johnny. Both boys must come of age in the Vietnam era before Owen's destiny is disclosed. The novel explores both the ironies and miracles of life.

6. Kazuo Ishiguro (1954- ). In Remains of the Day, Ishiguro, a Japanese-born British author, portrays an elderly British butler who is convinced that his years of devoted service in a British country house have given him the satisfaction of a life well lived. Readers begin to see through the first-person narrator's facade, as he struggles to maintain his professionalism on the night of his father's death, rebuffs the opportunity for a personal relationship, and refuses to question his employer's negotiations with Nazi Germans.

7. Bobbie Ann Mason (1940- ). Shiloh and Other Stories. In a collection of well-crafted stories, Mason portrays the hopes, dreams, and personal relationships of working class Kentuckians in an era of shopping malls and super-highways.

8. Farley Mowat (1921- ). Canadian writer Farley Mowat is world-renowned for his passionate tales of adventure and survival. Although some of his books are loosely fictionalized, his work is firmly grounded in the reality of his ardent love of nature and his own exploration of realms that are geographically or historically remote. His best known works include Never Cry Wolf and A Whale for the Killing (focusing on animal life), West Viking (dealing with early Viking exploration), and And No Birds Sang (recounting his own war experiences).

9. Kathleen Norris (1947- ). Norris rose to fame in 1993 with the publication of Dakota: a Spiritual Geography, which explores the bittersweet relationship between people and land in the region that contains Norris's family roots and that has now become her home. Her next book The Cloister Walk, a New York Times Best-Seller, reveals the common ground of faith over a broad expanse from a Benedictine monastery to a small town Presbyterian church. Amazing Grace, a thoughtful and inspiring look at the language of faith, was named Book of the Year by the Association of Theological Booksellers.

10. Tim O'Brien (1946- ). Going After Cacciato, winner of the 1978 National Book Award, portrays the fears and dreams of the men in an American detachment pursuing a young soldier who has gone AWOL. O'Brien's remarkable interweaving of varied points-of-view and time reveals his characters' capacities for both heroism and cowardliness. Realistic scenes of war's atrocities are alleviated by an extended fantasy enjoyed by one soldier, Paul Berlin. He plays through a narrative that they will walk right out of the war zone after Cacciato, all the way to Paris.

Top of Page

11. Michael Ondaatje (1943- ). The English Patient. The language of this war novel is rich in poetry. Point of view flows backwards and forwards in time and among characters who are thrown together in a ruined Italian villa, infested with land-mines, in the final days of WWII. At the center of their lives is the scorched, bandaged body of a dying man with a remarkable story of his own. The work reflects on love, history, war, nationalism, the beauties of the desert, and the quest for meaning. Ondaatje is an acclaimed poet as well as fiction writer.

12. Chaim Potok (1929- ). The Chosen. Raised in a fundamentalist Hasidic community, Potok's novels illustrate the conflict when a closed culture (Hasidim) comes into contact with a culture governed by a different set of values. In this coming of age story, Danny and Rueven's unlikely friendship enables them to find their own synthesis of the Jewish tradition.

13. Salman Rushdie (1947- ). Midnight's Children. Rushdie is a major Indian writer who humorously treats excesses of authoritarianism. His mischievous improvisation leads readers through complicated discursive mazes. This mockingly satiric style has angered some audiences (Satanic Verses was banned, and a fatwa sent Rushdie into hiding.) His blend of history and fantasy is akin to magic realism.

14. Luci Shaw (1931- ). Shaw is the most accomplished of contemporary Christian poets. She graduated from Wheaton College in 1953, and since 1971 she has published eight volumes of verse; three are anthologies including the work of a number of poets, five are comprised solely of her own poems. Her mind is sensitive to the Spirit of God and to the world around her, but it is also tough and exact.

15. Amy Tan (1952- ). Asian-American Tan in The Joy Luck Club presents the stories of four mothers and daughters trying to communicate across barriers of both generation and culture. The mothers' tales take us into the world of Chinese folklore, family pride, arranged marriages and Japanese invasion. With good reason, the mothers fear that their Coca-Cola-drinking American-born daughters can never understand their heritage. Yet the daughters' stories reveal their mothers' impact on their lives.

16. James Wright (1927-80). After serving in the army, Wright attended college on the GI bill and began publishing poetry in 1957. Born and raised in the Ohio River valley, Wright's working class roots shaped his concern with those whose lives do not match the American dream and his sense of the American landscape as a spoiled Eden. An alternate concern is his celebration of nature's beauty and self-rejuvenating power. His final work balances his denunciation of the destructive tendencies in American society with a hard-won affirmation of life.

Top of Page

Last Updated: 11/01/2006