Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction - Book List and Challenge

October 03, 2019



To date, my main focus on The Harvard Classics has been on the original 51 volumes. More recently, I've become interested in The Shelf of Fiction: a 20 volume addition to the original works, which was produced in 1917 and includes 43 works from 30 writers of various nationalities.

This collection contains modern novels, romances, and short stories, the oldest of which appeared in 1749, but most belong to the nineteenth century. The twenty volumes represent seven different national literatures, namely: English, American, French, Spanish, German, Russian, and Scandinavian. More than half the set, eleven volumes, is devoted to English and American fiction, French having two volumes, German two, Russian four, and Spanish and Scandinavian sharing one volume.

In selecting the authors and works for inclusion in the set, Charles Eliot realised that "no general consent among competent judges was likely to be attained and that the ultimate decision would necessarily be more or less arbitrary, and liable to provoke dissent." Eliot consulted with numerous peers before concluding his selection, and was satisfied that "there was general consent that the authors were all creditable representatives of the fiction of their respective nations, and that the work selected for each was a good representative of the author’s genius.".

Certain limitations were placed on Eliot's choices: no living (in 1917) authors were included in the set, and these authors were to be considered famous in their generation. The works were considered to have the power of survival, though several longer novels or romances were excluded because of their size. Finally, "Each author is represented by a work generally counted among his best; so that any one who reads the whole set may feel that he has made the acquaintance of thirty writers of modern fiction under favourable conditions." Indeed, when looking at the list over a century on, we can conclude with certainty that a large proportion have stood the test of time in order to be considered "classics".

It pleases me to see that The Shelf of Fiction includes several works by female authors, the notable lack of which I experienced with disappointment in the original 52 volumes. However, it would be fair to point our that at the time of publication, the inequality of female to male authors would not have been considered unjust, particularly as women did not enjoy the social and economic privileges we do today.

As mentioned earlier, The Shelf of Fiction consisted of twenty volumes; some contained only one (or part of one) literary work, while others collected several shorter stories or novels. For ease, I've developed a list of individual titles, with a brief synopsis and details of reading length.

In addition, I've created a simple printable list to help check off the titles as I finish reading them. You can view and download the printable here in PDF format.

The History of Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding

A foundling of mysterious parentage brought up by Mr. Allworthy on his country estate, Tom Jones is deeply in love with the seemingly unattainable Sophia Western, the beautiful daughter of the neighbouring squire—though he sometimes succumbs to the charms of the local girls. When Tom is banished to make his own fortune and Sophia follows him to London to escape an arranged marriage, the adventure begins. A vivid Hogarthian panorama of eighteenth-century life, spiced with danger and intrigue, bawdy exuberance and good-natured authorial interjections, Tom Jones is considered one of the greatest and most ambitious comic novels in English literature.
First published: 1768
Length: 1024 pages πŸ“–πŸ“–πŸ“–


A Sentimental Journey, by Laurence Sterne

When Yorick, the roving narrator of Sterne's innovative final novel, sets off for France on a whim, he produces no ordinary travelogue. Jolting along in his coach from Calais, through Paris, and on towards the Italian border, the amiable parson is blithely unconcerned by famous views or monuments, but he engages us with tales of his encounters with all manner of people, from counts and noblewomen to beggars and chambermaids. And as drama piles upon drama, anecdote, flirtation and digression, Yorick's destination takes second place to an exhilarating voyage of emotional and erotic exploration. Interweaving sharp wit with warm humour and irony with genuine feeling, A Sentimental Journey paints a captivating picture of an Englishman's adventures abroad.
First published: 1749
Length: 134 pages πŸ“–


Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's witty comedy of manners--one of the most popular novels of all time--that features splendidly civilised sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues.
First published: 1813
Length: 400 pages πŸ“–πŸ“–


Guy Mannering, by Sir Walter Scott

Guy Mannering is an astrologer who only half-believes in his art. Instead he places his faith in patriarchal power, wealth and social position.

But the Scotland of this novel is a nation in which the old hierarchies are breaking down and Guy must learn the limits of the nabob's authority in a society in which each social group - from gypsies and smugglers, to Edinburgh lawyers, landowners and Border store farmers - lives by its own laws.
First published: 1815
Length: 552 pages πŸ“–πŸ“–πŸ“–


Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

A novel that chronicles the lives of two women who could not be more different: Becky Sharp, an orphan whose only resources are her vast ambitions, her native wit, and her loose morals; and her schoolmate Amelia Sedley, a typically naive Victorian heroine, the pampered daughter of a wealthy family.
First published: 1847
Length: 867 pages πŸ“–πŸ“–πŸ“–


