Long classics don’t have to be overwhelming or dull. Find out which long classics are worth your time and which to avoid!
My initiation into long classics began sometime in junior high. Determined to set myself apart – I decided to read the longest books I could.
In the pre-Harry Potter days, this usually meant reading The Wheel of Time series. Instead, I settled on the small bookshelf of classic literature at my local public library in my very small hometown.
Searching the shelves, my eyes alighted on a volume of War and Peace so thick I knew I had to read it. All 1,468 pages.
When I eventually finished my first long classic novel, I had such a sense of accomplishment. I eventually went on to read dozens more long classics, including a reread of War and Peace.
Today, I will be featuring the long classics that are completely worth the time it takes to read them. Additionally, I’ve given my thoughts on a few more long classic books I’ve read, and one I haven’t read yet.
If you’re ready for a bit of a reading challenge, try out these long classic novels all of which have more than 500 pages.
*Note: Obviously page count varies by volume and edition. Also, I’ve decided not to include anthologies like The Complete Sherlock Holmes, which was the next large tome I conquered after War & Peace.
5 Great Books Over 1,000 Pages
War and Peace is the quintessential long classic book, and rightfully so. This sweeping tale of the Napoleonic War has an astounding cast of characters. The main three protagonists are Pierre Bezukhov, an illegitimate son fighting for legitimacy and his place in the world; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, the soldier; and Natasha Rostov, the fair maiden who attracts them both. Be warned, if you read it just to say you’ve read it, you probably won’t enjoy it. You have to read it for the work itself.
The thickest of all the long classics on our list, Les Misérables is one of the most famous stories ever told. Victor Hugo’s tale of Jean Valjean – the peasant convicted for stealing a loaf of bread – will leave you breathless. From the example of forgiveness of the priest to the unrelenting determination of Inspector Javert, the story has so many outstanding themes to learn from. Yes, the musical is fantastic, but if you have a chance, be sure to pick up the original book. While it might drag in some spots, overall, the story is simply unforgettable.
If you haven’t read this amazing classic novel yet, you are truly missing out. Dumas’ epic tale of revenge will keep you entertained through all of its 1,000+ pages. Wrongfully imprisoned for years, Edmond Dantes successfully escapes a brutal French prison and sets out to get the ultimate revenge on all those who have wronged him. The Count of Monte Cristo is not just one of the best long classics but one of the top classics to read in your lifetime.
Charles Dickens is one of the best classical writers, and I have to say that Bleak House is my favorite of his classic novels. At the center of the story is a long-running legal case, Jarndyce v Jarndyce, about a disputed inheritance, in which all the main characters are entangled. Our lovely heroine Esther Summerson becomes the ward of John Jarndyce along with two other distant cousins, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare. With a large cast of characters, all of which will intertwine in the typical Dickensian fashion, Bleak House is a must-read if you don’t mind reading very long classics.
Possibly one of the most controversial picks on my list of long classics, Gone with the Wind is Margaret Mitchell’s idealized look at the South at the time of the civil war provides you food for thought about how we portray our bias into historical events. Her extremely flawed heroine Scarlett O’Hara gives you much to contemplate about love and selfishness. While I adore watching the movie, I love being able to see into Scarlett’s thought process in the book.
5 More Famous Long Books
“All for one, one for all!” cried the Three Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. Interesting enough, those are not the main characters of Dumas’ epic classic book. The young protagonist, Comte d’Artagnan, is determined to find glory for himself and win the hand of his lady love. As he joins the musketeers and befriends the famous three, adventure, intrigue and a whole lot of swashbuckling swordplay await in this fun long classic.
If you’ve never read Russian novels, let me first warn you about the names. Every Russian character has about 4 different names – various nicknames relating to their heritage. Once you get a handle on this, the novels are much easier to read. I recommended this classic Russian tale to Jaclyn, and she was surprised how accessible the story was, and how interesting was the commentary on Russian society. The protagonist, Anna, a woman of note in society, decided to cast off her role as wife and dives into a shocking affair with Count Vronsky. But really, you read Anna Karenina for that ending.
If you enjoy psychology at all, Crime and Punishment is the one book of all these long classics you absolutely must read. You might notice, I have a thing for Russian classic books, and Dostoevsky is probably my favorite. Take a step into the troubled mind of Raskolnikov, a poor student who decides to murder an old woman. The psychological probing of Raskolnikov’s mind is fascinating as he deals with the decision to kill, the guilt of the crime, and the fear of being caught.
