Guest blog by Professor Tom Gally
If you’ve spent much time reading 19th-century novels, you’ve probably run across characters doing the same thing—that is, reading novels.
In Barchester Towers, Eleanor sits “in the window to get the advantage of the last daylight for her novel.” Anna Karenina waits for her husband “in front of the fireplace with her English novel.” And in Jane Eyre, Georgiana falls “asleep on the sofa over the perusal of a novel.”
What novels were they reading? While Eleanor might have been reading Jane Eyre and Anna might have been perusing Barchester Towers, it’s more likely that they were reading some of the thousands of other novels published in that century. Novels were the binge-watched television, the hit podcasts of the era—immersive, addictive, commercial—and they were produced and consumed in huge numbers.
Some of those novels are, of course, still read today. But for every Pride and Prejudice or A Tale of Two Cities, dozens more have been forgotten. In the 20th century, the novel came to be regarded as serious literature, something to be taught and studied, and attention narrowed to a limited number of authors and works. And as the books themselves aged, their paper turning yellow and brittle, libraries removed them from their shelves. With readers having access only to the reprinted “classics” that still made money for publishers, the vast majority of 19th-century novels were forgotten and unread.
Now, however, thanks to preservation and scanning by libraries at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and elsewhere, thousands of those forgotten novels are available at the Internet Archive. The list below has links to fifty of them—mostly British novels published between 1800 and 1899—as well as to Wikipedia articles for many of the authors.
I compiled this list after reading a fascinating recent study by Melanie Walsh and Maria Antoniak about books regarded as classics by users of the book-rating site Goodreads. They found that readers today seem to read mainly the well-known canonical works. Jane Eyre, for example, has more than 1,700,000 ratings at Goodreads and over 45,000 reviews.
For the following list, I chose only 19th-century novels that, as of May 2021, have not been reviewed or rated by anyone at Goodreads. There are many such forgotten novels in the Internet Archive’s collections, and it’s likely that some of them have not been read by anyone for over a century.
Would you like to be the first?
Tom Gally lives in Yokohama, Japan, and teaches at the University of Tokyo. In 2019, he wrote about travel books found at the Internet Archive.
- Francis Adams, John Webb’s End: Australian Bush Life [link] (1891)
- Fanny Aikin-Kortright, Anne Sherwood: Or, The Social Institutions of England [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1857)
- John Ainslie (ed.), Antipathy: Or, The Confessions of a Cat-hater [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1836)
- W.W. Aldred, A Lost Cause: A Story of the Last Rebellion in Poland [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1881)
- Elizabeth M. Alford, Netherton-on-Sea [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1869)
- Charlotte Anley, Earlswood: A Tale for the Times, and All Time [link] (1853)
- Anonymous, Uncle Tweazy and His Quizzical Neighbours: A Comi-satiric Novel [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1816)
- William Delafield Arnold, Oakfield: Or, Fellowship in the East [vol 1, vol 2] (1854)
- Blanche Atkinson, A Commonplace Girl [link] (1895)
- Isabella Banks, Glory: A Wiltshire Story [link] (1881)
- Eaton Stannard Barrett, The Metropolis [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1819)
- Walter Besant, All in a Garden Fair: The Simple Story of Three Boys and a Girl [link] (1892)
- Matilda Betham-Edwards, John and I [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1862)
- Clementina Black, The Pursuit of Camilla [link] (1899)
- Robert Black, Love or Lucre [link] (1879)
- Shirley Brooks, The Silver Cord [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1861)
- Rosa Nouchette Carey, The Mistress of Brae Farm [link] (1899)
- Henry Cockton, Stanley Thorn [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1841)
- Christabel Rose Coleridge, Kingsworth: Or, The Aim of a Life [link] (1882)
- Mortimer Collins, Marquis and Merchant [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1868)
- Christiana Jane Davies, The Browns and the Smiths [vol 1, vol 2] (1863)
- Pierce Egan, The Pilgrims of the Thames, in Search of the National! [link] (1838)
- Henry Erroll, The Academician [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1888)
- Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald, The Middle-Aged Lover [vol 1, vol 2] (1873)
- Maria M. Grant, Lescar, the Universalist [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1874)
- Barbara Hofland, Says She to Her Neighbour, What? [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3, vol 4] (1812)
- John Isabell, By the Cornish Sea [vol 1, vol 2] (1885)
- Kitty Lee [Katharine] Jenner, In London Town [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1884)
- Theo Kennedy, Farnorth [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1866)
- William Henry Giles Kingston, The Circassian Chief: A Romance of Russia [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1843)
- Susan Rowley Richmond Lee (pseudonym: Curtis Yorke), A Romance of Modern London [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1892)
- Alethea Lewis (pseudonym: Eugenia de Acton), The Microcosm [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3, vol 4, vol 5] (1801)
- Charlotte Trimmer Moore, Country Houses [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1832)
- Samuel Phillips, Caleb Stukely [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1844)
- Sophia Reeve, The Mysterious Wanderer [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1807)
- Rita, “Corinna”: A Study [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1800)
- Joseph Moyle Sherer, The Story of a Life [vol 1, vol 2] (1825)
- Catherine Sinclair, Modern Flirtations: Or, A Month at Harrowgate [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1841)
- Eliza Tabor, Dimplethorpe [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1880)
- Floyd Tayleure, Professions [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1852)
- Katherine Thomson, Constance [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1833)
- Ursula, Mrs. Greville: The Story of a Woman’s Life [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1874)
- Harold Vallings, The Transgression of Terence Clancy [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1893)
- Susannah C. Venn, The Dailys of Sodden Fen [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1884)
- Lucy Bethia Walford, A Stiff-Necked Generation [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1889)
- Eliot Warburton, Reginald Hastings: Or, A Tale of the Troubles in 164– [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1850)
- Robert Plumer Ward, Tremaine: Or, The Man of Refinement [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1825)
- Joseph Blanco White, Vargas: A Tale of Spain [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1822)
- Edmund Yates, Castaway [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1872)
- Mary Julia Young, A Summer at Brighton: A Modern Novel [vol 1, vol 2, vol 3] (1807)