David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield is the story of a young man’s adventures on his journey from an unhappy & impoverished childhood to the discovery of his vocation as a successful novelist. Among the gloriously vivid cast of characters he encounters are his tyrannical stepfather, Mr Murdstone; his formidable aunt, Betsey Trotwood; the eternally humble yet treacherous Uriah Heep; frivolous, enchanting Dora; & the magnificently impecunious Micawber, one of literature’s great comic creations.
First published: 1849
Length: 750 pages πŸ“–πŸ“–πŸ“–


The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot

Brought up at Dorlcote Mill, Maggie Tulliver worships her brother Tom and is desperate to win the approval of her parents, but her passionate, wayward nature and her fierce intelligence bring her into constant conflict with her family. As she reaches adulthood, the clash between their expectations and her desires is painfully played out as she finds herself torn between her relationships with three very different men: her proud and stubborn brother, a close friend who is also the son of her family's worst enemy, and a charismatic but dangerous suitor.
First published: 1860
Length: πŸ“–πŸ“–πŸ“–


The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Set in an early New England colony, the novel shows the terrible impact a single, passionate act has on the lives of three members of the community: the defiant Hester Prynne; the fiery, tortured Reverend Dimmesdale; and the obsessed, vengeful Chillingworth.
First published: 1850
Length: πŸ“–πŸ“–


Rappaccini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Part fairy tale, part Gothic horror story, "Rappaccini’s Daughter" is an inspired tale of creation and control. Giovanni Guasconti, a student at the University of Padua, is enchanted to discover a nearby garden of the most exquisite beauty. In it abides a young woman, perhaps the most beautiful Giovanni has ever seen; yet as he looks out from an upstairs window, he soon learns that the garden--and the matchless Beatrice--are not the work of Mother Nature but rather the result of a monstrous abomination of creativity. 
First published: 1844
Length: πŸ“–


Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving

In a pleasant village, at the foot of New York's Catskill Mountains, lives kindly Rip Van Winkle, a colonial British-American villager of Dutch ancestry. Van Winkle enjoys solitary activities in the wilderness, but he is also loved by all in town—especially the children to whom he tells stories and gives toys. However, he tends to shirk hard work, to his nagging wife's dismay, which has caused his home and farm to fall into disarray. His life is turned upside-down after he drinks some moonshine with mysterious mountain men and falls asleep for twenty years.
First published: 1819
Length: πŸ“–


The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

There is a sequestered glen off the east coast of the Hudson, New York state, which has long continued under the sway of some witching power; the neighbourhood abounds with tales, haunted spots and twilight superstitions. But as hapless schoolmaster Ichabod Crane will discover, the wildest of all stories in this region of shadows relate to one particularly dreadful spectre - the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
First published: 1819
Length: πŸ“–


Eleonora, by Edgar Allan Poe

The story follows an unnamed narrator who lives with his cousin and aunt in "The Valley of the Many-Coloured Grass", an idyllic paradise full of fragrant flowers, fantastic trees, and a "River of Silence". It remains untrodden by the footsteps of strangers and so they live isolated but happy. After living like this for fifteen years, "Love entered" the hearts of the narrator and his cousin Eleonora. The valley reflected the beauty of their young love. Eleonora, however, was sick — "made perfect in loveliness only to die". She does not fear death, but fears that the narrator will leave the valley after her death and transfer his love to someone else.
First published: 1909
Length: πŸ“–


The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe

Dive into this classic from the singular mind of Edgar Allan Poe, who is widely regarded as the master of short horror fiction. "The Fall of the House of Usher" recounts the terrible events that befall the last remaining members of the once-illustrious Usher clan before it is -- quite literally -- rent asunder.
First published: 1839
Length: πŸ“–



The Purloined Letter, by Edgar Allan Poe

This short story introduces Poe's recurring character, C. Auguste Dupin: a detective from France. In the story, a letter goes missing and is being used to blackmail an unnamed woman. After the Prefect of the Police informs him about the case, C. Auguste effortlessly solves it and, at the end of the story, reveals his particular method to recovering the letter. This is the first of three stories featuring the fictional Dupin; the trio are considered forerunners of the modern detective story.
First published: 1839
Length: πŸ“–


The Luck of Roaring Camp, by Francis Bret Harte

A baby boy is born an orphan in a gold mining camp in California and raised by a grizzled bunch of miners.
First published: 1868
Length: πŸ“–


The Outcasts of Poker Flat, by Francis Bret Harte

Upon waking from their overnight camp in the mountains, four exiles from Poker Flat and a young couple traveling to the town face a snowstorm with limited provisions.
First published: 1860
Length: πŸ“–


