Monday, May 1, 2017


100-91    90-81    80-71    70-61    60-51

50-41    40-31    30-21    20-11    10-1
Ah, the top 20 at last! As I've mentioned already, I tried to make sure the last 20 titles were all heavy hitters. If you've been thinking that there are still some major writers I haven't mentioned yet, you may find some of the missing here, and even more of the big names in the final section of the list.

#20 and #19 both have wonderful film versions, and #18 was adapted for television in the early 2000s. The top two mysteries on the list are also here—#16 isn't the most famous of the author's mysteries, but it's a delight and fits the themes of the middlebrow better than her most famous book. #14 is only a recent discovery for me, and #13 is one my all-time favorites and still far too underrated.

Who among your favorite authors are still missing? Will they turn up in the top 10? Tune in next time to find out!

20) WINIFRED WATSON, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (1938)

For pure, delightful, light reading, not many books on this list can compare with Watson's tale of a frumpy governess accidentally sent by her employment agency to be an assistant to a glamorous nightclub singer, with hilarious and charming results all round. As good as the 2008 film with Frances McDormand is, I'm always a little in mourning when I recall the planned 1940-era film version—starring Billie Burke no less—which was scrapped when WWII began. In print from Persephone.

19) ELIZABETH VON ARNIM, The Enchanted April (1922)

What could be mere romance or TV movie comedy becomes a rich and uplifting tale of women expanding and blossoming in each other's company. Four variously frustrated or unhappy women take a villa in San Salvatore in Italy, three of them escaping their husbands, one her loneliness as a widow. A simple concept, gorgeously executed. Author Madeline Miller wrote about it at NPR here. Public domain, so editions of uncertain quality abound, but it's available from both Penguin Classics and New York Review Books Classics in the U.S. and both Penguin Classics and Vintage Classics in the U.K. Free e-book version at Gutenberg here.

18) NANCY MITFORD, The Pursuit of Love (1945)

The amorous antics of an eccentric upper-crust family. Like all great novels, the cheerful, funny surface tale has darker themes in its depths. Zoë Heller discussed the book in The Telegraph here. In print from Vintage in the U.S. and Penguin in the U.K.

Lettice Cooper

17) LETTICE COOPER, The New House (1936)

Taking place during a single day of moving house for Rhoda, a thirty-something unmarried woman, and her difficult mother, the concept here couldn't be simpler. But in the course of the day, we get poignant insights into Rhoda's inner life and the relations between the characters, as well as striking perspectives on the British culture of the day. In her intro, Jilly Cooper compares it to Chekhov, and it's no exaggeration. Heavenali reviewed it here. In print from Persephone. Second hand copies of the 1980s Virago edition also surface now and then.

16) JOSEPHINE TEY, Miss Pym Disposes (1946)

A former teacher who has written a bestselling book about psychology tracks a murderer at a girls' "college of physical culture." As a mystery, it moves a bit slowly, but as a middlebrow novel offering a vivid sense of the girls and women of the school, it's irresistible. Harriet Devine reviewed it here. In print, paperback and e-book.

15) MOLLIE PANTER-DOWNES, One Fine Day (1947)

An homage to Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, similarly impressionistic and similarly unfolding in the course of a single day—in this case, a day in the life of a woman living in the countryside in the days immediately after World War II. Simon at Stuck in a Book wrote about it here. In print from Virago.

14) RUMER GODDEN, China Court (1960)

Until just recently, I had The Greengage Summer here as my Godden selection, but my reading of this novel made it an essential choice. Centered around a house and telling of several generations of its residents, all in the present tense and all woven gorgeously together, it's an undersung beauty. In print from Open Road in the U.S. (e-book only) and from Virago in the U.K.

13) PAMELA FRANKAU, A Wreath for the Enemy (1954)

I can't say it better than I did when I included this book in my "possibly Persephone" post: "It's a gorgeous novel about a young girl’s life-altering experiences one summer in the bohemian Riviera hotel owned by her parents.  If anything, it's probably better than Salinger, and at the least would form a powerful antidote to Salinger's male angst." Out of print (why? WHY?!) in the U.S., in print from Virago in the U.K.

