If you had to pick a decade that had the best novels written in it

What would you pick?






Any decade is fair game! You can guesstimate if you want to also. If you want to say, “I like those detective novels from the 40s,” you won’t be scrutinized to identify a canon of books. :o

I’m just posting so I can follow the thread.

I have no preference myself.

I do prefer 20th century writing though to the older stuff.

Hi Marco Polo:

I thought this to be a fascinating question, so I decided to have a look at what various scholars thought the best books/novels of all time were. The Norwegian Book Club polled 100 authors from two dozen countries to make this list:


Now if you go to that list and sort it by date, some interesting things happen. Two decades stand out as having produced the most “notable” books/novels, the 1920s (12 entries) and the 1950s (12 entries). What is interesting (to me) is that both decades were periods of great “expansionism” in human art/culture. The Roaring 20s were incredibly fertile in music and art (the came between the Great War and the Great Depression, where as you can see there are few entries: people were busy just trying to feed themselves). The 1950s were a period of enormous economic/material expansion, particularly in the formerly war ravaged Europe, and the peaceable/comfortable United States. So I’m thinking great human creativity in the arts corresponds to periods of peace and economic growth.

Out of the two decades, I’d go with the 1920s…really, Thomas Mann, James Joyce and Franz Kafka…Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. Wow. You simply can’t do better than that.

There are strong contenders in the 1950s too, I love Ernest Hemingway. I’ve seen Vladimir Nabokov’s *Lolita *and realize that it is a groundbreaking work, but I despise the subject matter (doesn’t everyone?); and Gunter Grass’ *Tin Drum *was considered both pornographic and blasphemous (the film version was actually banned here in Ontario).

So I’d go with the 1920s, looking over the list. There’s a lot of others who I think should be on the list but aren’t (like Herman Hesse, whose *Glass Bead Game/Magister Ludi *led to a well-deserved Nobel Prize in literature; Hesse’s own Narcissus and Goldmund I think is a sublime work, and I read it over and over again. It came out just too late to make the 1920s; published in 1930, it wasn’t translated until 1932. It’s all about two close friends in a Medieval monastery; the intellectual, ascetic Narcissus, and the playful emotional Goldmund. Both try to follow different paths, Apollonian and Dionysian, to find meaning and purpose, truth and beauty in their lives. How can you balance yourself between living for others and fulfilling your own destiny? I cannot recommend it highly enough).


Among the ancient writers, how could they have left out Aristophanes? And what about Sappho? I realize almost all of her work has been lost, but even the small fragments that do survive show her to be almost the equal of Homer; Plato called her the “Tenth Muse”. Here’s an incredibly beautiful fragment:

“Like the very gods in my sight is he who sits where he can look in your eyes, who listens close to you, to hear the soft voice, its sweetness murmur in love and laughter, all for him.
But it breaks my spirit; underneath my breast all the heart is shaken. Let me only glance where you are, the voice dies, I can say nothing,
But my lips are stricken to silence, underneath my skin the tenuous flame suffuses; nothing shows in front of my eyes, my ears are muted in thunder.
And the sweat breaks running upon me, fever shakes my body, paler I turn than grass is; I can feel that I have been changed, I feel that death has come near me.”


If that’s a fragment, we can only wonder what the whole book must have been like. I suppose this is all subjective, but that’s my thinking.


1840s when some of the best Victorian works of literature were being written or published.

Hi Roveau:

Definitely. This was the age of Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, the Bronte sisters…Trollope and Meredith, and all the poetry. A wonderful time to be alive.


Way to many choices…I’m having a tough time even narrowing it down to a country in a particular time period. I do agree that the 20s were an interesting time in the states. but I’m more inclined towards the Victorians or Romantics in England and can’t make up my mind about France. Then there’s Latin America…20th century lit is more widely known than earlier writings …ditto for Africa. Are we focusing on classic lit here?
I guess I’ll just have to sit back and look for some good recommendations from others.:slight_smile:

Hi jeannetherese:

I’m not sure. the OP asked about the decade of the greatest “novels”, so I’m thinking fictional literature. On the other hand, the lists of greatest books include poetry along with fiction…what do you think? Latin America is interesting; I spent several years working in the third world and spent some time there, where I found Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges (both wonderful authors). I hope everyone gets to read 100 Years of Solitude and *Love in the Time of Cholera *at some point in their lives.
I was fortunate enough to sail up and down the Magdalena River in Colombia many years ago. And I stood on the deck as the sun was setting, and said “And how long do you think we can keep up this coming and going?” Forever, she said…


Thank you! A good and thought-provoking post for sure! :o

I might take a liking to the 1890s where there are such works as Dracula, H.G. Wells works, and Sherlock Holmes, and others, though I’ve not read many of the others…

THis question is too difficult for me to answer.

I agree with you about 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. However, That was one looooong sentence in No One Writes to the Colonel, so I would endorse Garcia Marquez with a few extra cautionary comments.
And then there is the novelistic approach to history by Eduardo Galleano- absolutely beautiful, but not quite a novel… And a friend of mine would insist that Clarice Lispector belongs on any list of first quality authors-certainly a giant in Brazil.
With the printing press coming out of Europe, there are going to be many more decades to choose between in some areas than in others.:slight_smile:
I’ll be using this thread to add to my reading list.:thumbsup:
Colombian Spanish is beautiful-I envy you your voyage.

Early 1800s…Jane Austen

Hi Jeannetherese:

Thanks so much for your candidates…I’m always looking for new things to read; I learned some Spanish (and some Portugese while I was travelling in Brazil) and I agree that it is a beautiful language. I recall reading many years ago that some linguistic groups in Colombia have been isolated from other, outside influences for long periods of time, so the language effectively became isolated. The end result is that you get a dialect of Spanish that sounds like it came from the Renaissance. I don’t know enough about liguistics/etymology to know if this idea is true, but it seems possible.


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