The 13 Best Books of the 19th Century

The 19th century was a time of great cultural, social, and political change, and literature reflected this in a powerful way. Countless masterpieces were written during this period, and many of them remain popular and influential to this day. Whether you’re a literature aficionado or simply looking to expand your horizons, these 13 books are essential reading for anyone interested in the art form. Let’s take a journey through literary history and explore what makes each of these works so remarkable.

The 13 Best Books of the 19th Century

A Journey Through Literary History

The 19th century was a time of great change and transformation in the world of literature. The Romantic movement, which emphasized emotion, imagination, individualism, and nature, had a profound impact on the literary landscape of the time. It was a period of experimentation and innovation, as writers explored new themes, genres, and styles.

Here are books from the 19th century that represent the diversity and richness of this period:

These books represent a range of genres and styles, including the Gothic novel, the historical epic, and social satire. They explore love and loss, class and gender, morality and redemption, and the human condition in all its complexity. They offer a glimpse into the minds and hearts of some of the greatest writers of all time, and they continue to inspire and challenge readers of every generation.

The Impact of 19th-Century Literature

The 19th century was a turning point for literature in many ways. It saw the rise of the novel as a dominant genre, the birth of literary criticism as a discipline, and the emergence of sophisticated printing technologies that made books more affordable and widely available. The works of writers like Austen, Brontë, Dickens, and Tolstoy helped shape the literary canon and set the standards for narrative technique, character development, and thematic depth.

But these books were not just important for their literary merit. They were deeply connected to the socio-political movements of their time. Many authors wrote about social injustice, political corruption, and the struggles of marginalized groups like women, minorities, and the working class. By shedding light on these issues, they sparked public debate and contributed to the broader movements for social justice and equality.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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For example, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne explores the social and psychological consequences of adultery in Puritan New England. The novel highlights the double standards and hypocrisy of the society of the time, and it raises important questions about the role of religion, morality, and individual freedom in a changing world.

The Emergence of New Literary Genres

The 19th century was a time of experimentation and innovation in the literary world. Many new genres emerged during this period, including the detective novel, the science fiction novel, and the historical romance. Writers like Shelley, Verne, and Conan Doyle pushed the limits of storytelling and imagination, introducing new themes and ideas that continue to influence modern literature.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


For example, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is often considered the first science fiction novel. It explores the dangers of playing God and the consequences of scientific progress without ethical considerations. The novel raises important questions about the limits of human knowledge and the responsibility of scientists and inventors.

Overall, the 19th century was a rich and complex period in literary history. It was a time of great change and transformation, as writers explored new themes, genres, and styles. The books of this period continue to inspire and challenge readers today, and they remind us of the power of literature to shape our understanding of the world around us.

The World of 19th-Century Authors

Behind every great book is a great author, and the 19th century was filled with larger-than-life literary figures. These authors lived in tumultuous times, marked by wars, revolutions, and social upheaval. They drew inspiration from their own experiences and observations, as well as from the cultural trends and political movements of their era.

The Lives and Times of Iconic Writers

From Jane Austen’s genteel Regency England to Mark Twain’s rough-and-tumble American West, these authors captured the essence of their times and places with vivid detail and nuance. They also struggled with personal demons, from illness and addiction to financial troubles and creative blocks. Yet despite these obstacles, they produced works of enduring beauty and power that continue to captivate readers around the world.

The Social and Political Context of Their Works

Many of these authors were deeply engaged with the social and political issues of their day, and their works reflect this commitment. For example, Austen’s novels offer incisive critiques of gender inequality and class privilege, while Dickens’s novels expose the harsh realities of poverty and exploitation in Victorian England. Tolstoy’s works grapple with the moral dilemmas of war and peace, while Hugo’s epic tales explore the power of compassion and redemption in an unjust world.