12) MARGARET KENNEDY, The Feast (1950)

Set in 1947 (and one of my favorite novels of the immediate postwar), there's apparently an allegory involving the Seven Deadly Sins here, but you need not be a fan of allegories to enjoy this tale of a group of characters—some of them, we know from the start, ill-fated—at a seaside hotel. It's rife with observations about class and hypocrisy, not to mention being simply very funny and very entertaining. I wrote about it here, and Fleur in Her World (now Beyond Eden Rock) wrote about it here. Out of print in the U.S. (though hardcover copies abound—it was a book club selection), in print (if typically overpriced) from Faber Finds in the U.K.

11) DOROTHY L. SAYERS, Gaudy Night (1935)

The highest-ranking mystery on this list, and considered a classic of that genre, it would deserve to be a classic even with no murders at all. A marvelous and very serious look at scholarly women and their relationships with one another, but no less entertaining for its serious undercurrents. The Guardian wrote about it in 2016, here. In print from Hodder in the U.K. and Open Road and Harper in the U.S., paperback and e-book.


  1. This is getting quite exciting!
    I'm going to wait until you finish and print off the whole lot so I can peruse at leisure and see which I want to read.
    Out of each previous 10 I've usually read one or two but have read 4 out of todays list - pleased with that.

  2. I've read about half of these and would order the other half -- except I can't remember which I've already ordered! And I can't wait for the final installment.

  3. I've read six of these books and eight of the authors, and the rest are on my 'to buy one day when I've cleared my huge backlog' list, so we are obviously on the same wavelength, and I look forward to the top ten!

  4. Help, I must be quick to order the three novels here I haven't read, before they all disappear... I know I can completely trust your your recommendations! I am especially intrigued by The Feast by Margaret Kennedy as her The Constant Nymph was one of those novels I read as a teenager and has stayed with me ever since ...

  5. I've read 7 & want to read the other 3. Can't wait to see the top 10!

  6. I have read a few of these and am very interested some of the others. Thanks so much! By the way, are you aware of and/or attending the Elizabeth von Arnim/Ketherine Mansfield conference at the Huntington Library and Gardens in July?

  7. First glance of the Miss Pym Disposes cover, i saw a Dalek (from Dr. Who) inside the room. Then I thougth it was a coffin on a catafalque. Now I see that it is probably an old timey gymnastics vaulting horse. Alas. Have read other Tey but now must have this one just to see what its all about. Thanks for getting my heart started this morning! Daleks out of place make me giddy!

  8. Just one more post till we have all of your 100. Are you planning to make an easily printable check list type listing of all 100?

    When I read your mention of The Hollow by Agatha Christie in a previous segment of The List, I started to wonder which Sayers novel you would select. I decided that I feel The Documents in the Case, her non-Lord Peter mystery is the most "middlebrow" of her works, but figured it was too strange, being a collection of letters between various characters.

    For some reason, a fairly large subset of Agatha Christie's novels have titles that don't link in my mind with a plot. That is, I know I have read them, but can't remember which book goes with which title. And The Hollow is one of those. Even when I read a pretty detailed blurb, I can't remember the details of the characters and plot, even though I know I read the book within the last year, and enjoyed it. While there are others (like The Body in the Library or The Secret Adversary or Man in the Brown Suit) that just the title and I am remembering the plot and characters in some detail.

    Can't wait for the next post! Many thanks for the thought provoking idea.


  9. Oh! Oh! What riches.

    Getting excited about the Top Ten. Of course we all know who one of them will be, but I'm wondering about the other nine, because so many greats have already been placed. (I'll have to consult my bookshelves and make a list, and see how well I do.)

    As a public service re The Pursuit of Love, I have to mention that the 2001 version wasn't a patch on the brilliant 1980 Thames Television version with Judi Dench and a plethora of wonderful actors.

    Can be watched on Youtube here:

    Both were filmed as Love In A A Cold Climate.

  10. Have you been to the massive library book sale this year?Have i missed your blog?

  11. Scott, I gave Margaret Kennedy another try after hating The Constant Nymph. But I loved The Feast! Thank You! -Faith

  12. Because of these installments, I have reread a couple of titles - just finished "The Hollow" last evening.............ehhhhhhhhh..................
    But I still love the blog and you!


NOTE: The comment function on Blogger is notoriously cranky. If you're having problems, try selecting "Name/URL" or "Anonymous" from the "Comment as" drop-down (be sure to "sign" your comment, though, so I know who dropped by). Some people also find it easier using a browser like Firefox or Chrome instead of Internet Explorer.

But it can still be a pain, and if you can't get any of that to work, please email me at I do want to hear from you!