I know that these are two separate books with two completely different stories, but Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are so intertwined in my mind that I couldn’t separate them, even here. If you want to know what long classics have stood the test of time, these two works are the pinnacle of success. The stories of the Trojan War and Odysseus’s epic journey have been copied and alluded to time and time again throughout the years – though nothing can truly touch the original source.
Long Classics You Might Not Know
If you loved the BBC miniseries for North and South, you should also pick up a copy of the novel. One of my favorite romances, North and South revolves around Margaret Hale, the preacher’s daughter uprooted from her country home to live in the smog of industrializing London. There she meets John Thornton, the harsh owner of a textile mill. Throw in labor riots, social justice concerns and a dash of Victorian romance and you have a perfect long classic book to read.
I was a bit caught off guard when I first read Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. I didn’t realize long classics could be so funny. The story of Tom Jones, a foundling of unknown parentage, is quite comical. Though in love with the unattainable Sophia Westen, Tom still finds time to have fun with the local girls. When Tom is banished to London to make his way in the world, Sophia follows, and the adventures and misadventures of our kindhearted hero begin. Published in 1749, Tom Jones gives an interesting glimpse into life in the 18th century.
You’ve heard plenty of stories of a boy and his dog, but this children’s classic follows the eternal love of a boy and his pet fawn, a yearling deer named Flag. Through thick and thin, Jody and Flag are inseparable, and their adventures are heartwarming. But as they both grow up, can their friendship survive the harsh realities of the Florida Backwoods?
I tried not to repeat authors on the featured section of my list of long classics, and I miserably failed when it came to the Russian authors. Yet, any list of long classic books would not be complete without The Brothers Karamazov, one of my favorite books. The narrative tells of 4 brothers – the brilliant Ivan, the honest Alyosha, the hedonic Dimitri, and the illegitimate Smerdyakov. You’ll spend the whole novel trying to figure out which one killed their father. Not a light read, but oh so worth the effort.
Thomas Hardy is a superb writer, and I was excited he had at least one book over 500 pages so I could feature him on my list of long classics. He’s probably best known for Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The story is about a young woman from a poor family driven to claim (probably false) kinship as a distant relative of the wealthy D’Urbervilles. After her “cousin” Alec D’Urberville ruins her reputation, she tries to live an ordinary life, but her past continues to haunt her.
Long Classic Books: Honorable Mention
These 8 long classics probably should have made my featured list, but, alas, they did not. Either because I wasn’t sure you’d like them, I didn’t want too many by the same author, or I just missed it the first time, here are a few long classic books that deserve an honorable mention
The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy – I love books about family dynasties, and The Forsyte Saga delivers all the perfect drama.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – I didn’t want to overload with Dickens, but this probably should have been on my featured list.
Ulysses by James Joyce – Usually listed as one of the best books ever, I haven’t read this one yet, so I can make no informed opinion.
The Histories by Herodotus – I loved it. It’s the first history book ever written. But it’s not for everyone.
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain – The first 200 pages were some of the most memorable I have ever written. The other 400, not so much.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – This haunting tale of governess Jane Eyre is a beautifully written story.
Metamorphoses by Ovid – More ancient Roman poetry – my favorite!
Middlemarch by George Eliot – I was going to feature this book, but I honestly can’t remember much about it except I rather enjoyed it. I guess it’s time for a reread.
More Long Classics You Might Enjoy
I didn’t love them, I didn’t hate them … or I didn’t remember them.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Adam Bede by George Eliot
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Long Classic Novels To Avoid
Whenever asked about long classics, I always suggest avoiding these books. In my opinion, they aren’t worth your time.
Roughing It by Mark Twain – Mark Twain’s memoir drags on and on and on.
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin – Unless you love science, no need to read the details to get the picture.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville – A super exciting story surrounded by hundreds of pages of mind-numbing boredom. If you can, pick up an abridged copy.
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell – An amazing book without an ending. Gaskell died before she finished writing it, so the story just stops.
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott – Very familiar tales told in a long and dull format.
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol – An uncompleted manuscript with gigantic gaps makes this one to avoid.
Which long classics have you read and enjoyed?