12 classic European novels to add to your reading list

From Les Miserables to Madame Bovary, here are 12 classic European novels you should add to your reading list.

07/09/2021
2 minutes to read
Liberty Leading the People - painting by Eugene Delacroix

Whether you want to immerse yourself in the adventures of Cervantes’ Don Quixote or peer into the nightmarish dystopia of Franz Kafka's The Trial, we've curated a list of classic European novels you shouldn't miss.

The Three Musketeers

by Alexandre Dumas

Book cover for The Three Musketeers

This tale of three murderous, ultra-masculine, womanising soldiers using their wit and brute strength to defeat the enemy became one of the first truly popular novels in literary history, and was translated from French countless times within its first year of publication. Although The Three Musketeers was written in the 19th century and set in the 17th century, it has all the ingredients of a modern gripping novel.

The Phantom of the Opera

by Gaston Leroux

Book cover for The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera is a masterpiece of Gothic tension and horror that crescendos to the book's haunting finale. A mysterious phantom haunts the Paris Opera House, wreaking havoc both on and offstage. It is only when the beautiful and talented young soloist, Christine, is targeted by the Phantom that his true motivations start to become clear.

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

by Victor Hugo

Book cover for The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Both feared and scorned by society, the deformed bell-ringer Quasimodo is forced to reside in the towers of Notre Dame, his only 'friend' the Archdeacon Claude Frollo. But Quasimodo's life is changed when he saves the beautiful Romani girl Esmerelda and the two form a friendship. As Frollo's jealousy escalates, compassion and cruelty clash with ultimately tragic results.

Anna Karenina

by Leo Tolstoy

Book cover for Anna Karenina

Trapped in a stifling marriage, Anna Karenina is swept off her feet by dashing Count Vronsky. Rejected by society, the two lovers flee to Italy, where Anna finds herself isolated from all except the man she loves, and who loves her. But can they live by love alone? In this novel of astonishing scope and grandeur, Leo Tolstoy, the great master of Russian literature, charts the course of the human heart.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

by Baroness Orczy

Book cover for The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel was the very first hero with a secret identity and his daring antics stand up alongside all of the masked crusaders that we celebrate today. Set in the midst of the French Revolution, with the aristocracy being sent to the guillotine in their hundreds, English dandy Sir Peter Blakeney adopts an alter ego - the Scarlet Pimpernel . Breaking the condemned out of prison, the Scarlet Pimpernel torments the French authorities who are close on his tail.

Dubliners

by James Joyce

Book cover for Dubliners

First published in 1914, Dubliners is a collection of stories that perfectly capture middle-class Catholic life in Dublin at the start of the twentieth century. Dubliners contains moments of joy, fear, grief, love and loss, which combine to form one of the most complete depictions of a city ever written, and the stories remain as refreshingly original and surprising in this century as they did in the last. 

The Count of Monte Cristo

by Alexandre Dumas

Book cover for The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo is the ultimate story of revenge and retribution. Just as his life is set to begin, Edouard Dantes is betrayed by those close to him and wrongfully imprisoned in a terrible island fortress. Years later, he escapes from the hail, acquires a fortune and sets about exacting revenge as the powerful and mysterious Count of Monte Cristo.

Les Misérables

by Victor Hugo

Book cover for Les Misérables

It took seventeen years for Hugo to write this epic novel set in impoverished 19th century Paris. Made up of interrelated stories that follow his characters’ lives, Les Miserables explores how deprivation leads to crime, and ends with the Paris Uprising of 1832. Using big theatrical scenes, extremes of characters, and a fondness for ‘The Fallen Woman’, Hugo’s novel has a fairytale quality which delivers his left-wing message with a punch.

Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert

Book cover for Madame Bovary

Flaubert’s powerful leading lady shook 19th century France by searching for romance outside her unsatisfactory marriage. The portrayal of her erotic behaviour challenged the meek, submissive expectations society had of women and was considered immoral and blasphemous, creating a national scandal which resulted in the book being banned. Although the story line is no longer as shocking to a 21st century audience, the tale of a woman looking for a way out of a loveless marriage is still incredibly relevant.

The Trial

by Franz Kafka

Book cover for The Trial

One of the most famous novels to come out of Austria, The Trial is a story of crime and authority – topics both glaringly relevant almost 100 years on. This profound psychological horror has an experimental style, teetering between reality and fantasy throughout. Kafka’s Czech, Jewish, German-speaking heritage left him alienated in the Austro-Hungarian empire, a feeling he reproduces in the reader through uncertainty, leaving us hungry for answers until the very last page.

Don Quixote

by Miguel de Cervantes

Book cover for Don Quixote

Cervantes’ satirical observation of the human condition is classed as Europe’s first ‘modern’ novel and has sold over 500 million copies since it was first published in the early 17th century. We follow Don Quixote and Sancho Panza – one of the original comedy duos – as they journey through 16th century Spain in search of adventure. Cervantes words were celebrated in 2005 on the 400th anniversary of publication, where the Prime Minister of Spain claimed that the book expresses ‘the basic law of life’.

Heidi

by Johanna Spyri

Book cover for Heidi

Spyri’s best loved children’s novel depicts an idyllic life in the Swiss alps for orphan Heidi and her Grandfather, a previously secluded and embittered man until influenced by his Granddaughter. Spyri’s simple construction of Heidi’s moralistic world is one of the best known works of Swiss literature, and even has a tourist destination named after it. If you’re ever in Eastern Switzerland, be sure to visit Heidiland.