I enjoy reading old novels from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries and I’ve discovered some hidden gems that just don’t get read much anymore… but that are still definitely worth a read.
Many readers are familiar with Wharton’s themes of stifling manners and the entrapment of women in turn-of-the-century New York society–like Lily in the chilling The House of Mirth–but she also wrote well into the 1920s and (perhaps taking a cue from F. Scott Fitzgerald?) this quintessential flapper novel is one of Wharton’s more lighthearted novels. Good friends Susy Branch and Nick Lansing are young and poor socialites. They agree to a marriage of convenience so that they can jet-set around the world living among their wealthy friends. If one of them should meet a more advantageous match, they are free to end their arrangement. But neither of them expect to fall in love…with each other.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Educated, tidy, and privileged Flora Poste is a twenty year old “orphan” in 1920s London whose parents’ deaths leave her short of cash. Instead of getting a job to support herself (horrors!), she decides instead to write to relatives begging for a home, choosing the family that seems most in need of her tidying up and improving their dismal lives. And so follows her laugh out loud hilarious adventures with the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm. This novel was also made into a delightful movie with Kate Beckinsale as Miss Poste. (For a similar plot of a know-it-all heroine but set in Regency England, try Georgette Heyer’s novel, The Grand Sophy).
Stoner by John Edward Williams
Published in 1965, this beautifully written and contemplative novel set in the early twentieth century quietly draws you in compelling you to read more. William Stoner is the serious son of a Missouri farm family who decides to pursue a degree in literature instead of the expected and practical agriculture degree. He becomes an English professor and marries a socially-conscious woman, but life proves disappointing as his career becomes mired in politics, his marriage is not what he expected, and the discovery of a new love invites scandal.
Do you have any suggestions of lost classics you’ve enjoyed?