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Teaching your teens at home this year? I have put together a list of 19 great British Literature Books. Hopefully, this will help. Good luck with teaching!
My Background in British Literature Books
I earned my BA in English Literature from Biola University with a semester abroad at the University of Roehampton studying the likes of Shakespeare and 19th Century British Literature, I went on to teach a 19th Century British Literature course at a private school.
High School British Literature Reading List [part2]
6. George Eliot – Middlemarch
George Eliot, born Mary Ann Evans, had her novel published in 8 volumes in 1871 and 1872 by publishers William Blackwood and Sons in London and Edinburgh.
Unlike Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters who had to write under male names due to the times, George Eliot’s female contemporaries were published under their own names. She, however, wanted to escape the stereotype of women’s writing being limited to lighthearted romances and separate her fictional work from her widely known work as both editor and critic. She was also having a relationship with the married George Henry Lewes at the time of publication which might have been a consideration due to the scandal any such relationship would draw.
TRIVIA: George Eliot was buried at Highgate Cemetery East where I previously worked.
The plot of Middlemarch
Middlemarch centers on the fictional Midlands town from between September 1829 to May 1832. At the center of the story are two idealistic young people – Dorothea Brooke (the wealthy and intellectual heroine of our piece who makes the mistake of marrying the elderly Reverand Casaubon who does not take her seriously) and Doctor Tertius Lydgate (a naive and talented young doctor who likewise ends up in a bitter and disappointing marriage to the vain and beautiful Rosamond Vincy).
Surrounding our two idealists are the residents of the fictional town of Middlemarch and while the book has never been described as a historical novel, it borrows many historical events such as the 1832 Reform Act, accession of King William IV and the early railways and examines the contemporary medical practices of its time.
Themes of Middlemarch
Issues in the extensive novel by Ms. Eliot include the nature of marriage, the status of women, idealism, self-interest, honor, religion, hypocrisy, political reform, and education.
Most Faithful Film Adaptation of Middlemarch
Lauded by the critics is the 1994 Andrew Davies BBC TV serial that starred Juliet Aubrey, Rufus Sewell, Douglas Hodge, and Judi Dench did the voiceover.
7. Walter Scott – Ivanhoe: A Romance
Walter Scott’s historical novel, Ivanhoe: A Romance, was first published in three volumes in late 1819. It is believed that this novel was instrumental in seeing the rise of interest in Richard the Lionheart, King John, and Robin Hood.
TRIVIA. The novel saw the creation of a new name of Cedric. The original Saxon name was Cerdic which was misspelled by Scott.
The plot of Ivanhoe
In the twelfth century, Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe returns home to England from the Third Crusade to claim his inheritance and the love of the lady Rowena. The heroic adventures of this noble Saxon knight involve him in the struggle between Richard the Lion-Hearted and his malignant brother John: a conflict that brings Ivanhoe into an alliance with the mysterious outlaw Robin Hood and his legendary fight for the forces of good.
A subplot involves Ivanhoe’s rescue, when injured, by Jewess Rebecca, a skilled healer, and her father.
Themes of Ivanhoe
The novel looks particularly at the conflict between a hero’s ideals and society’s expectations and the prejudice against Jews.
Favorite Adaptations of Ivanhoe
1982 version of Ivanhoe starred Anthony Andrews (The Scarlet Pimpernel) as Ivanhoe, Olivia Hussey (Jesus of Nazareth) as Rebecca, James Mason (North by Northwest) as Isaac of York, and Sam Neill (The Tudors) in a uniquely sympathetic portrayal of Brian de Bois-Guilbert.
The score by Allyn Ferguson was Emmy Nominated.
1952 version of Ivanhoe is the most well-known version starring Robert Taylor (The Hangman) as Ivanhoe, Elizabeth Taylor (National Velvet) as Rebecca and Joan Fontaine (Rebecca) as Rowena.
8. Daniel Defoe – Moll Flanders
Moll Flanders was first published in 1722 by Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) as a supposed true account of the life of title character. Interestingly, it was not until 1770 that it was suggested that Defoe was the actual writer of the supposed autobiography.
The plot of Moll Flanders
Moll Flanders was born to a woman who’d had her execution stayed due to her pregnancy. Once she’s reared, she goes to serve in a good household where she sleeps with the eldest son but marries the youngest son. So begins her dramatic life. After her first husband (the youngest son) dies, she leaves her children with the in-laws and passes herself off as a wealthy widow looking for a second husband. She finds a second and a third and a fourth and a fifth husband but each marriage ends. She turns to life as a con woman and thief until her actions catch up with her and she finds repentance in prison before being reunited with one of her husbands and sailing for the Colonies.
Themes of Moll Flanders
Adaptations of Moll Flanders
The most faithful adaptation starred Alex Kingston as Moll and Daniel Craig as her Lancashire husband. The movie does leave out Moll’s spiritual reformation in prison.
The most famous adaptation, Moll Flanders (1996), starring Morgan Freeman as an entirely new character and Robin Wright as the titular character is also the most inaccurate of any of the adaptations and most importantly is anti-Christian whereas the novel was considered a spiritual autobiography in keeping with Protestant writings.
9. R.L. Stevenson – Kidnapped
Kidnapped is a fictional adventure novel published as a boys’ novel in 1886.
The plot of Kidnapped
An heir is deprived of his deceased father’s fortune and kidnapped. With the aid of friends, the young man is able to seek justice and claim his father’s fortune.
Many of the characters and situations in Kidnapped are real or at least inspired by real people and real stories making it a historical novel in many regards.
Themes of Kidnapped
Best Adaptations of Kidnapped
The Walt Disney Pictures’ Kidnapped from 1960 was a favorite as a child. The movie marked Peter O’Toole‘s feature-film debut and starred James MacArthur (best known for Hawaii Five-O and Swiss Family Robinson) and Peter Finch (Network)
10. Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness
Controversial for its depiction of Africa and Africans, it is a popular required reading in colleges and high schools since the 1960s.
Achebe is right; to the African reader the price of Conrad’s eloquent denunciation of colonisation is the recycling of racist notions of the ‘dark’ continent and her people. Those of us who are not from Africa may be prepared to pay this price, but this price is far too high for Achebe.
– Caryl Phillips
The Plot of Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness is an 1899 novella by Joseph Conrad about a voyage up the Congo River into the Congo Free State.
Themes of Heart of Darkness
Major themes of the novella concern (1) racism and (2) imperialism.
Best Adaptation of Heart of Darkness
While Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is the most famous adaptation, my favorite is the 1993 TNT television movie starring John Malkovich (Kurtz) and Tim Roth (Marlow).
John Malkovich was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Movie.
Sharing is Caring
Stay tuned for the next part of the list to come featuring Oscar Wilde and Daphne du Maurier.
[Part One can be found here.]