All Passion Spent, Vita Sackville-West

When the great statesman Lord Slane dies, everyone assumes his dutiful wife will slowly fade away, the paying guest of each of her six children. But Lady Slane surprises everyone by escaping to a rented house in Hampstead where she revels in her new freedom, revives youthful ambitions and gathers some very unsuitable companions.

Irreverent, entertaining and insightful, this is a tale of the unexpected joys of growing older.

The Edwardians, Vita Sackville-West

Sebastian is young, handsome and romantic, the heir to a vast and beautiful English country estate. He is a fixed feature in the eternal round of lavish parties, intrigues and traditions at the cold, decadent heart of Edwardian high society.

Everyone knows the role he must play, but Sebastian isn't sure he wants the part. Position, privilege and wealth are his, if he can resist the lure of a brave new world.

Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray 

Becky Sharp is a poor orphan when she first makes friends with the lovely Amelia Sedley at Miss Pinkerton's Academy for Young Ladies. She may not have the natural advantages of her companion but she more than makes up for it with her wit, charm, deviousness and determination to make a success of herself whatever the cost.

Vanity Fair is the story of Becky's spectacular rise and fall as she gambles, manipulates and seduces her way through high society and the Napoleonic wars. 

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead tells the story of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian Flyte at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognise his spiritual and social distance from them.

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy 

Tolstoy's classic novel portrays an adulterous affair between a woman of extremely high social status and a man of lower rank than her husband (although Mellors the gamekeeper and Count Vronsky are themselves in very different ranks.) Anna Karenina is a tragic love story, exploring the feudal politics of nineteenth century Russia, forbidden love and a woman’s journey to finding not just sexual fulfilment, but emotional fulfilment too.

Middlemarch, George Eliot

Middlemarch is a vast and complex novel, but it's one that still captivates because, although set in the early nineteenth century, the philosophy and life lessons which Eliot’s characters teach are still relevant today. Never has a heroine been more infuriating for her inability to follow her heart and her insistence on conforming to aristocratic ideals, yet at the same time been so relatable for the mistakes that she makes.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

It’s one of the greats; a tragic love story that everyone knows in some form, whether from the book itself, a film adaptation, or from knowing that that handsome acquaintance is something of a Mr Rochester. Bronte traces Jane's journey from childhood to adulthood and documents her unexpected love affair with the lord of the manor to which she is a servant.

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen

When you hear Jane Austen, it's impossible not to think of love, heartache and class-related criticism. In Sense and Sensibility, Austen beautifully captures the essence of inheritance and cross-class fornication. Aristocratic ideology is explored through the relationship of the Dashwood sisters, the Augustan Elinor and the Romantic Marianne. Although they have contrasting ideas about love and societal practice, they have a strong sisterly bond which sees them continually protect each other’s reputations.

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