50 Masterpieces you have to read before you die is the book that everyone should read to understand themselves and each other. The authors and works for this book were selected, as a result of numerous studies, analysis of the texts over the past 100 years and the demand for readers. It must be read in order to understand the world around us, its history, to recognize the heroes, to understand the winged expressions and jokes that come from these literary works. Reading these books will mean the discovery of a world of self-development and self-expression for each person. These books have been around for decades, and sometimes centuries, for the time they recreate, the values they teach, the point of view, or simply the beauty of words. This volume includes famous works: Frances Hodgson Burnett - The Secret Garden Homer - The Iliad Homer - The Odyssey Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens - Great Expectations Charles Dickens - Bleak House Charles Dickens - Oliver Twist Lyman Frank Baum - The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz Nathaniel Hawthorne - The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne - The House Of The Seven Gables Thomas Hardy - Jude The Obscure Robert Louis Stevenson -The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde Robert Louis Stevenson - Treasure Island Henry Haggard - King Solomon's Mines Wilkie Collins - The Woman In White H. G. Wells - The Island Of Doctor Moreau Sir Walter Scott - Ivanhoe Wilkie Collins - The Moonstone A Romance Lucy Maud Montgomery - Anne Of Green Gables Louisa May Alcott - Little Women Henry Fielding - Amelia Mary Shelley - Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus Arthur Conan Doyle - The Lost World Leo Tolstoy - Anna Karenina Euripides - Medea Fyodor Dostoevsky - The Idiot Fyodor Dostoevsky - Crime And Punishment Alexander Pushkin - Eugene Onegin A Romance Of Russian Life In Verse James Fenimore Cooper - The Last Of The Mohicans Daniel Defoe - Robinson Crusoe Joseph Conrad - Heart Of Darkness Jonathan Swift - Gulliver's Travels William Shakespeare - Romeo And Juliet William Shakespeare - Hamlet, Prince Of Denmark William Shakespeare - Othello Oscar Wilde - The Picture Of Dorian Gray John Bunyan - The Pilgrim's Progress From This World To That Which Is To Come Charles Darwin - The Origin Of Species Or The Preservation Of Favoured Races In The Struggle For Life Alfred Tennyson - Idylls Of The King Bram Stoker - Dracula James Joyce - Ulysses Dante Alighieri - The Divine Comedy Howard Pyle - Robin Hood Jane Austen - Emma Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights Thomas Hardy - Tess Of The D'urbervilles A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented Giovanni Boccaccio - The Decameron Rudyard Kipling - The Jungle Book
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We know very little about the author of The Odyssey and its companion tale, The Iliad. Most scholars agree that Homer was Greek; those who try to identify his origin on the basis of dialect forms in the poems tend to choose as his homeland either Smyrna, now the Turkish city known as Izmir, or Chios, an island in the eastern Aegean Sea. According to legend, Homer was blind, though scholarly evidence can neither confirm nor contradict the point.
The ongoing debate about who Homer was, when he lived, and even if he wrote The Odyssey and The Iliad is known as the "Homeric question." Classicists do agree that these tales of the fall of the city of Troy (Ilium) in the Trojan War (The Iliad) and the aftermath of that ten-year battle (The Odyssey) coincide with the ending of the Mycenaean period around 1200 BCE (a date that corresponds with the end of the Bronze Age throughout the Eastern Mediterranean). The Mycenaeans were a society of warriors and traders; beginning around 1600 BCE, they became a major power in the Mediterranean. Brilliant potters and architects, they also developed a system of writing known as Linear B, based on a syllabary, writing in which each symbol stands for a syllable.
Scholars disagree on when Homer lived or when he might have written The Odyssey. Some have placed Homer in the late-Mycenaean period, which means he would have written about the Trojan War as recent history. Close study of the texts, however, reveals aspects of political, material, religious, and military life of the Bronze Age and of the so-called Dark Age, as the period of domination by the less-advanced Dorian invaders who usurped the Mycenaeans is known. But how, other scholars argue, could Homer have created works of such magnitude in the Dark Age, when there was no system of writing? Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, placed Homer sometime around the ninth century BCE, at the beginning of the Archaic period, in which the Greeks adopted a system of writing from the Phoenicians and widely colonized the Mediterranean. And modern scholarship shows that the most recent details in the poems are datable to the period between 750 and 700 BCE.