The Idyl of Red Gulch, by Francis Bret Harte

Sandy was very drunk. He was lying under an azalea bush, in pretty much the same attitude in which he had fallen some hours before. How long he had been lying there he could not tell, and didn't care; how long he should lie there was a matter equally indefinite and unconsidered. A tranquil philosophy, born of his physical condition, suffused and saturated his moral being.
First published: 1869
Length: πŸ“–


Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog, by Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain)

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” is a wild yarn involving a case of mistaken identity, a gambler who’d bet on anything, and a very unusual frog named Daniel Webster.
First published: 1865
Length: πŸ“–

The Man Without a Country, by Edward Everett Hale

A young Union- army officer named Philip Nolan gets caught up in a trial for treason. In an intemperate outburst, he shouts, “Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” The court punishes him by granting his wish—sentencing him to life aboard a Navy ship where no one is ever to speak to him of the United States or allow him to set foot on U.S. land.
First published: 1863
Length: πŸ“–

The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James

When Isabel Archer, a beautiful, spirited American, is brought to Europe by her wealthy Aunt Touchett, it is expected that she will soon marry. But Isabel, resolved to determine her own fate, does not hesitate to turn down two eligible suitors. She then finds herself irresistibly drawn to Gilbert Osmond, who, beneath his veneer of charm and cultivation, is cruelty itself. A story of intense poignancy, Isabel's tale of love and betrayal still resonates with modern audiences.
First published: 1881
Length: πŸ“– πŸ“– πŸ“–

Notre Dame de Paris, by Victor Marie Hugo

In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame Cathedral lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmerelda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmerelda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her, that only Quasimodo can prevent.
First published: 1831
Length: πŸ“– πŸ“– πŸ“–

Old Goriot, by HonorΓ© Balzac

Monsieur Goriot is one of a select group of lodgers at Madame Vauquer's Parisian boarding house. At first his wealth inspires respect, but as his circumstances are reduced he is shunned by those around him, and soon his only remaining visitors are two beautiful, mysterious young women. Goriot claims that they are his daughters, but his fellow boarders, including master criminal Vautrin, have other ideas. And when Eugène Rastignac, a poor but ambitious law student, learns the truth, he decides to turn it to his advantage.
First published: 1835
Length: πŸ“– πŸ“–

The Devil's Pool, by George Sand

Ploughman Germain’s much-loved first wife has died, and his father-in-law advises him to find an older woman of his age, who’ll be better at looking at his children. He recommends one nearly a day’s travel away, so Germain puts on his best clothes to visit . He takes with him a young orphan girl from the village, Marie, who’s going to seek employment in the same region. On the way they come across Germaine’s son and take him along. Germain finds himself admiring of and attracted to Marie, while his intended new wife turns out to be vapid and vain. Unfortunately, Marie isn’t keen on Germain, whom she considers to be too old.
First published: 1846
Length: πŸ“–

The Story of a White Blackbird, by Alfred de Musset

A charming tale narrated by a bird that deems himself unfit amongst his kind. The deep sense of dissatisfaction leads him from one place to another. This is a profoundly philosophical work with layers of meanings that teaches one to understand himself. Complete trust in oneself is the only way to contentment.
First published: 1853
Length: πŸ“–

The Siege of Berlin, by Alphonse Daudet

The Story of an Old Cuirassier of the First Empire and the Devotion of His Granddaughter in the Bitter Days of the Franco-Prussian War.
First published: 1907
Length: πŸ“–

The Last Class—The Story of a Little Alsatian,  by Alphonse Daudet

This is a story of change seen through the eyes of a child. In 1870 when Prussian forces under Otto van Bismark attacked and captured parts of France. The historically French districts of Alsace and Lorraine were governed by the Prussians. The new Prussian rulers discontinued the teaching of French in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. The story describes the day when the new rules came into effect and depicts the stoicism of one teacher as he deals with losing part of his identity.
First published: 1873*
Length: πŸ“–



The Child Spy, by Alphonse Daudet

Set at the time of the Siege of Paris in 1870, this short story tells of the consequences of a young boy's innocent recruitment into espionage.
Length: πŸ“–


The Game of Billiards, by Alphonse Daudet

Whole battalions are wiped out, while others stand useless, with their arms in readiness, utterly unable to understand their inaction. Nothing to do. They are awaiting orders. However, as one needs no orders to die, the men fall by hundreds behind the shrubs, in the moats, in front of the great silent chΓ’teau.
Length: πŸ“–


The Bad Zouave, by Alphonse Daudet

The story of a son, returning home from war to face his blacksmith father.
Length: πŸ“–

Walter Schnaffs’ Adventure, by Guy de Maupassant

Walter Schnaffs - is a lazy and cheerful German. He has a wonderful wife and four wonderful children, and he is absolutely happy. However, the careless life ends, when he is sent as a soldier to the war with France.
First published: 1883
Length: πŸ“–