The Top Books of the 19th Century

Now, without further ado, let’s delve into the top books of the 19th century, ranked in order of their enduring quality, literary significance, and cultural impact. Each of these works is a masterpiece in its own right, and together they form a canon of literary achievement that has shaped our understanding of human nature and the world we inhabit.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Austen’s most beloved novel is a sparkling social comedy that satirizes the manners and morals of Regency England. It tells the story of Elizabeth Bennet, a witty and independent young woman who must navigate the complexities of love, marriage, and social status in a society that prizes conformity and conventionality. With its sharp dialogue, memorable characters, and timeless themes, Pride and Prejudice remains one of the most beloved works of English literature.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Moby Dick

Melville’s epic novel is a stirring tale of obsession, revenge, and the human struggle against the forces of nature. It tells the story of Captain Ahab, a vengeful whaler who becomes obsessed with hunting down the legendary white whale that disfigured him. Moby-Dick is a symbolic masterpiece that explores the themes of identity, spirituality, and the limits of human knowledge and power.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights

Brontë’s Gothic masterpiece is a haunting tale of love, madness, and revenge set against the stark moors of Yorkshire. It tells the story of Cathy and Heathcliff, two star-crossed lovers whose turbulent relationship is marked by jealousy, cruelty, and tragedy. Wuthering Heights is a landmark work of Romanticism that explores the dark side of human desire and the destructive power of obsession.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations

Dickens’s coming-of-age novel is a profound exploration of class, identity, and the power of self-improvement. It tells the story of Pip, a poor orphan who dreams of becoming a gentleman, and his encounters with the eccentric Miss Havisham, the enigmatic Estella, and the mysterious convict Magwitch. Great Expectation is a timeless classic that embodies the best of Victorian literature, with its vivid characterizations, vivid settings, and social commentary.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace

Tolstoy’s epic historical novel is a sweeping panorama of Russian society during the Napoleonic Wars. It tells the story of several aristocratic families whose lives are transformed by the conflict, including the mercurial Pierre Bezukhov, the impetuous Natasha Rostova, and the brilliant military strategist Kutuzov. War and Peace is a masterpiece of realism that combines vivid historical detail with deep psychological insight into the human condition.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Brontë’s classic novel is a timeless tale of love, loss, and female independence. It tells the story of Jane Eyre, a plain but passionate young woman who falls in love with the brooding and mysterious Mr. Rochester, only to discover his dark secrets and inner turmoil. Jane Eyre is a feminist masterpiece that challenges the conventions of Victorian society and promotes the values of self-reliance, equality, and freedom.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray: The Original 1890 Edition (A Oscar Wilde Classics)

Wilde’s only novel is a provocative and daring exploration of the decadence and hedonism of fin-de-siècle England. It tells the story of Dorian Gray, a handsome and wealthy young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty, only to discover the true cost of his vanity and corruption. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a brilliant work of aestheticism that celebrates the power of art and the dangers of indulgence.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Les Misérables

Hugo’s epic tale is a stirring tribute to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of compassion and redemption. It tells the story of Jean Valjean, a convicted thief who transforms his life after encountering the kind-hearted Bishop Myriel and embarks on a journey of self-discovery and sacrifice. Les Misérables is a classic work of Romanticism that celebrates the triumph of the human will over adversity and oppression.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Twain’s classic novel is a humorous and poignant epic of friendship, adventure, and personal growth in the American South. It tells the story of Huck Finn, a mischievous and free-spirited boy who runs away from his oppressive father and embarks on a journey down the Mississippi River with his friend Jim, an escaped slave. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a scathing indictment of racism and prejudice in American society and a celebration of the human capacity for empathy and compassion.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment: A Novel in Six Parts with Epilogue (Vintage Classics)

Dostoevsky’s psychological thriller is a compelling exploration of guilt, punishment, and redemption in 19th-century Russia. It tells the story of Raskolnikov, a destitute college student who murders a pawnbroker and wrestles with the moral and spiritual consequences of his crime. Crime and Punishment is a masterful work of realism that probes the depths of human nature and offers a window into the social and political tensions of the late Russian Empire.

The Enduring Legacy of 19th-Century Literature

These books are just a small sampling of the rich and diverse literary landscape of the 19th century. From the Romantic poetry of Wordsworth and Keats to the realistic depictions of life in the Paris suburbs by Zola, this era produced some of the most powerful and enduring works of art in human history. These works continue to inspire, challenge, and transform readers around the world, proving that great literature truly is timeless.


What were the most famous books written in the 19th century?

The 19th century was one of the best for English and American literature. It saw the publication of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, the works of Charles Dickens, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

Who were the best British authors writing in the 19th century?

The Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Lord Byron were among the greatest British writers of the 19th century.

What are the best romance books written in the 19th century?

Pride and Prejudice is known as the all-time favorite 19th-century romance. 

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