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BBC: 100 greatest British novels

In 2015 the BBC set out to list what the rest of the world sees as the greatest British novels, by the greatest British authors. In total, 82 book critics were polled from all corners of the planet - from the United States to Africa to Australia to the Middle East - excluding of course any critics from the British Isles.

The British novel has influenced the form around the world for centuries, so we felt it was important to get a global perspective” – BBC Culture contributor Jane Ciabattari

This list contains only novels, so no plays, nonfiction, poems, or short story collections. In total, 228 novels were named, with only the top 100 making the list.

Those polled includes book critics such Lev Grossman (Time), Fintan O’Toole (The Irish Times), Stephen Romei (The Australian), Mary Ann Gwinn (Seattle Times), and Ainehi Edoro (Brittle Paper). Literary scholars including Terry Castle, Michael Gorra, Carsten Jensen, Amitava Kumar, Rohan Maitzen, Nilanjana Roy and Benjamin Taylor.

47 from 100 books available for download

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    1. Middlemarch by George Eliot

    Often called the greatest nineteenth-century British novelist, George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans) created in Middlemarch a vast panorama of life in a provincial Midlands town. At the story’s center stands the intellectual and idealistic Dorothea Brooke—a character who in many ways rese...read more »

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    2. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

    Set in the summer home of an English family, the novel unfolds through shifting perspectives of each character’s stream of consciousness, recalling childhood emotions and highlights of adult relationships. Shifts occur even mid-sentence, and in some sense they resemble the rotating beam of the li...read more »

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    3. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

    Mrs Dalloway is a novel by Virginia Woolf that details a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway in post-World War I England. Mrs Dalloway continues to be one of Woolf’s best-known novels. Created from two short stories, Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street and the unfinished The Prime Minister, the novel’s ...read more »

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    4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

    In an overgrown churchyard, a grizzled convict springs upon an orphan boy named Pip. The convict terrifies Pip and threatens to kill him unless the boy helps further his escape. Later, Pip finds himself in a ruined garden where he meets the embittered and crazy Miss Havisham and her foster child,...read more »

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    5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

    Romantic melodrama or feminist classic, Jane Eyre is one of the most enduringly popular and compelling novels in the literary canon. Overlooked or dismissed by critics in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it first began to attract serious critical attention in the 1970s as New Critica...read more »

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    6. Bleak House by Charles Dickens

    Bleak House, Dickens’s most daring experiment in the narration of a complex plot, challenges the reader to make connections - between the fashionable and the outcast, the beautiful and the ugly, the powerful and the victims. Nowhere in Dickens’s later novels is his attack on an uncaring society m...read more »

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    7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

    Perhaps the most haunting and tragic love story ever written, Wuthering Heights is the tale of Heathcliff, a brooding, troubled orphan, and his doomed love for Catherine Earnshaw. His desire for her leads him to madness, however, when Catherine is made to marry a wealthy lord, sending Heathcliff ...read more »

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    8. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

    Dickens’s classic tale of a young man’s adventures on his journey from an unhappy childhood to his success as a novelist. Among the characters he encounters are his tyrannical stepfather, Mr. Murdstone; his formidable aunt, Betsey Trotwood; the eternally humble yet treacherous Uriah Heep; frivolo...read more »

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    9. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

    A monster assembled by a scientist from parts of dead bodies develops a mind of his own as he learns to loathe himself and hate his creator. Shelley’s suspenseful and intellectually rich gothic tale confronts some of the most important and enduring themes in all of literture–the power of human im...read more »

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    10. Vanity Fair by W. M. Thackeray

    No one is better equipped in the struggle for wealth and worldly success than the alluring and ruthless Becky Sharp, who defies her impoverished background to clamber up the social ladder. Her sentimental companion Amelia, however, longs for caddish soldier George. As the two heroines make their ...read more »

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    11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    Elizabeth Bennet is Austen’s most liberated and unambiguously appealing heroine, and Pride and Prejudice has remained over most of the past two centuries Austen’s most popular novel. The story turns on the marriage prospects of the five daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet: Elizabeth forms a prejudic...read more »

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    12. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

    It is 1984. The world is in a state of perpetual war and Big Brother sees and controls all. Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party and propaganda-writer at the Ministry of Truth, is keeping a journal he should not be keeping and falling in love with Julia, a woman he should not be seeing. Out...read more »

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    13. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

    At the fashionable German spa town Bad Nauheim, two wealthy, fin de siecle couples – one British, the other American – meet for their yearly assignation. As their story moves back and forth in time between 1902 and 1914, the fragile surface propriety of the pre – World War I society in which thes...read more »

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    14. Clarissa - Volume 1 by Samuel Richardson

    This is Volume 1 of Samuel Richardson’s classic novel; Clarissa. Pressured by her unscrupulous family to marry a wealthy man she detests, the young Clarissa Harlowe is tricked into fleeing with the witty and debonair Robert Lovelace and places herself under his protection. Lovelace, however, prov...read more »

