The ’21 Club of Anniversaries for Famous Novels

Some well-known novels are reaching round-number anniversaries in 2021 — as in 25 years (published in 1996), 50 years (1971), 75 years (1946), 100 years (1921), 150 years (1871), and 200 years (1821).

I’ll mostly mention novels I’ve read, and a few I haven’t. Let’s begin…

Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood’s rare foray into historical fiction, came out in 1996. It takes a gripping look at a 19th-century double murder in Canada — and how guilty or not the sentenced-to-life-in-prison Grace Marks was as an accomplice.

Hard to believe it was that long ago, but also published in 1996 was A Game of Thrones — the first installment of George R.R. Martin’s best-selling A Song of Ice and Fire series that later became a TV phenomenon. It’s the only novel I’ve read in the series, and I found it compelling after struggling a bit to get into it.

Among the notable ’96 novels I haven’t read are David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary.

A half-century ago, we had William Peter Blatty’s 1971 horror novel The Exorcist — a widely read book turned into a smash-hit movie. Also Ernest J. Gaines’ The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which covers nearly a century of history through the eyes of an African-American woman — and also inspired a highly popular film, in that case for TV. Plus, E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel, a thinly veiled retelling of the Rosenberg case from the vantage point of the couple’s children; Hunter S. Thompson’s riotous, semi-autobiographical Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; and Erich Maria Remarque’s posthumously published Shadows in Paradise.

Also in ’71 were John Updike’s Rabbit Redux, the first sequel to the Rabbit, Run novel I had mixed feelings about (a bit too much toxic masculinity); and Herman Wouk’s epic The Winds of War, which I haven’t read but I sure did like that author’s earlier The Caine Mutiny and Marjorie Morningstar.

Memorable releases in 1946 — the birth year of despicable white-riot inciter Trump — included Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, a novel about a Huey Long-like politician, rampant corruption, and more; Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding, starring a 12-year-old tomboy; and Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek. I’ve read the first two, not the third.

In 1921, parts of Marcel Proust’s opus In Search of Lost Time were released — as were L.M. Montgomery’s World War I-themed Rilla of Ingleside, one of the best Anne of Green Gables sequels; Crome Yellow, Aldous Huxley’s somewhat-interesting debut novel; and Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Alice Adams.

It was in 1871, 150 years ago, that George Eliot’s masterpiece Middlemarch was published. Clearly her best book in terms of scope, characterizations, and social analysis — and you’ll rarely read a better dissection of troubled marriages. But I do think several of Eliot’s slightly less masterpiece-y novels — including The Mill on the Floss and Daniel Deronda — pack an equal or greater emotional wallop.

Also released in 1871 were Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, the memorable sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; Henry James’ debut novel Watch and Ward (published by a magazine in 1871 but not in book form until 1878); and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men.

I haven’t read any 1821 novels, which included Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott and The Spy by James Fenimore Cooper — two authors whose other books I’ve liked a lot. But, hey, Fyodor Dostoevsky was born that year — and Madame Bovary writer Gustave Flaubert, too.

Any novels with round-number 2021 anniversaries you’d like to discuss? (Including those I mentioned and those I didn’t.)

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — about parking, leaf blowers, the Georgia runoffs, Trump, and more — is here.

93 thoughts on “The ’21 Club of Anniversaries for Famous Novels

  1. I just finished one of Graham Greene’s ‘entertainments’, as he termed them: “Stamboul Train”, and I can recommend it as an insightful sort of thriller, filled with arresting and original description of scenery, places and people.

    But just now, what pleases me most about it is its original publishing date: 1932.

    Next year, I’ll be ready, should the blog topic become the ’22 Club!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I am certain I’ve written in before regarding the incredible circumstances of composition that underlie “Zorba the Greek”– Kazantzakis was living through a German-imposed famine during the Second World War, in wintertime, in Athens, if I remember, along with family members. To conserve fuel and food and energy, the household took to its beds, emerging only to eat a common meal, or to tend to the fire.
    Under these dire conditions, Kazantzakis wrote a sunny celebration of vitality and the indestructibility of the human spirit!