No one, however, disputes the fact that The Odyssey (and The Iliad as well) arose from oral tradition. Stock phrases, types of episodes, and repeated phrases such as "early, rose-fingered dawn" bear the mark of epic storytelling. Scholars agree, too, that this tale of the Greek hero Odysseus's journey and adventures as he returned home from Troy to Ithaca is a work of the greatest historical significance and, indeed, one of the foundations of Western literature.
Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and became the most popular novelist of the Victorian era.
A prolific writer, he published more than a dozen novels in his lifetime, including Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and Hard Times, most of which have been adapted many times over for radio, stage and screen.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, where he wrote the bulk of his masterful tales of American colonial history.
His career as a novelist began with The Scarlet Letter (1850) and also includes The house of the Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance, and The Marble Faun.
Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset in 1840. His first published novel was Desperate Remedies in 1871. Such was the success of these early works, which included A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) and Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), that he gave up his work as an architect to concentrate on his writing.
However, he had difficulty publishing Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1889) and was forced to make changes in order for it to be judged suitable for family readers. This, coupled with the stormy reaction to the negative tone of Jude the Obscure (1895), prompted Hardy to abandon writing novels altogether and he concentrated on poetry for the rest of his life. He died in January 1928.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He studied law but preferred writing and in 1881 was inspired by his stepson to write Treasure Island.
Other famous adventure stories followed including Kidnapped, as well as the famous collection of poems for children, A Child's Garden of Verses. Robert Louis Stevenson is buried on the island of Samoa.
William Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824, the son of a successful and popular painter. On leaving school, he worked in the office of a tea merchant in the Strand before reading law as a student at Lincoln's Inn. However his real passion was for writing and, in 1850, he published his first novel, Antonina.
In 1851, the same year that he was called to the bar, he met and established a lifelong friendship with Charles Dickens. While Collins' fame rests on his best known works, The Woman in White and The Moonstone, he wrote over thirty books, as well as numerous short stories, articles and plays. He was a hugely popular writer in his lifetime. An unconventional individual, he never married but established long-term liaisons with two separate partners. He died in 1889.
Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh on 15 August 1777. He was educated in Edinburgh and called to the bar in 1792, succeeding his father as Writer to the Signet, then Clerk of Session. He published anonymous translations of German Romantic poetry from 1797, in which year he also married. In 1805 he published his first major work, a romantic poem called The Lay of the Last Minstrel, became a partner in a printing business, and several other long poems followed, including Marmion (1808) and The Lady of the Lake (1810) . These poems found acclaim and great popularity, but from 1814 and the publication of Waverley , Scott turned almost exclusively to novel-writing, albeit anonymously.
A hugely prolific period of writing produced over twenty-five novels, including Rob Roy (1817), The Heart of Midlothian (1818), The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), Kenilworth (1821) and Redgauntlet (1824) . Already sheriff-depute of Selkirkshire, Scott was created a baronet in 1820. The printing business in which Scott was a partner ran into financial difficulties in 1826, and Scott devoted his energies to work in order to repay the firm’s creditors, publishing many more novels, dramatic works, histories and a life of Napoleon Bonaparte. Sir Walter Scott died on 21 September 1832 at Abbotsford, the home he had built on the Scottish Borders.
Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh in 1771, educated at the High School and University there and admitted to the Scottish Bar in 1792. From 1799 until his death he was Sheriff of Selkirkshire, and from 1806 to 1830 he held a well-paid office as a principal clerk to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, the supreme Scottish civil court. From 1805, too, Scott was secretly an investor in, and increasingly controller of, the printing and publishing businesses of his associates, the Ballantyne brothers.
Lucy Maud Montgomery was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada, in 1874. Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908, was her first novel and has remained in print across the world ever since. Montgomery died in Toronto in 1942.
