#1 - The Iliad and The Odyssey
Set during the Trojan War, The Iliad combines battle scenes with a debate about heroism; Odysseus' thwarted attempts to return to Ithaca when the war ends form The Odyssey. Its symbolic evocation of human life as an epic journey homewards has inspired everything from James Joyce's Ulysses to the Coen brothers' film, O Brother Where Art Thou?.
#2 - The Barchester Chronicles
A story set in a fictional cathedral town about the squabbles and power struggles of the clergy? It doesn’t sound promising, but Trollope's sparklingly satirical novels are among the best-loved books of all time.
#3 - Pride and Prejudice
Heroine meets hero and hates him. Is charmed by a cad. A family crisis – caused by the cad – is resolved by the hero. The heroine sees him for what he really is and realises (after visiting his enormous house) that she loves him. The plot has been endlessly borrowed, but few authors have written anything as witty or profound as Pride and Prejudice.
#4 - Gulliver's Travels
Swift's scathing satire shows humans at their worst: whether diminished (in Lilliput) or grossly magnified (in Brobdingnag). Our capacity for self-delusion – personified by the absurdly pompous Gulliver – makes this darkest of novels very funny.
#5 - Jane Eyre
Cruelty, hypocrisy, dashed hopes: Jane Eyre faces them all, yet her individuality triumphs. Her relationship with Rochester has such emotional power that it's hard to believe these characters never lived.
#6 - War and Peace
Tolstoy's masterpiece is so enormous even the author said it couldn't be described as a novel. But the characters of Andrei, Pierre and Natasha – and the tragic and unexpected way their lives intersect – grip you for all 1,400 pages.
#7 - David Copperfield
David's journey to adulthood is filled with difficult choices – and a huge cast of characters, from the treacherous Steerforth to the comical Mr Micawber.
#8 - Vanity Fair
William Makepeace Thackeray
'"I'm no Angel," answered Miss Rebecca. And to tell the truth, she was not.' Whether we should judge the cunning, amoral Becky Sharp – or the hypocritical society she inhabits – is the question.
#9 - Madame Bovary
Flaubert's finely crafted novel tells the story of Emma, a bored provincial wife who comforts herself with shopping and affairs. It doesn't end well.
#10 - Middlemarch
Dorothea wastes her youth on a creepy, elderly scholar. Lydgate marries the beautiful but self-absorbed Rosamund. George Eliot's characters make terrible mistakes, but we never lose empathy with them.