BBC’s 100 Novels That Shaped Our World: Class and Society

By November 22, 2019 Discussion and Recommendations

All readers know that stories have the power to change us and shape who we are, and this month the BBC has collated a list of 100 novels that shaped our world.

The list is made up of English language novels only, and was chosen by a panel of leading writers, curators, and critics to select one hundred genre-busting novels that have had an impact on their lives. The books range from children’s classic to popular new releases, and the list is organised into ten themes.

The panel is made up of several BBC figures, Radio 4 Front Row presenter and Times Literary Supplement editor Stig Abell, broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, authors Juno Dawson, Kit de Waal and Alexander McCall Smith, and Bradford Festival Literary Director Syima Aslam

We’re going to feature the list in ten blogs, each one marking a different theme, today the theme is Class and Society.

A House for Mr Biswas – V. S Naipaul

In his forty-six short years, Mr. Mohun Biswas has been fighting against destiny to achieve some semblance of independence, only to face a lifetime of calamity. Shuttled from one residence to another after the drowning death of his father, for which he is inadvertently responsible, Mr. Biswas yearns for a place he can call home.

A House for Mr Biswas

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Cannery Row – John Steinbeck

First published in 1945, Cannery Row focuses on the acceptance of life as it is—both the exuberance of community and the loneliness of the individual. John Steinbeck draws on his memories of the real inhabitants of Monterey, California, and interweaves their stories in this world where only the fittest survive—creating what is at once one of his most humorous and poignant works.

Cannery Row

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Disgrace – J. M Coetzee

At fifty-two, Professor David Lurie is divorced, filled with desire, but lacking in passion. When an affair with a student leaves him jobless, shunned by friends, and ridiculed by his ex-wife, he retreats to his daughter Lucy’s smallholding. David’s visit becomes an extended stay as he attempts to find meaning in his one remaining relationship. Instead, an incident of unimaginable terror and violence forces father and daughter to confront their strained relationship and the equallity complicated racial complexities of the new South Africa.

Disgrace

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Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend, written in the years 1864–65, is the last novel completed by Charles Dickens and is one of his most sophisticated works, combining savage satire with social analysis. It centres on, in the words of critic J. Hillis Miller (quoting from the character Bella Wilfer in the book), “money, money, money, and what money can make of life.”

Our Mutual Friend

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Poor Cow – Nell Dunn

Joy – also called Blossom, Sunshine and Blondie by the men in her life – walks down Fulham Broadway carrying her week-old baby, Jonny. She is twenty-one, with bleached hair, high suede shoes, and a head full of dreams. Her husband Tom is a thief and on the proceeds of a job they move to a luxury flat – ‘the world was our oyster and we chose Ruislip’.

Poor Cow

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Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – Alan Sillitoe

Arthur Seaton, a ladies’ man and factory-worker extraordinaire, has just downed seven gins and eleven pints at his local pub. Thoroughly smashed, he proceeds to tumble down an entire flight of stairs, pass out, and wake up again only to vomit on a middle-aged couple. Luckily Arthur’s lover, Brenda—a married woman with two kids—lets Arthur escape to her bed. Such are Saturdays in this bachelor’s life.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

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The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is an unflinching and deeply sympathetic portrait of a woman destroyed by self and circumstance. … This work tells the story of a Belfast spinster, her hopes of love and her crisis of faith.

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark

At the staid Marcia Blaine School for Girls, in Edinburgh, Scotland, teacher extraordinaire Miss Jean Brodie is unmistakably, and outspokenly, in her prime. She is passionate in the application of her unorthodox teaching methods, in her attraction to the married art master, Teddy Lloyd, in her affair with the bachelor music master, Gordon Lowther, and—most important—in her dedication to “her girls,” the students she selects to be her crème de la crème.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

This is Kazuo Ishiguro’s profoundly compelling portrait of Stevens, the perfect butler, and of his fading, insular world in post-World War II England. Stevens, at the end of three decades of service at Darlington Hall, spending a day on a country drive, embarks as well on a journey through the past in an effort to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving the “great gentleman,” Lord Darlington. But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s “greatness,” and much graver doubts about the nature of his own life.

The Remains of the Day

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Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys

With Wide Sargasso Sea, her last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction’s most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester.

Wide Sargasso Sea

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The BBC list is 100 books long and split into ten categories, we’ll bring you the next category, Class & Society very soon and if you missed the previous lists, links are below.

Identity

Love, Sex and Romance

Adventure

Life, Death, and Other Worlds

Politics, Power, and Protest

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