Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871)
George Eliot’s remarkable tale set in a fictional Midlands village is widely regarded as the pinnacle of English literature. Intense, comedic and multi-stranded, Middlemarch contains characters we can all relate to, from the heroine Dorothea to the silver-tongued Mrs Cadwaller. Each struggling to reconcile their destinies in provincial life, Eliot uses their stories to comment on issues at the time of class, marriage, women’s status, science and religion. On the suffering of others, she writes, ‘If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.’ Loved by authors like Virginia Woolf (who called it ‘the magnificent book’), Middlemarch is the classic book to tick off your list.