As I was putting together this post, I realized I might not have a good sense of which classics are actually more obscure or not because I’ve heard of a lot of books. There were definitely a few that came up on my list that kind of shocked me. Probably because my view what is well-known or not in the literary world is probably a bit skewed from studying English for so long. If I can tell you the author off the top of my head, it can’t be that obscure, right? Turns out, it can.
So, because my instincts are completely off here, I decided to rely on Goodreads. I’m considering a classic underrated if it has less than 100,000 ratings. I know that seems like a lot, but these books have been out for a very, very long time. For reference, To Kill a Mockingbird has nearly 4 million ratings, and Pride and Prejudice has 2.5 million. Even The Brothers Karamazov has over 200,000.
Since I’ve read some of these, but not nearly enough of them, I divided up my list into two sections: my recommendations, and my TBR.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. I was SHOCKED to find this only has about 15,000 ratings. And also a little upset. The Mother of Feminism deserves more. I’ve read this book so many times I’ve lost count. And I’ve used it multiple times throughout college and grad school to prove whether other classic literature is or is not feminist. Some of my best work. Seriously, everyone should go read this right now. I’m not kidding, stop reading this post and go. (You can even read it for free on Project Gutenberg on your computer/phone.)
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë. I wasn’t exactly surprised that this book is underrated. Poor Anne wrote realistic, feminist novels that just fell under the shadow of her sisters’ highly romantic Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I’ve read quite a few Brontë novels (just missing a few of Charlotte’s) and I can say: this one is my favorite. If you like the other Brontës, go check this one out.
A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. If you’ve heard of this, one idea probably came to mind: eating babies. That’s right, this is a satire in which Swift proposes that in order to curb world hunger, we should just eat the babies. Less mouths to feed, and a new source of food! It’s clever and biting in the best way. Just don’t take it seriously.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This is a really creepy story, but it’s also a great discussion on gender roles and mental health. Which was pretty groundbreaking for the 1890s. I’m really grateful my high school English teacher forced us to read this (along with A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner, which could easily be on this list as well, and thoroughly creeped me out).
Common Sense by Thomas Paine. “I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine, so men say that I’m intense or I’m insane…” Sorry, couldn’t help it. Maybe it’s because I was a history major once upon a time who also minored in American Studies, but I was pretty surprised by how few ratings this one has. Especially because it was literally a bestseller in 1776 (before Goodreads). I’m not saying you have to read it, but it’s an important part of history. (Though, if you’re anything like me, now might not be the best time to read it, because it’ll make you sad about what our history has become.)
The Last Man by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Not to be mistaken for her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley was a pioneer of a very different field: science fiction. I love Frankenstein, and have always wanted to read more of Mary Shelley’s work. It didn’t surprise me at all that this has far less ratings than Frankenstein, but I’m hoping it’s just as good.
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier. Everyone – including me – seems to love Rebecca. I recently reread it, and decided I really need to read more Daphne du Marier. I did buy a few, but the one that intrigues me the most is one I didn’t pick up (they didn’t have it in a matching edition): My Cousin Rachel. I did watch the new adaptation and really enjoyed it, so I think I’m going to like this one.
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. This has been on my bookshelves for years, and I’ve still never read it. I distinctly remember picking up a copy because it was mentioned in Buffy. Which probably not the best reason, but I still want to read it.
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Now, this one did surprise me with how few ratings it has. I don’t know why I had it in my head that this was more popular. But I think it might have something to do with the fact that I took a Russian history class in college and also just really like Russian literature in general. I kind of want to read this even more now.
Utopia by Thomas Moore. Yes, fine, this is on my TBR because of Ever After. But, after studying history and realizing just how much Thomas Moore was involved, I definitely want to read this. I think it’s fairly short, so I should probably try to read it sooner rather than later. But I also don’t think it has great reviews, which is probably why it hasn’t been read that much. Maybe.
I hope you enjoyed this post! It was fun looking at classics that aren’t as popular. Because even though they aren’t as well-known, doesn’t mean they’re not just as worthwhile.
Are there any lesser known classics you’d add to this list?