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    16. The Waves by Virginia Woolf

    One of Woolf’s most experimental novel, consisting of soliloquies spoken by the book’s six characters: Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, Jinny, and Louis. A seventh character, Percival, also play an important role though the reader never actually hears him speak in his own voice. The soliloquies th...read more »

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    17. Howards End by E. M. Forster

    The Schlegels are intellectuals, devotees of art and literature. The Wilcoxes are practical and materialistic, leading lives of “telegrams and anger.” When the elder Mrs. Wilcox dies and her family discovers she has left their country home—Howards End—to one of the Schlegel sisters, a crisis betw...read more »

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    19. Emma by Jane Austen

    Emma Woodhouse is the lovely, lively, willful, and fallible heroine of Jane Austen’s fourth published novel. Confident that she knows best, Emma schemes to find a suitable husband for her pliant friend Harriet, only to discover that she understands the feelings of others as little as she does her...read more »

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    20. Persuasion by Jane Austen

    Anne Elliot is one of Austen’s quietest heroines, but also one of the strongest and the most open to change. She lives at the time of the Napoleonic wars, a time of accident, adventure, the making of new fortunes and alliances. A woman of no importance, she manoeuvres in her restricted circumstan...read more »

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    21. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

    In Conrad’s haunting tale, Marlow, a seaman and wanderer, recounts his physical and psychological journey in search of the enigmatic Kurtz. Travelling to the heart of the African continent, he discovers how Kurtz has gained his position of power and influence over the local people. Marlow’s strug...read more »

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    22. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

    A foundling of mysterious parentage brought up by Mr. Allworthy on his country estate, Tom Jones is deeply in love with the seemingly unattainable Sophia Western, the beautiful daughter of the neighboring squire—though he sometimes succumbs to the charms of the local girls. When Tom is banished t...read more »

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    23. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

    Often thought of as Thomas Hardy’s best work, not only for the elaborate structure of the plot, where small and subtle details lead to the character’s ruin, but in the themes that range from how human loneliness and sensuality can stop a person from trying to fulfill his dreams; to how, when free...read more »

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    27. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

    This classic story of a shipwrecked mariner on a deserted island is perhaps the greatest adventure in all of English literature. Fleeing from pirates, Robinson Crusoe is swept ashore in a storm possessing only a knife, a box of tobacco, a pipe-and the will to survive. His is the saga of a man alo...read more »

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    28. Villette by Charlotte Brontë

    Charlotte Brontë’s final masterpiece powerfully portrays a woman struggling to reconcile love, jealousy, and a fierce desire for independence. Having fled a harrowing past in England, Lucy Snowe begins a new life teaching at a boarding school in the great capital of a foreign country. There, as s...read more »

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    30. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

    Moll Flanders recounts the story of her extraordinary life, from her birth in Newgate prison to her declining years in married prosperity. After being seduced in the home of her adoptive family she lives off her wits and her beauty, as a whore, ‘five times a Wife’, and a thief, and is eventually ...read more »

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    32. A Room With A View by E. M. Forster

    This Edwardian social comedy explores love and prim propriety among an eccentric cast of characters assembled in an Italian pensione and in a corner of Surrey, England. A charming young English woman, Lucy Honeychurch, faints into the arms of a fellow Britisher when she witnesses a murder in a Fl...read more »

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    33. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

    Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and the mischievous Toad live a quiet life on banks of the River Thames with the rest of their animal friends. But Toad tends to get into trouble, and his passion for cars eventually results in his being caught and kept a helpless prisoner in the remotest dungeon of the b...read more »

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    40. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

    Journey with Alice down the rabbit hole into a world of wonder where oddities, logic and wordplay rule supreme. Encounter characters like the grinning Cheshire Cat who can vanish into thin air, the cryptic Mad Hatter who speaks in riddles and the harrowing Queen of Hearts obsessed with the phrase...read more »

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    41. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

    Set in the backdrop of London, the narrative is about the protagonist Dombey who wants a son to run his business. The tale showcases human emotions and weaknesses such as infidelity and cruelty. Lives are redeemed by poetic justice, and selfish emotions are punished.

