Classics that should be more famous than they are

Make room on your bookshelf for these classic reads that deserve to be far more celebrated than they are. 

19/04/2022
3 minutes to read
Three Macmillan Collector's Library editions on a yellow pedestal against a yellow background under spotlights.

When it comes to classic literature, there are some books that come to mind straight away. Perhaps you studied them at school or you’ve seen them adapted for the big screen yet again (how many film versions of Pride and Prejudice are there now anyway?) In which case, you might think that you’ve already ticked all the important classics off of your reading bucket list. But in fact, there’s a wealth of first-rate classic literature out there waiting to be rediscovered and brought back into the spotlight. Here we share ten classic novels that you might not be as familiar with, but that you certainly should be. 

Lesser-known books by famous authors: 

Tender is the Night

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Book cover for Tender is the Night

If you’ve read The Great Gatsby over and over again as we have, then why not look to another F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, Tender is the Night, for another dose of troubled high-society glamour. In Scott’s last published novel, the one he considered to be his very best work, witness the rise and fall of the brilliant and charming psychiatrist Dick Diver and his bewitching yet unstable wife Nicole, as they live out an increasingly troubled life of leisure on the French Riviera. 

Agnes Grey

by Anne Brontë

Book cover for Agnes Grey

We’re cheating somewhat here, as this isn’t a lesser-known work by a famous author, but more a lesser-known work by an under-appreciated sibling! You’re probably very familiar with the gothic romances Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, written by Emily and Charlotte Brontë respectively, but their younger sister Anne was also the author of several heart-rending classics, starting with Agnes Grey. In Agnes Grey, we meet our eponymous heroine, an idealistic young woman who must take work as a governess for a series of demanding families, the only bright spot in her life coming from her relationship with the young local curate, Edward Weston.

Down and Out in Paris and London

by George Orwell

Book cover for Down and Out in Paris and London

Best known for his novels Nineteen Eighteen-Four and Animal Farm, George Orwell also wrote several non-fiction books, including his first published work, Down and Out in Paris and London. A glaring exposé of those living in poverty, Orwell writes honestly and humorously about his own experiences and observations. 

Discover even more lesser-known classics from your favourite authors. 


Diverse classics:

The Autobiography of an Ex-colored Man

by James Weldon Johnson

Book cover for The Autobiography of an Ex-colored Man

An unflinching account of black experience in America, James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man is a trail-blazing novel that will stay with you after the last page. The novel's narrator has a life marked with tragedy, from the loss of his mother at a young age to the horrific witnessing of a lynching, out of fear he chooses to 'pass' as white in the hopes of securing safety and a better life. But as a consequence of this choice, he is forced to give up his one passion: the ragtime music he had discovered in the black community.

Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands

by Mary Seacole

Book cover for Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands

This astonishing autobiography should be more famous than it is, not simply because of its gloriously entertaining prose, but because of the remarkable life that it recounts! Mary Seacole left her home in Jamaica and travelled across the world to offer her services to the English troops fighting in the Crimea War, only to be turned away. Undaunted, she went ahead anyway and was an invaluable contributor to the war effort, putting her out of pocket and in dire health. Once you've read this fascinating classic, you'll understand why Mary Seacole is a name that should far be more familiar to each and every one of us.

Explore more diverse voices from classic literature.


The books behind famous classic films: 

The African Queen

by C. S. Forester

Book cover for The African Queen

Perhaps you've seen the 1951 classic film, The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn? The Oscar-winning film was based on the novel of the same name by C. S. Forester. In 1914, Rose Sayer finds herself alone in Central Africa after the death of her brother. Her only option of returning home is aboard the steam-powered ship, The African Queen, captained by the charismatic Cockney mechanic, Charlie Alnutt. The unlikely alliance and romantic connection between these two lies at the very heart of this energetic adventure novel.

A Town Like Alice

by Nevil Shute

Book cover for A Town Like Alice

The 1956 film adaptation of Nevil Shute’s A Town like Alice is an undisputed classic, but did you know that the film cuts short at the end of part two? If you haven't read the book, then you're missing out on the romance novel’s uplifting final act! Invest some time in this classic read and rejoin Jean Paget for the last arc of her story, where she is reunited with her love interest and fellow prisoner of war Joe Harman, and they can finally begin the work of building a prosperous community together in the Australian outback.

The Prisoner of Zenda

by Anthony Hope

Book cover for The Prisoner of Zenda

What's better than a swashbuckling adventure? A swashbuckling adventure that doesn't take itself too seriously! This classic has been adapted into a film not once, but twice. Set in the fictional country of Ruritania, English gentleman Rudolf Rassendyll is tasked with rescuing King Rudolf the Fifth (to whom he bears a striking resemblance) from his villainous half-brother Prince Michael and the dastardly Count Rupert of Hentzau. Packed full of intrigue, backstabbing, bravery and romance, this amusing adventure is perfect for fans of The Princess Bride.


They did it first:

Diary of a Provincial Lady

by E. M. Delafield

Book cover for Diary of a Provincial Lady

Before there was Bridget Jones, there was the Diary of a Provincial Lady. E. M. Delafield's brilliantly comic novel is one of our top picks for classics that should be more famous than they are. Written from the perspective of an upper-middle-class woman living in a Devonshire village, this charming novel is all about the peculiarities of daily life and remains just as witty and charming today as when it was first published in 1930.

The Riddle of the Sands

by Erskine Childers

Book cover for The Riddle of the Sands

Spy fiction, one of the biggest and most popular genres today, owes a great debt to this lesser-known classic. The Riddle of the Sands was one of the first true espionage novels and enjoyed immense popularity in the years before the First World War. The action follows Foreign Office civil servant Carruthers, who having grown tired of the day-to-day tedium of office life, accepts an invitation for a sailing holiday in the Baltic. But the holiday soon turns dramatic as Carruthers and his friend uncover a German plot to invade England. This is the perfect classic for fans of Ian Fleming and John le Carré. 


Discover more books that should be better known than they are, including the classics Malice Aforethought, My Antonia and The Awakening in this episode of BookBreak.

Hidden Gems You Probably Haven't Heard Of