Favorite Titles from the 1897 ICPL Collection

by Heidi L

The Iowa City Public Library still circulates more than 100 titles that were present in our opening-day collection on January 21, 1897.  I like thinking about how my 21st century self would have been a very happy reader in the 19th century. 

Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë

FICTION Bronte, Charlotte
Fiction, Classics

Heidi L's picture

I read "Jane Eyre" when I was a teenager, and have reread it a few times since. I admire the title character's intelligence, drive, and integrity, and it certainly helps that there is a happy, romantic ending. As with several other titles on this list, love of the novel led me to reading about its author, and Charlotte Bronte was a complex woman, progressive in her thinking. The character of Bertha in "Jane Eyre" and her part of the story is troubling in my 21st century reading (for another perspective of Bertha, read "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys). Nevertheless--Reader, I named my cat Charlotte. -Heidi L

Cranford

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

FICTION Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn
Fiction, Classics

Heidi L's picture

"Cranford" is a look at a small village and the women in it. Class differences are shown, friendships endure anyway, and the sheltered village reacts to changes in society. Author Elizabeth Gaskell wrote another favorite novel of mine, "North and South". She was a friend of Charlotte Bronte, and at Charlotte's father's request, wrote the first biography of Charlotte after she died. -Heidi L

Pride and prejudice

Jane Austen

FICTION Austen, Jane
Fiction, Classics

Heidi L's picture

What can I say about "Pride and Prejudice" that hasn't already been said? Jane Austen is funny, and can be a bit snarky, and she excels at describing the relationships that define our everyday life. It's a great story, and if you have seen one of the many movie adaptations, or read the knockoffs or continuations, may I suggest returning to the original? -Heidi L

Sense and sensibility

Jane Austen

FICTION Austen, Jane
Fiction, Classics

Heidi L's picture

Another Jane Austen favorite, a book about sisters and how different they can be, a lesson about the dangers of excess and the benefits of moderation. And hidden beneath the surface is the message about women and money in the eighteenth century: women don't have it and their well-being is dependent upon how generous the men in their lives will be. -Heidi L

Wuthering Heights

Emily Brontë

FICTION Bronte, Emily
Fiction, Classics

Heidi L's picture

Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" is one of the harder reads on this list, but I respect it for its moody atmosphere, the depiction of the wild Yorkshire moors, and the passionate characters the author created. A favorite memory is visiting the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, walking into the fields behind the house, all the while wanting to shout into the wind: "I *am* Heathcliff!". But I didn't. -Heidi L

The moonstone

Wilkie Collins

FICTION Collins, Wilkie
Mystery, Classics

Heidi L's picture

"Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins (friend of Charles Dickens) is often named as the first detective novel. It's a good mystery, with international intrigue and some romance too. Another title by Collins, "Woman in White," is also on the 1897 list and in our current collection, and is another favorite of mine. -Heidi L

A tale of two cities

Charles Dickens

FICTION Dickens, Charles
Historical Fiction, Classics

Heidi L's picture

One of Dickens's shorter novels, but perhaps the most quoted: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...." The French Revolution comes to grim life in these pages, and unfortunately, at times it doesn't seem very different than the societal battles we still fight. I love Charles Dickens's long sentences and humorous use of words and names. This one made me cry too. -Heidi L

Middlemarch

George Eliot

FICTION Eliot, George
Fiction, Classics

Heidi L's picture

There are many layers to this novel--love and marriage and mistakes, politics, class issues, how shallow some people can be. The heroine, if that is not too strong a word for her, is Dorothea, whose idealism and earnest quest for meaning in life often result in heartache and disappointment. But not always. -Heidi L

Far from the madding crowd.

Thomas Hardy

FICTION Hardy, Thomas
Fiction, Classics

Heidi L's picture

Here's a 19th century novel where the woman seemingly has a little more control over her life--though it is shaped by not one, not two, but three men who want to marry her. One of several of Hardy's novels set in the fictional southern English county of Wessex, it conveys much about the farming life and business of the era, as well as the hazards of a woman who tries to live independently. -Heidi L

Anna Karenina : a novel in eight parts

Leo Tolstoy

FICTION Tolstoy, Leo
Fiction, Classics

Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel's seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness. While previous versions have softened the robust, and sometimes shocking, quality of Tolstoy's writing, Pevear and Volokhonsky have produced a translation true to his powerful voice. This award-winning team's authoritative edition also includes an illuminating introduction and explanatory notes. Beautiful, vigorous, and eminently readable, this Anna Karenina will be the definitive text for generations to come.

Heidi L's picture

A long, long novel that you can get lost in. Depressing, bleak, but so rich in description and story. I wish I had read this for a class, as I am sure I missed some vital lessons that the book contains. -Heidi L