The 5 Books that Made Me Fall in Love with British Literature

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I love classic British literature, and for me, I can trace my interest back to these five titles. These must-read British novels will always have a space on my shelf and in my heart!

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens - white cover with silhouettes of characters from Dickens's classic novel.

Classic British Literature I Love

I think every reader has their favourites when it comes to genres or periods. The older I get the more widely I read, yet there are certain strains of literature I keep coming back to as old friends. For me, British literature is one of my strongest affinities, dating back to childhood and my teenage years. Certain books hooked my interest at just the right time, and still influence my reading picks years later.

I wonder if that’s true for other readers. Do any of your reading preferences today date back to your youth?

Here are five books in particular that swept me off my feet and made me a life-long fan of classic British literature!

The Books That Made Me Fall in Love with British Literature

1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

This special book taught me that England harbors magic. I learned that there are secret doorways there to other worlds that you can find if you’re the right sort of person. And many of those doors masquerade as the covers of books. It used to be my “tradition” to re-read a few books in the Narnia series whenever I fell ill. Sometimes I’d reflect to myself “I haven’t been to Narnia in a while…when am I going to get sick again??”

Open pages of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

2. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

I can trace my love for the adventure genre right back to Treasure Island, dramatically read to me by my dad in various appropriate voices. With its naval presence and imperial aims, Great Britain was the starting point for all sorts of fascinating and far-flung adventures—fictional and real. I know the novels written in the 1800s and early 1900s were “meant” for a male audience, but they ignited my imagination and fed my wanderlust.

3. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Every book nerd has had that sinking feeling before: you have an opportunity to read, but suddenly you realize you’ve left your book at home. That happened to me when I was doing a spend-the-night babysitting gig as a teenager. The children were in bed and I had hot tea ready to go…but I’d forgotten my book! Blessedly, the family was a bookish one, so I got to browsing their shelves. I selected Oliver Twist, knowing it was a classic I should probably read at some point anyway.

I had no idea what was in store for me. The humor, the drama, the poignancy and plot twists spun me along and made me a Dickens fan for life. Years later I stood on Charles Dickens’s grave in Westminster Abbey, in the middle of that famous city he wrote about, and felt as giddy as Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning!

Penguin edition of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte on a fantastical bird and star background

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Imagine being thoroughly versed in Little Women, Elsie Dinsmore, and Anne of Green Gables…and then encountering Jane Eyre! I was no stranger to the female bildungsroman, but Jane Eyre was darker, stranger, and more challenging than anything I’d read in the genre. It gave me shivers wondering what was going on in that attic, and made me long for my own windswept moors to wander. It also had me racing to the dictionary to look up words (Brontë novels still make me do that)!

Paperback copy of The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie on a red blanket with with spots

5. The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie

Does every Christie fan remember their first? For me, The Seven Dials Mystery was a turning point in my reading career. I’d grown up steeped in Nancy Drew and other children’s and young adult mystery stories. But reading Seven Dials at age 13 launched me into the world of “grownup” classic crime–specifically British. My dad had several Agatha Christie paperbacks, and I picked the cover that looked the creepiest.

I was blown away. Reading Christie was a completely different kind of experience than my previous mystery reads. Her books are written with a cleverness and finesse I revered then and ever since. Never before had I read a mystery where the villain was hiding in plain sight, where the clues were all available to me. I wasn’t merely along for the ride—I had the opportunity to solve this thing, if my wits were up for it! I still remember penciling out a list of suspects during Sunday school, eager to skip to afternoon so I could see how the book ended. I didn’t figure any of it out, that first time, but I did become a Christie convert for life.

Open pages of The Magician's Nephew by C. S. Lewis

There are other British novels that inspired and shaped my reading habits in those formative years…The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Sword in the Stone, Persuasion, a little later…but these five were the most pivotal. From those sources I can trace many literary tributaries flowing through my reading log:

—Reading The Chronicles of Narnia as a child immersed me in the rich fantasy tradition of England, connecting me to George MacDonald, Arthurian legend old and new, The Lord of the Rings, as well as many fairy tales.

