1899 100 Best Novels

Allan Massie,

“The Problem of Predicting What Will Last”

Booksonline, with Amazon.co.uk (An Electronic Telegraph Publication)
4 January 2000

Each week for the past two years The Daily Telegraph’s literary editor has asked a contributor to name and describe his or her “Book of the Century”. . . . [cut — DT.] The full selection invites comparison with a list drawn up by The Telegraph a century ago; we print both here.

The comparison cannot, however, be exact. All the books chosen in 1899 were fiction — the paper offered its readers the “100 Best Novels in the World”, selected by the editor “with the assistance of Sir Edwin Arnold, K. C. I. E, H. D. Traill, D. C. L, and W. L. Courtney, LL. D.”

The modern list includes poetry, plays, history, diaries, philosophy, economics, memoirs, biography and travel writing. It is certainly eclectic, ranging from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, selected by David Sylvester, to The Wind in the Willows, chosen by John Bayley, and Down with Skool, Wendy Cope’s Book of the Century.

The 1899 list, on offer at the time in a cloth-bound edition at nine guineas the lot (easy terms available), is homogeneous, as the modern one is not, not only because it consists entirely of works of fiction but also because the selection was made by a small group. And since they were picking the 100 Best Novels, they were able to include books that nobody might name as a single “Book of the Century” but which many might put in their top 20 or so.

The difference in criteria between the two lists is instructive. That we today have asked our contributors to make personal choices may reflect our less deferential society. We are less willing than the Telegraph editor was in 1899 to deliver “ex cathedra” decrees and offer a list of “best books” that is not only prescriptive but splendid in its self-assurance. That said, one should bear in mind that the 1899 list was offered as a commercial proposition; ours is not.

W. H. AinsworthThe Tower of London

Old St Paul’s

Windsor Castle

Jane Austin

Pride & Prejudice

Sense & Sensibility

Honoré de Balzac

Pere Goriot

J. M. Barrie

A Window in Thrums

W. Besant and J . Rice

The Golden Butterfly

Rolf Boldrewood

Robbery Under Arms

M. E. Braddon

Lady Audley’s Secret

Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre


Hall Caine

The Deemster

Henry Cockton

Valentine Vox

Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White

The Moonstone

J. Fenimore Cooper

The Last of the Mohicans

The Pathfinder

The Prairie

F. Marion Crawford

Mr Isaacs

Charles Dickens

Martin Chuzzlewit

Nicholas Nickleby

The Old Curiosity Shop

Dombey and Son

Oliver Twist

Conan Doyle

The Firm of Girdlestone

Alexandre Dumas

The Three Musketeers

Twenty Years After

The Count of Monte Cristo

George Eliot

Scenes of Clerical Life

Henry Fielding

Tom Jones

Joseph Andrews

Mrs Gaskell

Mary Barton

James GrantThe Aide de Camp

The Romance of War

Bret Harte

Gabriel Conroy

N. Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter

The House of the Seven Gables

O. W. Holmes

Elsie Venner

Anthony Hope

The Prisoner of Zenda

Thomas Hughes

Tom Brown’s Schooldays

Victor Hugo

Les Misérables

Toilers of the Sea

Notre Dame

Charles Kingsley

Two Years Ago

Alton Locke


Henry Kingsley

The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn

Rudyard Kipling

Soldiers Three

George Lawrence

Guy Livingstone

Charles Lever

Harry Lorrequer

Charles O’Malley

E. Lynn Linton

The Atonement of

Leam Dundas

Samuel Lover

Handy Andy

Rory O’More

Lord Lytton

Last of the Barons

Night and Morning


The Caxtons

Captain Marryat

The King’s Own

Peter Simple

Jacob Faithful

Midshipman Easy

George Meredith

Diana of the Crossways

D. M. Muloch

John Halifax, Gentleman


Under Two Flags

Charles Reade

It is Never Too Late to Mend

Peg Woffington and Christie Johnstone

Hard Cash

Capt Mayne ReidThe Headless Horseman

Amelie Rives

Virginia of Virginia

Olive Schreiner

The Story of an

African Farm

Michael Scott

Tom Cringle’s Log

Cruise of the Midge

H. Sienkiewicz

Quo Vadis?

Sir Walter Scott

Rob Roy

The Bride of Lammermoor

Old Mortality


Guy Mannering


The Talisman

Frank E. Smedley

Frank Fairlegh

Tobias Smollett

Roderick Random

Peregrine Pickle

Mrs F. A. Steel

On the Face of the Waters

Laurence Sterne

The Life and Opinions of

Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

H. B. Stowe

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

R. S. Surtees

Soapey Sponge’s Sporting Tour

Eugene Sue

The Wandering Jew

W. M. Thackeray

The History of Henry Esmond

The Newcomes

The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon

Count L. Tolstoy

Anna Karenina

Anthony Trollope

Orley Farm

Mrs H. Ward

Robert Elsmere

D. C. L. Warren S.

£10,000 a Year

E. Wetherell

The Wide, Wide World

G. J. Whyte-Melville

Market Harborough

Inside the Bar

Mrs Henry Wood

East Lynne



7 thoughts on “1899 100 Best Novels

  1. Adding a great favorite which I missed seeing earlier: Anna Karenina!

    I have read twenty-seven of the books. There were eleven authors listed which I’ve also read something by, but not the one(s) listed.

  2. Some of my very favorites here! Pere Goriot, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Moonstone and more. I’ll be back in a bit to count how many of the 100 I’ve read.

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