    I read “Zorba” in college, and I can attest to its infectiousness.

    It probably helped that I read it in the middle of a WI winter, and a time of personal upset and frustration, some of which centered on college life and loves. I remember suddenly being filled with notions of taking my life into my own hands, of doing what I wanted with it, choosing what I thought I might enjoy doing as opposed to something even remotely sensible. With “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decades of Hits” as my soundtrack, I decided to drop out school, start another rock and roll band, and pursue my dream of musical stardom.

    A year later, I was back in school, a bit wiser, but not wise. I’d like to hold Kazantzakis responsible, but the fault, dear reader, was in myself; not in my stars, but in my wish to be one, which nevertheless persisted.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, jhNY! That is indeed an incredible back story for “Zorba the Greek.” The mind can sometimes do amazing things while a person is experiencing horrific difficulties.

      I can see how that book would be very inspiring to you, and others. Totally worth it to give a band another try; I imagine you would have had strong regrets if you didn’t make that attempt. Sorry musical stardom didn’t result.

      Brilliantly written comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So many books, so little time, even in UK Lockdown 3, or is it 4 ?
    1951, two did they or didn’t they mysteries- Josephine Tey’s the d=Daughrer of Time – and the chilling, haunting My Cousin Rachel ( audio book, while driving across Bodmin Moor, in fog, in June, adding several extra dimesnions)

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I haven’t read Rilla of Ingleside yet but I’m slowly working my way towards it 🙂 Other books just keep getting in the way, I’m sure you know how it is! 🙂 I also love Through the Looking Glass, as well its Alice in Wonderland counterpart. Those have always been among my favorite classic novels. Did you ever read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (1996)? I read it in college and it has always stuck with me. I think Sex and the City the book also came out in 1996, and I’ve always been a fan of both the book and the show (although I haven’t read the sequel that just came out a couple years ago – I have it on my Kindle though!)

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I haven’t read the books that you have mentioned as to Carson McCullers, but I can add one that is pretty close to your timeline and that is – The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, which revolves around racial tensions of the south in the 1930s. It was a very nice read. I can’t remember who she influenced, but that is why I got the book.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. This post sent me scouring through books I’ve read and ones that I haven’t…yet! Middlemarch is, indeed, a great novel and one (excuse the terrible pun) I feel I ought to go back to at some point. A particular favourite of mine from 1991 is ‘A Sailor of Austria: In which, without really intending to, Otto Prohaska becomes official war hero No. 27 of the Habsburg Empire’ by John Biggins. The title is usually abbreviated, but why would you? This book is so well researched and provides an entertaining (and sensitive) jaunt through some pivotal points in the 20th Century. I do like a sea-faring book and honourable mentions will go to ‘The Cruel Sea’ by Nick Monsarrat (1951) and ‘The Wreck of the Mary Deare’ by Hammond Innes (1956). Another from 1956, which I read in the past couple of years and just loved, was ‘Giovanni’s Room’ by James Baldwin. He seems to be having a well deserved renaissance and I was just reading this morning about a study of him that’s been published by Professor Glaude at Princeton. One of my favourite authors for depicting the minutiae of London life in the early 20th Century is Patrick Hamilton (and a favourite of Hitchcock as well). The seminal ‘Hangover Square’ was published in 1941, preceded by ‘Craven House’ in 1926. As for others, well, I really could go on…Life of Pi, Atonement, The Rebel Angels, Day of the Triffids – all no less deserving of being included of course. You’ve sent us all down another fascinating rabbit hole! Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Sarah! There is definitely an argument for “Middlemarch” being considered one of the best novels ever written.

      I appreciate the mention of “A Sailor of Austria” and other seafaring novels! (The John Biggins book is now on my to-read list.) I’m also a fan of that watery genre — Melville, Herman Wouk’s “The Caine Mutiny,” Jack London’s “The Sea-Wolf,” Patrick O’Brian’s “Master and Commander,” parts of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series, some of Poe’s work…

      Thanks, also, for the mention of those other novels with publishing dates ending in “1” or “6”!

      James Baldwin having a renaissance is indeed well-deserved. Amazing writer and thinker.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I think I would agree with you about ‘Middlemarch’. I may have to dig it out of its dusty retirement at some point soon.

