Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1975). In 1920s India, the wife of an English officer strangled by propriety falls for a minor prince with a taste for crime. She aborts their child and leaves her husband. Fifty years later, her ex-husband’s granddaughter returns to India to investigate the scandal.
Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen (1890). Like Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary, Hedda Gabler is trapped in a loveless marriage, which she entered into for security and cannot leave for fear of scandal. Though she is “crowing for life,” societal norms constrict her, making Hedda a manipulative and frustrated woman.
Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow (1956). Bellow’s characters often stumble along comic paths toward equilibrium, and none of the Nobel laureate’s creations is more rollicking than Eugene Henderson.
Henry V by William Shakespeare (1599). The final play in the Second Henriad (with Henry IV, Parts I and II), Henry V is, ostensibly, a celebration of Henry’s victory over his archenemy, the French, at Agincourt in 1415. Henry thus construed is a great national hero. But the play actually subverts, or at least compromises, such a reading.
Herzog by Saul Bellow (1964). Moses Herzog has two problems: his book on imagination and the intellect has stalled and his second wife has run away with his best friend.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (1995–2000). This epic trilogy, comprised of Northern Lights (a.k.a., The Golden Compass), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, reconceives Paradise Lost as an adventure/fantasy from an atheist, humanist perspective. Like Adam and Eve, Lyra and Will embrace knowledge. But for them it is the path to liberation, not damnation.
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (1940). Orwell’s memoir of going to fight on the republican side in the Spanish Civil War combines early Hemingway’s disabused attitude toward war with Leon Trotsky’s talent for political analysis.
Hombre by Elmore Leonard (1961). Displaying his trademark ability to turn pulp into art, Leonard elevates the classic Western through the story of John Russell, a white man raised partly by Apache Indians who taught him how to fight and survive. The action begins when Russell boards a stagecoach and is rejected by passengers because of his roots. When outlaws pounce, the others turn to him for protection.
Howards End by E. M. Forster (1921). This novel begins with literature’s most famous epigraph: “Only connect.” That search for human understanding—and the implied rarity of such knowledge—informs this saga of Margaret and Helen Schlegel, two bohemian sisters who become mixed up with the pragmatic, wealthy Wilcox family.