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    47. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

    At once endlessly facetious and highly serious, Sterne’s great comic novel contains some of the best-known and best-loved characters in English literature–including Uncle Toby, Corporal Trim, Parson Yorick, and Dr. Slop–and boasts one of the most innovative and whimsical narrative styles in all l...read more »

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    51. Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

    A pretty young girl has to leave home to make money for her family. She is clever and a good worker; but she is uneducated and does not know the cruel ways of the world. So, when a rich young man says he loves her, she is careful - but not careful enough. He is persuasive, and she is overwhelmed....read more »

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    52. New Grub Street by George Gissing

    For many readers New Grub Street is Gissing’s masterpiece. If this is not accepted, it remains beyond doubt one of his most interesting and most powerful novels. As a realistic picture of the literary in late Victorian England, New Grub Street has few rivals. There is much of Gissing himself, his...read more »

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    55. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

    Shipwrecked and cast adrift, Lemuel Gulliver wakes to find himself on Lilliput, an island inhabited by little people, whose height makes their quarrels over fashion and fame seem ridiculous. His subsequent encounters - with the crude giants of Brobdingnag, the philosophical Houyhnhnms and brutish...read more »

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    57. Fighting France by Edith Wharton

    As nuanced in her observations of human behavior as she is in her vivid depictions of French landscape and architecture, Wharton fully exploited her unique position as consort to Walter Barry, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris, which allowed her unparalleled access to life in...read more »

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    60. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence

    Called the most widely-read English novel of the twentieth century, D. H. Lawrence’s largely autobiographical Sons and Lovers tells the story of Paul Morel, a young artist growing into manhood in a British working-class community near the Nottingham coalfields. His mother Gertrude, unhappily marr...read more »

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    62. Animal Farm by George Orwell

    The most famous by far of all twentieth-century political allegories, Animal Farm is the account of a group of barnyard animals who revolt against their vicious human master, only to submit to a tyranny erected by their own kind, can fairly be said to have become a universal drama. Orwell is one ...read more »

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    64. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

    The Way We Live Now — regarded by many as Anthony Trollope’s greatest novel — encompasses in its broad scope much of the business, political, social, and literary life of 1870s London. At its centre is the larger-than-life figure of Augustus Melmotte, a financier of uncertain background who rises...read more »

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    65. Orlando by Virginia Woolf

    The thrill of reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is the feeling of looking into a whirlpool just as something utterly extraordinary materializes for the first time: an exhilarating hallucination of surreal and beautiful images that remain in memory long after you put the book down. Orlando has it a...read more »

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    66. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

    The story revolves around two sisters, Elinor and Marianne. Elinor is level-headed and self-controlled. Marianne is passionate and impulsive. When their father dies, his first son by a previous marriage takes possession of the family home against the fathers dying wishes. Elinor, Marianne and the...read more »

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    69. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

    A gripping tale of capitalist exploitation and rebellion, set amid the mist-shrouded mountains of a fictional South American republic, employs flashbacks and glimpses of the future to depict the lure of silver and its effects on men. Conrad’s deep moral consciousness and masterful narrative techn...read more »

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    70. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

    George Eliot’s final novel and her most ambitious work, Daniel Deronda contrasts the moral laxity of the British aristocracy with the dedicated fervor of Jewish nationalists. Crushed by a loveless marriage to the cruel and arrogant Grandcourt, Gwendolen Harleth seeks salvation in the deeply spiri...read more »

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    74. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

    Thomas Hardy’s almost supernatural insight into the course of wayward lives, his instinctive feeling for the beauty of the rural landscape, and his power to invest that landscape with moral significance all came together in an utterly fluent way in The Mayor of Casterbridge. A classically shaped ...read more »

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    75. Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence

    A sequel to Lawrence’s earlier novel The Rainbow, it continues the story of the Brangwen sisters in the coal-mining town of Beldover. Based in part on Lawrence’s own stormy marriage to German aristocrat Frieda von Richthofen, the tale is charged with intense feelings and psychological insights as...read more »

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    77. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

    A potent expression of the power of sexual obsession and of modern man’s yearning for freedom. This classic tells the story of Philip Carey, a sensitive boy born with a clubfoot who is orphaned and raised by a religious aunt and uncle. Philip yearns for adventure, and at eighteen leaves home, eve...read more »

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    83. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

    Barchester Towers is the second of the six Chronicles of Barsetshire, the work in which, after a ten years’ apprenticeship, Trollope finally found his distinctive voice. In this his most popular novel, the chronicler continues the story of Mr. Harding and his daughter Eleanor, begun in The Warden...read more »

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    90. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

    The woman in white first appears at night on a lonely heath near London and is next seen at a grave-side in Cumberland. Who is she? Where has she come from, and what is her history? She seems alone and friendless, frightened and confused. And it seems she knows a secret - a secret that could brin...read more »

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    91. The Man Of Property by John Galsworthy

    The most prized item in Soames Forsyte’s collection of beautiful things is his wife, the enigmatic Irene. But when she falls in love with Bosinney, a penniless architect who utterly rejects the Forsyte values, their affair touches off a series of events which can only end in disgrace and disaster...read more »

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    97. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

    Narnia…the land beyond the wardrobe, the secret country known only to Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy…the place where the adventure begins. Lucy is the first to find the secret of the wardrobe in the professor’s mysterious old house. At first, no one believes her when she tells of her adventures i...read more »