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5 Underrated Classic Novels
Under-the-radar literature for your reading list

Can’t decide what to read next? Check out one (or all) of these underrated classic novels. You’ll encounter plenty of humor, heartache and thrilling action as you expand your literary horizons beyond more familiar titles.

“Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen

“Northanger Abbey” is the first novel Jane Austen ever wrote (although it wasn’t actually published until after her death in 1817). It doesn’t get the attention of later classics like “Emma” and “Pride and Prejudice,” but many critics consider it to be Austen’s funniest and most satirical book. The delightful heroine, Catherine Morland, is an avid reader of Gothic romance novels who must learn (sometimes the hard way) to balance her vivid and naive imagination with a more grounded approach to life and love.

“The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Bronte

Compared to her sisters, Emily and Charlotte, Anne Bronte is frequently overlooked. However, her novel “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” was a daring work when it was first published in 1848 — and it’s still a compelling read today. The dark, intense plot follows a young woman named Helen Graham as she suffers at the hands of her alcoholic husband, breaks free of her abuser and strives to establish her independence in the face of the era’s social conventions.

“The Moonstone” by Wilkie Collins

The modern detective novel owes a huge debt to Wilkie Collins’ 1868 thriller “The Moonstone.” Revolving around the theft of a legendary Indian diamond and the quest to find the culprit, this book’s action-packed plot draws in multiple viewpoints to tell a sensational tale of robbery, murder, deception and betrayal. In an innovation that would soon spread to countless other books, there’s also a brilliant sleuth, Sergeant Cuff, who arrives on the scene and attempts to solve the crime amid a series of unexpected twists and dramatic revelations.

“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne

It’s one of the world’s best-loved novels, but “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” is often dismissed as a lightweight book for younger readers. In actuality, Jules Verne’s 1870 classic is a pioneering sci-fi masterpiece and a rewarding read for all ages. To experience the full literary impact of Captain Nemo’s undersea adventures, it’s best to read this novel in a modern edition instead of an older public-domain version — look for translations from the French by Anthony Bonner, Walter James Miller or William Butcher.

“The Marrow of Tradition” by Charles W. Chesnutt

In 1898, an armed mob violently overthrew the multiracial local government of Wilmington, North Carolina, helping to cement brutal white supremacist dominance for decades to come. “The Marrow of Tradition,” a 1901 novel by the African-American author Charles W. Chesnutt, recounts this act of terror and its consequences in fictionalized form. Featuring a vibrant cast of characters that spans races and classes, it’s a gripping and all-too-relevant read that explores the social and political roots of injustice and urgently directs readers not to look away.

These five classic novels don’t always get the attention they should, but they’ve still managed to stand the test of time. When you pick one up for your next read, you might just discover a new favorite.


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