Both my dad (in his 60s) and my nana (in her 80s) are devoting themselves to reading and rereading the classics this year. My dad is tackling them one by one on his iPad and Nana is taking the more traditional approach by checking them out from the library.
I’ve been in a book group since 2007 here at the library that reads mainly classics. Many of the titles we have read are available freely as ebooks. I compiled a list of some of our past favorites to share. I hope it is useful both for those who are looking to read more classic literature and also to those who are trying out their new ereaders and looking for some great free reading!
Free and Classic ebooks Download and print this two page PDF, or pick up a printed copy at the library’s ebook Download Station near the Reference Desk.
Do you have a favorite classic novel to recommend that is freely available as an ebook? Share your ideas in the comments below!
Read the recommendations from the list
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
First published in 1884, Huck Finn was one of the first major American novels ever written using the vernacular, or common speech. The story features a teenaged misfit who finds himself floating on a raft down the Mississippi River with an escaping slave, Jim.
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
This 1902 story within a story follows Marlow as he recounts his adventure into the Congo. While he transports ivory as a ferry boat captain, he must also find and return a mysterious agent named Kurtz to civilization.
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Dr. Manette, his daughter Lucie, and Charles Darney each escape to London seeking safety in exile, while in Paris the fires of the French Revolution exploded in uncontrollable fury. When they return to France on an errand of mercy, only love and sacrifice can save them.
- Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
One of the best-known stories in American popular culture, this children’s novel chronicles the adventures of a girl named Dorothy in the Land of Oz.
- Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
First published 150 years ago, this familiar story of redemption is one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century as it follows several French characters over a seventeen year period from 1815 through 1832’s June Rebellion.
- Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Gaskell produced a gently comic picture of life and manners in an English country village during the 1830s in this series of episodes in the lives of Mary Smith and her two spinster sister friends in the English town of Cranford.
- The Hound of the Baskervilles By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes searches the English moors for evidence surrounding a family’s ancient curse. The detective is contemptuous of supernatural manifestations, but the reader will remain perpetually haunted by the hound from the moor.
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Accounts of Transcendentalist Thoreau’s daily life on the shores of Walden pond outside Concord, Massachusetts are interwoven with musings on the virtues of self-reliance and individual freedom, on society, government and other topics.
- Short Stories by Edgar Allen Poe
Classic tales of psychological horror include “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell Tale Heart,” “Murders of the Rue Morgue,” and “The Masque of the Red Death.”
- The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
Written in 1826, this is the most famous novel by one of the first popular American novelists. The story follows the kidnapping of two daughters of the British commander and their rescue by the last two Mohicans while France and England battled for control of the colonies in 1757.
- Short Stories by O. Henry
Enjoy tiny masterpieces of irony and humor that illustrate human nature at its best and worst, including “The Gift of the Magi,” “The Last Leaf,” “A Retrieved Reformation” and others.
- 1984 by George Orwell
Read about the original Big Brother, the power of words, and the dangers of revisionist history in Orwell’s harrowing, cautionary tale of a man trapped in a political nightmare. The relevance of 1984 and its power to disturb our complacency seem to grow decade by decade.
- The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence
The 1915 novel follows three generations of the Brangwen family and is notable for frank treatment of sexual desire and portraying the power it plays within relationships. The 1920 sequel is Women in Love.
- My Antonia by Willa Cather
Cather’s portrait of a remembered American girlhood on the Nebraskan prairie at the end of the nineteenth century alternates between insightful lyricism and naturalistic description, as she explores the rich relationship of Antonia and the narrator, Jim Burden.
- Silas Marner by George Eliot
A reclusive miser is redeemed by the orphan girl he raises in this tale of love, betrayal and gold.
- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
A French provincial doctor’s wife has an adulterous affair and lives beyond her means in this classic work of Realism first published in 1857.
- The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
A man’s love story set in the 1870’s among New York City’s upper class; this novel won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for descriptions of the Golden Age when reputation and appearances dictated behavior in aristocratic life.
- Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Victimized by lust, poverty and hypocrisy, Tess is no standard Victorian heroine. Her story blends harsh realism and poignant beauty in a novel which shocked its 1891 readers with its honesty.
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The bestselling novel of the 19th century intensified the conflict leading to the American Civil War. The stories of fellow slaves and slave owners revolve around the character of Uncle Tom, a long-suffering Black slave.
- The Innocents Abroad, or the New Pilgrims’ Progress by Mark Twain
In this bestselling 1869 travel narrative, the American humorist chronicles his pleasure excursion through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of Americans on a chartered vessel.
- A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
A young woman in the repressed culture of Edwardian England visits Italy under the charge of her older cousin. The story is both a romance and a critique of English society at the beginning of the 20th century.
- Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
The most socially realistic of her novels, Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814) features a young girl from a poor family, raised by her rich uncle and aunt. Fanny Price is treated as inferior; she is shy, timid and unlike most heroines in literature.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Class barriers are challenged, the role of women redefined, and the bonds of love tested in this powerful domestic romance tracing orphan Jane Eyre from the Lowood boarding school to governess in Edward Rochester’s Thornfield Hall.
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
When Hester Prynne bears an illegitimate child in a Colonial American Puritan community, she faces the ugliness, complexity and strength of the human spirit in this timeless examination of the roles of women, religion and sex.
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The heartwarming story of the March family’s four sisters–Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth– and their courage, humor and ingenuity as they survive poverty and the absence of their father during the Civil War.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
First published in 1847, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is a brooding tale of passion and revenge set in the Yorkshire moors.. In the novel a pair of narrators relate the story of the foundling Heathcliff, a charismatic gypsy and his benefactor’s daughter, Catherine Earnshaw.
- The Awakening by Kate Chopin
This 1899 novel was condemned at publication for proto-feminist themes; it shows the struggle for self-identity of a twenty-eight year old wife of a New Orleans businessman and mother of two children.