        What is it about the sea that makes for such a good story? I look forward to hearing your thoughts about ‘A Sailor of Austria’ in due course! I do hope you enjoy it. I shall have to add the other ones you mention to my ever expanding list – I’m aware of most of them but never taken the plunge (terrible, terrible, I’m sorry). One of my other favourites is ‘HMS Ulysses’.

        I’m looking forward to reading more James Baldwin. He writes so beautifully. He’s on my Classic 50 – but I can’t remember which one now.

        Liked by 2 people

    • “The Cruel Sea” starring Jack Hawkins is one of my favorite movies ever… I shall certainly be on the lookout for the book!

      Also, if your interest in the minutiae of London life extends further back in time, I recommend the writings of Henry Mayhew, specifically “London Labour and the London Poor”, wherein you can learn the intricacies of rat-baiting, chimney-sweeping, and even corner sweeping– a voluntary sort of self-employment by indigent women, who swept busy thoroughfares of trash and dust in hopes they might receive tips from passers-by…

      Liked by 3 people

        • Very interesting, and thought-provoking. In another collection of short pieces by Mayhew I came across an account of older interviewees from the hat-making trade, some of whom found it hard to adjust to the new French silk hats, which became fashionable at the time when, according to Mayhew, beavers had been hunted and trapped down the smallest trickling streams of North America in such numbers, as the fashion for beaver hats could no longer be supported by the limited supply of raw materials.

          Made me ponder how often, in history and now, our changes in food preferences, clothing, building materials, etc., might be dictated by such inconvenient realities rather than the dictates or mere taste.

          There is another fascinating study centered on London’s poor, “London, A Pilgrimage”, a series of illustrations by Gustave Dore, the man who did such memorable work depicting Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”, etc.

          Liked by 2 people

          • What you mentioned in your second paragraph is indeed fascinating to ponder, jhNY.

            There have been many studies of the poor, and those studies are valuable. But the poor almost always remain. Wish the elites would actually do something about poverty in more cases…

            Liked by 1 person

      • I hope you track the book down and you’re not disappointed! I’m unsure if I’ve seen the movie but I’ll look out for it.

        Thanks for the Mayhew recommendation! Rat-baiting! There’s a job title lost to the mists of time! I’ll certainly have a look out for it as it is, indeed, something I’d probably enjoy!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I love how your posts send me on a tangent, Dave. Always exciting to read your thoughts and the follow-up discussion, which sparks my curiosity. Today, I went back to the literature of 1821 to find an author and book that I would never have looked at in my normal course of choosing a book to read. The name I came up with is Thomas Love Peacock (18 October 1785 – 23 January 1866). He wrote a children’s story – Maid Marion. There is some discussion when it was actually published, but it seems that 1821 was the year. Thomas Love Peacock (don’t you love that name) was an English novelist, poet, an official of the East India Company and a close friend of Percy Bysshe Shelley. I understand that this friendship influenced their work. Here’s what interests me most. How did Percy Bysshe Shelley become a known name but Thomas Love Peacock is unknown to most outside the academic community. Something to consider…..

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Clanmother! How interesting! One does wonder why some writers remain famous long after their deaths while others fade into history. I guess it helped Shelley’s fame to not only have been an excellent poet, but to have dramatically died young, been married to another famous writer (Mary Shelley), been pals with Lord Byron, etc.

      And Thomas Love Peacock indeed has to have had one of the great author names ever!

      You always come up with fascinating results when you do historical research/investigations!

      Liked by 5 people

      • I have just downloaded Thomas Love Peacock’s story, Maid Marion, to read. And here is another interesting question. The story of Robin Hood and Maid Marion has come down through the centuries and is still very much a part of our cultural experience. Rob from the rich, give to the poor, rescue Maid Marion and live happily ever after. Why do some stories never die? Another research project….. Many thanks for your comment!!!!

        Liked by 3 people

        • I have a collection of Robin Hood stories, from when I was a kid, that I’ve reread a few times over the years. Those tales are so compelling and enjoyable — and it’s understandable why many readers would be happy to see some economic redistribution when the gap between the often-undeserving rich and the poor is so wide.

