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.
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'.
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.
"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.
There are very few children's stories that have raised as much outrage in grown-up politics as The Water Babies did when it first appeared in 1863. It was written by Charles Kingsley for his own little boy and shortly after he had been made tutor to the Prince of Wales.
This is Jane Austen's lighthearted lesson in what you get for reading too many gothic novels. It is a mark of the astonishing talent of the woman, however, that even a flippant swipe at the trashy reading of the day turned out to be an elegant if extremely funny classic. Catherine Morland is another one of those Austen girls who, in spite of her gloriously ironic portrait as a romantic heroine in training, ends up being someone whose story you'd follow to the end of the world, or at least until the end of the book.
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.
The Mill on the Floss is one of the great works of English literature. It is perhaps the most autobiographical of all Eliot's novels. The relationship between its heroine, Maggie Tulliver, and her brother, Tom, closely resembles that of George Eliot and her own brother, Isaac. The subject of sibling affection was clearly a deeply poignant one for George Eliot - she also wrote a series of beautiful and evocative sonnets entitled 'Brother and Sister'.
The story of young Tom Brown's seemingly hideous years spent at rugby school and his spirited and astonishingly stalwart response to the institutionalised bullying prevalent at the 'Great' British public schools became exactly the campaigning tool its author hoped it would. The regimes at these schools had been largely unchallenged, with the assumption being that the education and training received were the best.
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"
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.
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"
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.
This is the story of Alice's second visit to Wonderland, where again every idea Alice has of logic and reason is logically and rationally challenged by her adventures. From the classic Red Queen, with her manic racing to enable her to stay exactly where she is, to the highly meaningful nonsense of the Jabberwocky, Alice's trip through the looking glass has provided us with a host of now familiar but no less teasing puzzles which somehow manage to give us a whole new reflection on 'normal' life.
Persuasion tells the story of one of the most popular of literary heroines, the glorious Anne Eliot. Persuaded out of marrying the man she loves due to his not being a good enough match, Anne calmly and wittily takes us through her journey from her life as the middle daughter of a spendthrift and vain baronet through a sojourn in the marriage market that the City of Bath became in the 19th century to a final and merry resolution of the long search for the ideal match.
In his own inimitable style, Terry Jones leads you through Chaucer's filthy and very funny tale of adultery, the feared coming of the second flood and burnt bums. The Canterbury Tales broke the literary mould in many ways. It established English as an acceptable language for literature, where previously it had been almost exclusively Latin or Norman French. It was also one of the first books to create a link between all the pieces of work in a literary collection.
Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is one of the most influential pieces of writing in the British literary cannon. It helped to establish English, rather than Latin or Norman French, as an acceptable language for literature. It was also one of the earliest pieces of work to have story linking - what had previously been just collected writings which the author deemed interesting.
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.
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"