—Treasure Island set me on course to explore and love adventure novels such as King Solomon’s Mines, The Coral Island, and the works of A. E. W. Mason.

—Reading Oliver Twist flowed naturally to Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, and pretty much any big-name Victorian author you can think of.

—Jane Eyre was the headwaters of my voyage into Gothic literature, priming me to later enjoy The Mysteries of Udolpho, Rebecca, and other classic Gothic favourites like these.

—The Seven Dials Mystery launched me into the Golden Age of Detective Fiction with Dorothy Sayers and G. K. Chesterton.

See what just five books can start?

The 5 Books that Made Me Fall in Love with British Literature
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14 Comments

  1. I enjoyed “Treasure Island” and “Jane Eyre” as a really young person, but found “Oliver Twist” (and most of Dickens) really tedious, although I LOVE “A Tale of Two Cities” and of course, “A Christmas Carol.” “The Lord of the Rings” is my all-time fave series from an English author, and “Harry Potter” from a Scottish one. 🙂

    1. I love Lord of the Rings so much! I’m sorry you don’t care for Dickens!! A Tale of Two Cities is definitely a bit different from his other works, so I can see how you’d like that if not the others.

  2. “The books we enjoy as children stay with us forever.” –Sid Fleischman (Or the books we enjoy as young adults!)
    This post brought back some great memories, and makes me want to re-read all those stories again!

    1. Thank you for introducing me to Jane Eyre! The way you told me about the “mysterious sounds in the attic” intrigued me. I think I started reading it at Me-Ma’s house, and I know I was reading it in Colorado at MTI. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the writing was!

    1. Love that one! My high school English teacher (who also loved it), assigned it for our class and it was so fun to read the unfolding story over the course of the semester.

  3. Elsie, I only just learned about this blog from your reference to it on your other blog. Number four on your list is number one on my list of books that made me love (and continue to love) British literature. I first read Jane Eyre when I was seven. I read it aloud to my mother in the kitchen while she cooked and baked. She had a gigantic unabridged dictionary on the table and made me look up every word I didn’t know. So it probably took all summer to get through it! Influenced by my grandmother’s accent, I read at least parts of it with an English accent.

    1. What a special, indelible memory! I am quite, quite due for another reading of Jane Eyre. I’ve been thinking about the novel a lot lately.

      Welcome to Tea and Ink! Glad you found it!

  4. I love, love, love this list! Thank you for the time you spent creating it. I plan to share a link to it on a blog post on Jan. 8, 2021, along with a link to your reading journal.

  5. An interesting read. There is, however, a major flaw in saying British Literature as there is no such thing! The UK comprises 4 different countries and the literature of these countries is what should be referred to . Eg Scotish Literature, English Literature etc.. For the record, J K Rowling is an English writer who resides in Scotland.

    1. I’ve displayed my ignorance as an American! Can these countries still be called the “British Isles” and thus…British literature is literature from this geographical region? I know each individual country has its separate literary traditions, too!

  6. Great list. So redolent of my own favourites. I went through a huge and greedy Dickens phase in my late teens, early twenties, but oddly, find it difficult to reread as I get older. I agree with you utterly about Christie, and Bill, Bundle and The Seven Dials, is still her best in my opinion.
    Persuasion is my favourite book of all time, closely followed by Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnem. On reflection, all three of these books share a theme in common – that of hope. That everything will be all right in the end, in-spite of, or despite the odds.
    I think saying British literature is fine. Although each separate part of the UK has it’s own literature and literary traditions, unless you’re referring specifically to Northern Ireland, not part of Britain, part of the UK, it’s perfectly appropriate to refer to us as British.

    1. Oh, so glad to find another Seven Dials fan, as that definitely doesn’t get mentioned often! I love I Capture the Castle and The Enchanted April so much, too. They are so fun, and yes, hopeful! They’re definitely Comedies where things get all tangled in the middle and then slide out like silk into pleasant ending. Thanks for the insight on Brit lit terminology! I’m still learning!

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