          Liked by 2 people

            • This is a thought provoking thread! Somewhat coincidentally, I’m reading The First Circle by Solzhenitsyn which reminds me of Robert Burns’ phase, the “best laid plans…” The appeal of Robin Hood is that it was a small underground movement. If it was ‘the norm’ it might have become the legend of how Robin Hood became the Sheriff of Nottingham, transforming him from a virtuous thief to a benevolent despot! Just another well intended revolution gone amok 🙂 Camus’ nonfiction, The Rebel is a fantastic essay on this topic.

              Liked by 2 people

              • I think you’re right, Mary Jo, that among the appeals of Robin Hood was the “small underground movement” aspect. One would like to think he would have governed democratically if he somehow became in charge, but history shows that’s rare. Nelson Mandela was certainly one wonderful exception.

                Liked by 1 person

              • A very insightful thought, Mary Jo. You reminded me about how we like beginnings because there is so much emotional stimulus in forging a new direction. We like to experience new thought and then when it becomes mainstream, we may think that it has transitioned into the status quo. Something for me to think about in the days ahead.

                Liked by 2 people

        • Good morning, dear Rebecca, how precious to share such thoughts:) I think those stories, which really teach us something important survive for ever. When reading Shantaram I frequently compare Robin with Khaderbhai!! I have recently written a post about “consensus reality” and about all the nowadays misunderstandings and then the story of the tower construction in Babel -old testament- came to my mind, when people became so arrogant that God mixed up languages so that they didn’t understand each other anymore and therefore couldn’t go on with their doing!
          I will download Maid Marion by Thomas Love Peacock so that we can see what we can learn.

          Liked by 4 people

    • I have a collection around here someplace titles “The Pleasures of Peacock”, which consists of excerpts from longer works, and a few short pieces. I’ve dipped in a bit, but not a lot, so I cannot say I have fully immersed myself in the pleasures therein, but I do know Mr. Peacock to be an able and entertaining author. I’d be the reverse of Achilles, who was dipped save his heel– I would say I’ve dipped in to Peacock’s pleasures the metaphorical equivalent of that undipped heel.

      I didn’t know anything about him before happening on the book, and admit the title itself would have been enough for me to acquire it…

      Liked by 3 people

  8. What a great post, teeming with books, lots and lots of fabulous books. I really enjoyed Alias Grace actually. I got it from the library and I keep meaning to get an actual copy. I think you covered them all…the kind of biggies but I took a quick stroll down memory lane there and came across many authors, popular in their day, Georgette Heyer’s first, Anya Seton, well fasting forward, Grisham, Pratchett, Macdonald Fraser, there was a Gabaldon in there. I know you have often mentioned her. Great post.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I remember reading The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman years ago and marveling at how one person could experience so much history in her lifetime. I was quite impressed by A Member of the Wedding, although I don’t remember the details of why.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Good evening Dave and many thanks for your choice of books to speak about. Years ago I read George Eliot’s Middlemarch as well as Silas Marner and I liked the way the writer described the rural life and its people even though the rich vocabulary was not easy for me! Unfortunately, if I remember well, Dr. Lydgate, the young doctor, was defeated by himself and the circumstances around him and of Silas Marner I remember, of course, the stolen gold and the relationship the weaver had with Eppie and how it changed his life. I am looking forward to all the nice discussions about your proposals. Very best regards Martina

    Liked by 6 people

    • Good evening, Martina, and thank you for the comment!

      I’m also a big fan of George Eliot. As you note, she described rural life so well, created memorable characters, and wrote so richly. The psychological nuances of her novels are a thing to behold.

      The in-a-mismatched-marriage Dr. Lydgate is an unforgettable character, as is the treated-badly-before-unexpected-parenthood Silas.

      Best regards to you, too!

      Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you for the mention of your latest book, Bill. Also an anniversary work in that it comes out 20 years after 9/11 — during which your nephew was tragically one of those who died. 😦

      The best of luck getting a wide readership for “Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety” after it comes out in nine days!

      Liked by 2 people

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