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Get to Know the English Classics

Selecting English classics to read means you’re selecting some of the finest English literature written in history. When I was a student, I enjoyed exploring classics as they are timeless and have common literary themes that are the foundation of many modern pieces of writing. Later, when I did GCSE and A Level English Literature, I discovered that my earlier interest in reading was useful for my studies. English Classics form a large part of the English Literature GCSE and A Level.

If you are interested in studying English in the UK or the US, or if you’re thinking of taking English Literature at GCSE or beyond, then take a look at these English and American classics.


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Read

The Great Gatsby explores the idea of the American Dream. When Nick Carraway moves to West Egg, he meets a mysterious neighbour, Jay Gatsby, who throws extravagant parties at his mansion. Over time, Nick becomes part of a new crowd and eventually becomes disenchanted with the materialistic and shallow lives of the inhabitants of East and West Egg. The Great Gatsby is filled with symbolism (e.g. the green light and Dr Eckleburg’s eyes) and with elements of tragedy, so it serves as a great springboard for critical analysis.


Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Long Read

Pride and Prejudice is a popular English classic studied by English Literature students. Written in 1812, the novel begins with one of the most famous opening lines: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’, which sets up the importance of marriage in the story. Both Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy must overcome their pride and prejudice to develop their self-knowledge and acceptance of each other. Through their story, you can learn about points of view, setting, foreshadowing and irony. Although the novel is over 200 years old, Austen’s witty and ironic style is appealing even today.


Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck Short Read

Two workers arrive at a ranch in California during the Great Depression in search of a job. Lennie is big and childlike, while George is small but smart, and together they form an unlikely friendship, working towards owning their own ranch. At the ranch, they meet Curley, the boss’ son, and Curley’s troublemaking wife, who threatens their dream. The story explores the impossibility of the American Dream as well as loneliness and innocence. This is often studied at GCSE level in the UK.


Frankenstein by Mary Shelly Short Read

A gothic horror written in 1818, a time of great change and scientific discovery, Frankenstein tells the story of an ambitious young scientist who, through dangerous experimentation, brings to life a hideous creature known as ‘the Monster’. The story is a fantastic starting point for exploring the themes of gothic fiction and science fiction and to understand the importance of social and historical context in understanding a story.


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens Long Read

Great Expectations is a bildungsroman (coming-of-age) story about a young orphan named Pip who rises up the social classes. He meets the jilted Miss Havisham and beautiful Estella as well as many other richly-described characters, like Magwitch and Jaggers. As this is a long and more difficult read, you may want to watch the many film adaptations to support your understanding.


To explore more English classics and dramas, take our Critical Reading and Writing course, where students can explore Shakespeare and be introduced to other classic texts, and our IGCSE English Literature course for even more English literature. If you’re looking to take your studies overseas and explore the countries these books were written in, get in touch with our Overseas Education Services team.