Louisa May Alcott was born on 29 November 1832 in Pennsylvania, and she grew up with plenty of books to read but seldom enough to eat. Louisa went to work when she was very young as a paid companion and teacher, but she loved writing most of all, and like Jo March she started selling sensational stories in order to help provide financial support for her family.
She worked as a nurse during the American Civil War but the experience made her extremely ill. Little Women was published in 1868 and was based on her life growing up with her three sisters. She followed it with three sequels, Good Wives (1869), Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886) and she also wrote other books for both children and adults. Louisa was also a campaigner for women's rights and the abolition of the slave trade. She died on 6 March 1888.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born on August 30, 1797, into a life of personal tragedy. In 1816, she married the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and that summer traveled with him and a host of other Romantic intellectuals to Geneva.
Her greatest achievement was piecing together one of the most terrifying and renowned stories of all time: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Shelley conceived Frankenstein in, according to her, "a waking dream."
This vision was simply of a student kneeling before a corpse brought to life. Yet this tale of a mad creator and his abomination has inspired a multitude of storytellers and artists. She died on February 1, 1851.,
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh in 1859 and died in 1930. Within those years was crowded a variety of activity and creative work that made him an international figure and inspired the French to give him the epithet 'the good giant'.
He was the nephew of 'Dickie Doyle' the artist, and was educated at Stonyhurst, and later studied medicine at Edinburgh University, where the methods of diagnosis of one of the professors provided the idea for the methods of deduction used by Sherlock Holmes. He set up as a doctor at Southsea and it was while waiting for patients that he began to write.
His growing success as an author enabled him to give up his practice and turn his attention to other subjects. His greatest achievement was, of course, his creation of Sherlock Holmes, who soon attained international status and constantly distracted him from his other work; at one time Conan Doyle killed him but was obliged by public protest to restore him to life.
And in his creation of Dr Watson, Holmes's companion in adventure and chronicler, Conan Doyle produced not only a perfect foil for Holmes but also one of the most famous narrators in fiction.
The writing career of Herman Melville (1819 - 1891) peaked early, with his early novels, such as Typee becoming best sellers.
By the mid-1850s his poularity declined sharply, and by the time he died he had been largely forgotten.
Yet in time his novel Moby Dick came to be regarded as one of the finest works of American, and indeed world, literature, as was Billy Budd, which was not published until long after his death, in 1924.
Russian author, a master of realistic fiction and one of the world's greatest novelists.
Tolstoy is best known for his two longest works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, which are commonly regarded as among the finest novels ever written. War and Peace in particular seems virtually to define this form for many readers and critics. Among Tolstoy's shorter works, The Death of Ivan Ilyich is usually classed among the best examples of the novella. Especially during his last three decades Tolstoy also achieved world renown as a moral and religious teacher. His doctrine of nonresistance to evil had an important influence on Gandhi. Although Tolstoy's religious ideas no longer command the respect they once did, interest in his life and personality has, if anything, increased over the years.
Most readers will agree with the assessment of the 19th-century British poet and critic Matthew Arnold that a novel by Tolstoy is not a work of art but a piece of life; the 20th-century Russian author Isaak Babel commented that, if the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy. Critics of diverse schools have agreed that somehow Tolstoy's works seem to elude all artifice. Most have stressed his ability to observe the smallest changes of consciousness and to record the slightest movements of the body. What another novelist would describe as a single act of consciousness, Tolstoy convincingly breaks down into a series of infinitesimally small steps. According to the English writer Virginia Woolf, who took for granted that Tolstoy was “the greatest of all novelists,” these observational powers elicited a kind of fear in readers, who “wish to escape from the gaze which Tolstoy fixes on us.”
Those who visited Tolstoy as an old man also reported feelings of great discomfort when he appeared to understand their unspoken thoughts. It was commonplace to describe him as godlike in his powers and titanic in his struggles to escape the limitations of the human condition. Some viewed Tolstoy as the embodiment of nature and pure vitality, others saw him as the incarnation of the world's conscience, but for almost all who knew him or read his works, he was not just one of the greatest writers who ever lived but a living symbol of the search for life's meaning.
