Continental Drift by Russell Banks (1985). Working-class New Hampshirite Bob Dubois flees his existence as an oil burner repairman for what he assumes will be a warmer future in Florida. Not far from his new home, but in another social universe, Vanise Dorsinvilles undergoes a much more brutal journey to the sunshine state from her native Haiti.
Cousin Bette by Honoré de Balzac (1847). Lisbeth (Bette) Fischer, a seamstress for the demimonde of actresses and courtesans and the poor relation of Baron Hulot, has a secret: she is helping to support a poor but noble Polish sculptor. Baron Hulot’s daughter Hortense discovers the secret and helps herself to the handsome sculptor.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866). In the peak heat of a St. Petersburg summer, an erstwhile university student, Raskolnikov, commits literature’s most famous fictional crime, bludgeoning a pawnbroker and her sister with an axe. What follows is a psychological chess match between Raskolnikov and a wily detective that moves toward a form of redemption for our antihero.
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (1948). Written just before apartheid became law in South Africa, this novel exposes the nation’s racial problems through the story of a rural black minister who travels to Johannesburg to save a friend’s daughter, who has become a prostitute, and later, his son, who is accused of murder.
Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (1874–76). Daniel Deronda first sees Gwendolyn Harleth gambling at a fashionable resort and asks himself whether “the good or evil genius is dominant” in her. He is a man of ideas; she is an egotistical, spoiled girl. Can Daniel redeem her?
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1849–50). Dickens’s most autobiographical novel chronicles his hero’s ever-changing fortunes, beginning with his famous opening line, “I am born.” As a boy, David is swept between school and the workhouse; later, between the law and literature; and then between his vapid wife Dora and his true love Agnes. Ingratiating Uriah Heep, talented Mr.
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842). Gogol’s self-proclaimed narrative “poem” follows the comical ambitions of Chichikov, who travels around the country buying the “dead souls” of serfs not yet stricken from the tax rolls.