Friday, March 11, 2011

Survey: What is the Greatest Novel of All Time?


Though this blog is entitled Letters and Surveys, I must admit, that it has been, mostly, letters. However, occasionally I run a survey. I was hoping that this could be a venue for collecting information, but not too many people add comments.

In lieu of electronic participation, I use a more traditional form of polling. I ask people what they think. This is somewhat time consuming, because when I ask someone, "What is the greatest novel of all time?", the answer is usually only the beginning of a longer discussion of:
  • why this book is one that they love or were touched by

  • what characteristics make this book great

  • what other books might vie for the title of Greatest Novel

  • what are the worst books

  • who is the greatest novelist

  • why I am asking this question

  • and so forth

(I do like these discussions.) Here is the list I've collected so far. I will list them in the comments section. Readers, please add your votes.

My personal answer is: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo


P.S. Even if your favorite is already listed, please feel free to list it again. In addition, your comments related to whys and wherefores are very welcome.


brd said...

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo


brd said...

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

brd said...

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

brd said...

Ulysses by James Joyce


brd said...

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

brd said...

Moby Dick by Herman Melville


Also ran,
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

brd said...

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier


Josh S said...

I'm sorry, but the unabridged Les Mis novel is clearly an example of the "I get paid by the word" model of that era.

I read it so I could compare book to movie to musical. And this is one of a few rare instances where the movie is better than the book.

You could cut about 300 pages from Hugo's Les Mis without losing a thing.

So, I'm sorry, but I must disagree with your 'greatest novel' claim.

brd said...


You might be right about the need for a hard edit. And I do agree that the movie is great--Greatest movie of all time? However, you didn't post an alternative suggestion. We need that.


cadh 8 said...

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.

My problem with this question is that all the books that are the greatest to me personally...books like Watership Down, or Ender's Game, or The Road don't seem quite formal enough for this question. Even Connie's book is "just one of those time travel books". So I then force myself to think about High School English and limit my choices to those options, like Lord of the Flies, 1984, or Tess of the D'Urbervilles, or some other depressing and difficult read.

brd said...

Well, why shouldn't it be Doomsday Book? Or Watership Down? In fact, why shouldn't it be Home for a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown? That was my first favorite book

Alicia said...

Oh, let it be Middlemarch!

I understand that not everyone IS Dorothea Brooks, but I am. And not everyone loves those intertwining plots that all work themselves into a tanglish mess by the end, but I do. And that means it will always be Middlemarch for me.

brd said...

All right, Alicia. It is Middlemarch. I love George Eliot.

Anonymous said...

A better question may be... "What is the greatest novel at THIS time?" A novel that touched me at age 20 may not have the same effect 20 years later. One year, perhaps my journey has made me appreciate some aspects of a novel that another year would go unnoticed. Don't you wish you had taken better notes when you were younger and compared to now? I know I do.....

brd said...

I agree, our sensitivities to novels does change over time. There are some novels that, perhaps, a young person can't quite "get" that becomes clear to an older reader. At the same time, I still have a lot of respect for the novels that I loved in my

Sandra said...

I think You might be right about the need for a hard edit. And I do agree that the movie is great--Greatest movie of all time? However, you didn't post an alternative suggestion. I am always looking out to free online surveys