Two Friends, by Guy de Maupassant

This story is set in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, when the city lay under siege. The story examines French bravery, German stereotypes and discusses the nature and justification of war in the form of a conversation between the two protagonists.
First published: 1882
Length: πŸ“–

Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, by Johann Wolfgang Goethe

In the Apprenticeship, Wilhelm Meister is a young man who, after being disillusioned by his first love, sets out to travel. Following a series of incidents—including his rescue of a mistreated young girl from a group of travelling acrobats and his joining an acting troupe—he learns that, in a certain sense, all of life is an apprenticeship.
First published: 1795
Length: πŸ“– πŸ“– πŸ“–

The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Written in diary form, "The Sorrows" tells the tale of an unhappy, passionate young man hopelessly in love with Charlotte, the wife of a friend - a man who he alternately admires and detests. 
First published: 1774
Length: πŸ“– πŸ“– πŸ“–

The Banner of the Upright Seven, by Gottfried Keller

The seventeen-year-old beauty delivered this speech in an apparently cold and matter-of-fact tone, at the same time picking up her oars and heading for the shore. Karl rowed beside her full of anxiety and apprehension, and no less full of vexation at Hermine's words. 
First published: 1861
Length: πŸ“–

The Rider on the White Horse, by Theodor Storm

A traveller along the coast of the North Sea is caught in dangerously rough weather. Offshore he glimpses a spectral rider rising and plunging in the wind and rain. Taking shelter at an inn, the traveller mentions the apparition, and the local schoolmaster volunteers a story.
First published: 1888
Length: πŸ“– πŸ“–

Trials and Tribulations, by Theodor Fontane

An honest sturdy young officer and a decent pretty girl get to know each other on an excursion. Unconsciously they drift into a relation where heart meets heart, the breaking of which causes the deepest pain. But both see clearly from the beginning that there is no other end. 
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
First published: 1887
Length: πŸ“– πŸ“–

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Raskolnikov, a destitute and desperate former student, wanders through the slums of St Petersburg and commits a random murder without remorse or regret. He imagines himself to be a great man, a Napoleon: acting for a higher purpose beyond conventional moral law. But as he embarks on a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a suspicious police investigator, Raskolnikov is pursued by the growing voice of his conscience and finds the noose of his own guilt tightening around his neck. Only Sonya, a downtrodden prostitute, can offer the chance of redemption.
First published: 1866
Length: πŸ“– πŸ“– πŸ“–

A House of Gentlefolk, by Ivan Turgenev

The novel's protagonist is Fyodor Ivanych Lavretsky, a nobleman who shares many traits with Turgenev. The child of a distant, Anglophile father and a serf mother who dies when he is very young, Lavretsky is brought up at his family's country estate home by a severe maiden aunt. 
First published: 1859
Length: πŸ“– πŸ“–

Fathers and Children, by Ivan Turgenev

When a young graduate returns home he is accompanied, much to his father and uncle's discomfort, by a strange friend "who doesn't acknowledge any authorities, who doesn't accept a single principle on faith."
First published: 1862
Length: πŸ“– πŸ“–

Pepita Jimenez, by Juan Valera

The gradual realisation by a young seminarian of the empty vanity of his vocation, culminating in a shattering denouement. 
First published: 1874
Length: πŸ“– πŸ“–

A Happy Boy, by BjΓΈrnstjerne BjΓΈrnson

A Happy Boy recounts the life of Oyvind, a perpetually jolly child who is able to rise above his family's lack of material wealth and bring true contentment and joy into the lives of many.
First published: 1860
Length: πŸ“– 

Skipper Worse, by Alexander L. Kielland

A penetrating portrait of emotions and passions in a small coastal Norwegian town, where love and marriage struggle with pride and ambition. 
First published: 1882
Length: πŸ“– 
All of the titles in this list are available in the public domain, though as I'm sure you'll realise, some are much harder to locate than others, particularly the short stories in translation. If you're able to use a Kindle or e-reader, I strongly recommend visiting Project Gutenberg where you should be able to find all of these titles in a suitable format for free download. The Internet Archive and OpenLibrary are also great sources for classic works of fiction.

This year, I am challenging myself to read from this list in order to broaden my literary habits with works of classic fiction and translations I may otherwise have overlooked. I aim to read at least 50 books a year, including several "classic" novels, though I'm reluctant to dedicate myself solely to the classics so will aim to read the entire list by the end of 2021 (approximately half of this list in 2020, the other half in 2021). If you like, you can follow my progress on Goodreads.

Download printable list of The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction

I hope you will enjoy this list of the Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. Please feel free to let me know which you enjoyed (and which you didn't) by leaving your comments below.

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Amanda has read 49 books toward her goal of 50 books.
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