Daniel Defoe was a Londoner, born in 1660 at St Giles, Cripplegate, and son of James Foe, a tallow-chandler. He changed his name to Defoe from c. 1695. He was educated for the Presbyterian Ministry at Morton's Academy for Dissenters at Newington Green, but in 1682 he abandoned this plan and became a hosiery merchant in Cornhill. After serving briefly as a soldier in the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion, he became well established as a merchant and travelled widely in England, as well as on the Continent.
Between 1697 and 1701 he served as a secret agent for William III in England and Scotland, and between 1703 and 1714 for Harley and other ministers. During the latter period he also, single-handed, produced the Review, a pro-government newspaper. A prolific and versatile writer he produced some 500 books on a wide variety of topics, including politics, geography, crime, religion, economics, marriage, psychology and superstition. He delighted in role-playing and disguise, a skill he used to great effect as a secret agent, and in his writing he often adopted a pseudonym or another personality for rhetorical impact.
His first extant political tract (against James II) was published in 1688, and in 1701 appeared his satirical poem The True-Born Englishman, which was a bestseller. Two years later he was arrested for The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters, an ironical satire on High Church extremism, committed to Newgate and pilloried. He turned to fiction relatively late in life and in 1719 published his great imaginative work, Robinson Crusoe. This was followed in 1722 by Moll Flanders and A Journal of the Plague Year, and in 1724 by his last novel, Roxana.
His other works include A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, a guide-book in three volumes (1724–6; abridged Penguin edition, 1965), The Complete English Tradesman (1726), Augusta Triumphans, (1728), A Plan of the English Commerce (1728) and The Complete English Gentleman (not published until 1890). He died on 24 April 1731. Defoe had a great influence on the development of the English novel and many consider him to be the first true novelist.
Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745) was a poet, satirist and clergyman; his parents were English but he was born in Dublin. His father died before he was born and his mother soon returned to England. Jonathan was brought up by his nurse in Cumbria and later by his Uncle Godwin back in Dublin. He was very unhappy as he was treated like the poor relative who had kindly been given a home. Jonathan went to Trinity College, Dublin where he was an unruly student and only just scraped through the examinations.
Through family connections he went to work in the home of Sir William Temple in Surrey, as secretary and later became both friend and editor. A young girl called Esther was also living in Sir William's house; she became Swift's closest friend and perhaps his wife. There is a mystery surrounding the relationship – Swift clearly loved her but we don't know whether or not they ever married.
Jonathan Swift's cousin, the poet John Dryden, told him he would never be a poet, but he soon became known as a poet and writer. He wrote many political pamphlets and was sometimes known as 'the mad parson'. He became dean of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin in 1713 and became popular in Ireland as a patriotic writer.
Swift was always afraid of madness and often suffered from depression; he suffered serious ill health in his last years. He wrote many volumes of prose and poetry but his best-known work is Gulliver's Travels in which he turned 'traveller's tales' into a biting satire on contemporary life. It has appealed to a wide range of readers over the years, including in its abridged form many children. As well as being a satire it is an exciting story, funny and very inventive.
William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, in 1564. The date of his birth is unknown but is celebrated on 23 April, which happens to be St George's Day, and the day in 1616 on which Shakespeare died.
Aged eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. They had three children. Around 1585 William joined an acting troupe on tour in Stratford from London, and thereafter spent much of his life in the capital. By 1595 he had written five of his history plays, six comedies and his first tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. In all, he wrote thirty-seven plays and much poetry, and earned enormous fame in his own lifetime in prelude to his immortality.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, was born on November 30, 1835, in the tiny village of Florida, Missouri.
Writing grand tales about Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and the mighty Mississippi River, Mark Twain explored the American soul with wit, buoyancy, and a sharp eye for truth. He became nothing less than a national treasure.
John Bunyan (1628–88) was an English preacher and writer who wrote over sixty books and tracts. Bunyan was a Reformed Baptist, and his religious beliefs led to his persecution during the Restoration. While imprisoned Bunyan wrote the spiritual allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which quickly became one of the foundational texts of Protestant thought.
