First conceived during a rainy summer holiday in the Highlands of Scotland in an attempt to amuse his stepson, Treasure Island began with the map. Young Lloyd Osbourne had drawn a crude version of an island, and Stevenson, looking over the boy's shoulder, began to elaborate, christening various curves and smudges the famed names of Skeleton Island and Spyglass Hill and finally adding the three red crosses marking the buried treasure.
The tale of Dr. Frankenstein and the horrendous monster he unleashes on the world when he tinkers with the laws of nature had almost as strange a birth as the monster itself. It was the product of one of the most famous ghost story telling sessions in history. Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and several others were stranded on the shores of Lake Geneva during a particularly sodden summer.
"Jacobi relishes the language - Superbly read."
The wild and passionate tale of Cathy and Heathcliff's impossible love for each other and its phenomenal setting on the blasted Yorkshire moors has to be one of the best-known love affairs in literature.
The story of Lady Chatterley and her love for her husband's gamekeeper outraged the sensibilities of Edwardian England. Lawrence had already been dismissed as a purveyor of the obscene for the attitudes to sex that he had shown in The Rainbow, which had been fiercely suppressed on its publication in 1915. Chatterley, written in several versions around 1928 in Italy in the final part of Lawrence's life, was a deliberate choice on the author's part to address sex head on.
"I wish I had read this sooner"
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done...." With these words and a superb act of bravery and sacrifice, one of the most badly behaved heroes of all time ends Charles Dickens' great tale of the French Revolution. This is a firework display of a book, a crackling picture of the ravages and excesses of starving, furious men and the astonishing acts of heroism that usually accompany them.
Fanny Burney's wickedly funny satire follows the trials and romantic adventures of the young and beautiful Evelina as she tries to make her way through 18th-century Britain handicapped by her three great problems: being poor, being illegitimate - and being a girl. Evelina was a raging best seller when it was first published in 1778 and is widely credited with being the first of the great British domestic novels. Burney was a direct influence on her immediate follower, Jane Austen.
The Man of Property, the first in the long series of novels written by John Galsworthy known as the Forsyte Saga, was written in 1906. It was the second novel that Galsworthy had published under his own name, the four novels previous to this being published privately under the pseudonym John Sinjohn. And, unlike its predecessors, it was a great success. It examined and dissected the habits, manners, snobberies and increasingly suffocating moral code of the upper-middle classes to which he belonged.
Rudyard Kipling's short stories of life in the British Raj began in 1888 as journalistic snippets written to supplement his more serious factual output when he was employed as the assistant editor, at the meagre age of 20, of the Lahori-based Civil and Military Gazette.
"Heartwarming stories from another place and time"
Trapped by the strength of the public adoration of his character Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle was desperate to write other works not involving the sleuth. The Tales of Terror and Mystery have all the recognisable qualities that made Conan Doyle's work so popular - the attention to gruesome detail, the meticulous logic and the intricate and wittily bemusing plotting - yet they are free of the constraints put on Conan Doyle by Mr. Holmes.
Lady Ludlow's appalling snobbery, prejudice and bred-in-the-bone conviction as to the superiority of the English aristocracy and their feudal way of life are deliciously tested, and found wanting, in this gently radical tale of the collapse of a social system. Elizabeth Gaskell's My Lady Ludlow is a brilliant picture of the shift in power in a rural northern village, from the velvety feudal Ludlows to the glitter of the new money rattling through the system courtesy of the brazen baker from Birmingham.
What the Narnia books did for wardrobes, The Secret Garden did for the walled garden. Few readers can fail to share with Mary Lennox that inexplicable thrill of anticipation at the notion of an enclosed and secret world, bursting with potential life and beauty but remaining hidden from view. As Mary herself observes, 'Here was another locked door, added to the hundred in the strange house'.
Anthony Trollope's The Warden was the first of Trollope's hugely successful Barchester Chronicles, appearing in 1855 and reversing the rather unfortunate sales of his previous three novels. It concerns the story of Mr. Septimus Harding, Warden of Hiram's Hospital almshouses and Precentor of Barchester Cathedral.
The legendary British actor Terence Stamp reads the book that he says 'changed his life'. This is an exploration of our existence and a journey towards enlightenment. In what the author calls 'the fine print' at the start of the book, David Carse wrote: 'There are many books out there that will help you to live a better life, become a better person, and evolve and grow to realise your potential as a spiritual being. This is not one of them....'
"No words for this"
In 1886 Arthur Conan Doyle, whilst struggling to make a success of a failing medical practice in Portsmouth, set about writing a novel in order to boost his income. He began a story about a fiercely intelligent sleuth called Sheridan Hope. A year later A Study in Scarlet was published, and one of the most successful of literary characters began to take hold of the public's affections.
One of the wittiest and most scathing of Henry James' novellas, The Aspern Papers chronicles the attempt to extract the valuable letters of the famous and recently deceased poet Jeffrey Aspern from the hands of his past lover and formidable adversary in the battle Juliana Bordereau. The plot was reputedly suggested to James by a story he heard of an illicit attempt to get hold of several of Lord Byron's letters.
Robert Louis Stevenson's lengthy short story 'The Pavilion on the Links' was considered by Arthur Conan Doyle to be 'the first short story in the world'. This unsettlingly nerve-racking tale is every bit as chilling as its much wider known follower, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and at the time of its publication was every bit as successful. Stevenson makes the choice in the story of having two fairly unpleasant characters for his main protagonists.
'The Rape of the Lock' was one of Alexander Pope's most popular poems. It was a satirical attempt to reconcile the real-life warring of two Catholic families whose feud had started with the supposed nicking of a lock of hair from the undeniably beautiful head of Arabella Fermor by her admirer, Lord Petre.
"Great reading: selection of poems could be better"
Everyone has a swipe at their parents and the way they were brought up at some point in their lives. Very few of us exact revenge to the extent that Edmund Gosse did upon his father in this superbly funny, agonising account of a very strange childhood. The subtitle of the book is A Study of Two Temperaments, and these were temperaments not destined to get on. Gosse, Sr. was an eminent naturalist and zoologist and a keen follower of the Plymouth Brethren.
"Wonderful reading of a tender and funny memoir"
Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is an exploration of the nature of evil and how far a man can go towards it when released from the constraints of what can be called civilisation. Before beginning his life as a writer at the age of 36, Conrad spent 16 years as a merchant seaman. In 1889 he became captain of a steamboat in the Congo Free State, and the atrocities he witnessed there, perpetrated by the representatives of the Belgian colonial powers, led him to write what he called his Congo Diary.
Written as the diary of someone who would not normally merit a memoir but considers that he should have one written about him anyway, The Diary of a Nobody chronicles in agonizing but very funny detail everyday life in the lower middle class suburbs of Victorian England and the attempts of a social climber to better himself. It was published in 1892. First published in the satirical magazine Punch as a serial between 1888 and 1889, with illustrations by the author's brother, Weedon.
"Everyone should read or hear this!"