December 9, 2015
The 100 best British novels, as chosen by international critics
by Zeljka Marosevic
In this season of “Best of” lists, BBC Culture has outdone everyone. Rather than produce a list of the best books of the year, BBC has compiled a list of the 100 greatest British novels ever written. What’s more, these were chosen not by the nation itself, or by British critics, but by an international panel of writers and critics.
BBC Culture contributor Jane Ciabattari describes on the BBC’s website why she polled “82 book critics, from Australia to Zimbabwe – but none from the UK” and why:
The British novel has influenced the form around the world for centuries, so we felt it was important to get a global perspective. The critics we polled live and work all over the world, from the United States and continental Europe to Australia, Africa, Asia, India and the Middle East.
Each who participated submitted a list of 10 British novels, with their pick for the greatest novel receiving 10 points. The points were added up to produce the final list.
The resulting list ranks the 100 best British novels, with George Eliot’s Middlemarch taking the number one spot. The top ten is refreshing in its gender equality, which is not usually the case for such lists. It features 6 books by female writers and 4 by men – but three of those titles are by Charles Dickens. Also a welcome surprise is the inclusion of two Virginia Woolf novels in the top 3: To the Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway. The Waves is also not far behind, coming in at number 16. Here’s the top ten in full:
10.Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray, 1848)
9. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
8. David Copperfield (Charles Dickens, 1850)
7. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë, 1847)
6. Bleak House (Charles Dickens, 1853)
5. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë, 1847)
4. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, 1861)
3. Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf, 1925)
2. To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf, 1927)
1. Middlemarch (George Eliot, 1874)
There are inevitable quibbles of course. Jane Austen failed to make the top ten and instead Pride and Prejudice comes in at no. 11; to add insult to injury, Ian McEwan’s Atonement comes in before Austen’s Emma (surely everyone knows Emma is a superior novel to Atonement and Pride and Prejudice).
Otherwise, the list is an admirable mix of old and new British writing, and features Zadie Smith, Doris Lessing, Hilary Mantel and Tom McCarthy alongside stalwarts such as Orwell, Hardy and the Brontë sisters.
You can see the whole list here.
Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.