Charles Darwin (1809–19 April 1882) is considered the most important English naturalist of all time. He established the theories of natural selection and evolution.
His theory of evolution was published as On the Origin of Species in 1859, and by the 1870s is was widely accepted as fact.
Born in Dublin, Ireland, on November 8, 1847, Bram Stoker published his first literary work, The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland, a handbook in legal administration, in 1879.
Turning to fiction later in life, Stoker published his masterpiece, Dracula, in 1897. Deemed a classic horror novel not long after its release, Dracula has continued to garner acclaim for more than a century, inspiring the creation of hundreds of film, theatrical and literary adaptations.
In addition to Dracula, Stoker published more than a dozen novels before his death in 1912.
James Joyce was born in Dublin on 2 February 1882, the eldest of ten children in a family which, after brief prosperity, collapsed into poverty. He was none the less educated at the best Jesuit schools and then at University College, Dublin, and displayed considerable academic and literary ability.
Although he spent most of his adult life outside Ireland, Joyce's psychological and fictional universe is firmly rooted in his native Dublin, the city which provides the settings and much of the subject matter for all his fiction.
He is best known for his landmark novel Ulysses (1922) and its controversial successor Finnegans Wake (1939), as well as the short story collection Dubliners (1914) and the semi-autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). James Joyce died in Zurich, on 13 January 1941.
Dante Alighieri was born in Florence Italy in 1265. In 1301, a political dispute lead to his exile from Florence.
Over the next few years he made his home in Verona, Lucca and other cities. By 1310 he had written Inferno and Purgatorio, the first two books of his Divine Comedy.
He wrote the third and concluding book, Paradiso, in the years after he found sanctuary in Ravenna in 1318.
An allegorical account of his wanderings in a spiritual wilderness and eventual salvation under the guidance of his beloved Beatrice, The Divine Comedy is recognised as Dante's masterwork and a landmark of world literature. He died in exile in 1321 and was buried in Ravenna.
Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 at Steventon, near Basingstoke, the seventh child of the rector of the parish. She lived with her family at Steventon until they moved to Bath when her father retired in 1801. After his death in 1805, she moved around with her mother; in 1809, they settled in Chawton, near Alton, Hampshire. Here she remained, except for a few visits to London, until in May 1817 she moved to Winchester to be near her doctor. There she died on 18 July 1817.
Jane Austen was extremely modest about her own genius, describing her work to her nephew, Edward, as 'the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory, on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour'.
As a girl she wrote stories, including burlesques of popular romances. Her works were published only after much revision, four novels being published in her lifetime.
These are Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815). Two other novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published posthumously in 1817 with a biographical notice by her brother, Henry Austen, the first formal announcement of her authorship. Persuasion was written in a race against failing health in 1815-16. She also left two earlier compositions, a short epistolary novel, Lady Susan, and an unfinished novel, The Watsons. At the time of her death, she was working on a new novel, Sanditon, a fragmentary draft of which survives.
Emily Bronte lived from 1818 to 1848. Although she wrote only Wuthering Heights and about a dozen poems she is accepted as one of the most gifted writers ever. Perhaps the intensity of her writing grew out of the extraordinary pressures of her home life.
Emily's mother died when she was three and she lived with her four sisters and one brother in a bleak, isolated Yorkshire village – Haworth. Her father doted on his only son, Branwell, and expected little from his daughters – they surprised him while Branwell wasted his life and died an alcoholic and drug addict. The girls suffered dreadfully at a cheap boarding school, the oldest two dying of malnutrition. Emily, Charlotte and Anne were brought home just in time but Emily never lost her terrible fear of institutions and of being closed in. The sisters later became governesses to help support Branwell, seen by their father as a future great artist. They also began to publish their writing, under male pen-names as there was much prejudice against women writers. Their first book, a collection of poetry, failed but Emily's novel Wuthering Heights, was highly acclaimed and is still widely read today.
Emily seldom left her home village yet produced one of the most powerful novels of the inner self ever written. She caught a cold at her brother's funeral in 1848 and died a few months later.
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