Conservative Lit 101

by John J. Miller on January 25, 2010 · 6 comments

in Blog Posts

  • Sumo

The new issue of National Review, dated February 8, 2010, carries a list of great conservative novels. A summary is here. Readers of this website played a role in its compilation, through e-mails sent to me and comments posted here. Thanks to all who offered their views.

Here’s the article’s first paragraph:

A few months ago, a professor e-mailed with a simple question: What are the great conservative novels? He was preparing a course on the history of American conservatism and wanted to include some fiction on his syllabus. I proposed a few titles, but his question lingered in my mind. So I asked readers of National Review Online for their suggestions. I also canvassed several experts on American literature. Hundreds of ideas poured in. Here is the result: a list of ten great conservative novels, all written by Americans since the founding of the conservative movement in the 1950s. Lists such as this are always (and ideally) debatable. Yet these choices represent something of a rough consensus. Feel free to add them to your own reading syllabus.

  • Mark Gibson

    Seriously…I’d like to say “good job”, but a list that doesn’t include Heinlein is simply one that I can’t consider particularly well thought-out.

    But keep trying, and I hope your book continues to do well.

  • Bill Schmidt


    Thanks so much for your list!

    I have just GOT to get this off my chest.

    Are you familiar with a school program called “Accelerated Reader?” It is probably used at most, if not all schools either as a requirement or as supplemental reading. It essentially has taken the place of book reports, since all of the books on the “AR List” have standardized tests that are taken on the computer. It is an awful system.

    First, many of the books on the AR List are hardly “accelerated” reading. If the purpose of such a program is to encourage students to read some things they might not have otherwise, then having the entire Twilight and Harry Potter series listed among classics is not going to get the job done.

    Second, the use of that system in the classes forces students to choose their reading from the list. You’ll not be surprised to learn that very few of the books on your list make the AR list.

    Third, a point system is used to value the books and for the most part it makes little sense. You can choose Harry Potter (Goblet) for 32 points, Hillary Clinton’s bio for 34 or Frankenstein for 12 or Much Ado About Nothing for a whopping 4 points. If a student is required to read 30 points in a term, which will they choose? Harry Potter, of course… which they’d have read anyway and they saw the movie ten times. (The Hobbit is 16, as another example.)

    Finally, many truly accelerated readers (I mean the students) are at a disadvantage because of the reasons I mentioned and because the list favors the lazy minded student who will either restrict himself to what’s already easy and popular or will read a Cliff’s Notes summary and pass the test, anyway.

  • Dale Nelson

    Dickens’s Little Dorrit, with its satire of the Circumlocution Office, etc. Myron Magnet is a conservative scholar with a book on Dickens.

    Works by Sir Walter Scott. Start reading him at Chapter 2 of The Heart of Midlothian (you can go back and pick up the prologuey stuff later if you like).

    Jane Austen’s novels are conservative classics. If I had to pick one, it would be either Emma or Pride and Prejudice, but all six are worthwhile.

    Anthony Trollope’s Barset books: The Warden, Barchester Towers, etc.

    Nathaniel Hawthorne’s stories and his magnificent Journals. His novel The Blithedale Romance is a satire against utopianism, etc.

    Ursula Le Guin’s science fiction/fantasy novel The Lathe of Heaven was praised by Guy Davenport (I believe) in the pages of National Review for strong philosophical conservatism.

    For good entertainment, the novels of Lars Walker are not to be missed heroic fantasy imbued with Christian and conservative sensibility. Great stuff.

    C. S. Lewis’s Till we Have Faces.

    Wendell Berry has much to offer conservatives who far too often adhere to a thoroughly un-conservative advocacy of agribusiness.

  • Dale Nelson

    Flannery O’Connor’s fiction.

  • Dale Nelson

    Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is a must. One of the great conservative novels of all time, and eminently readable. Get the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation. It hurts to see people listing examples of pulp fiction as “great” conservative novels and not listing this book.

    I was glad to see Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy listed, but don’t overlook her Master of Hestviken quartet, or the two-volume novel The Wild Orchid + The Burning Bush.

  • Dale Nelson

    V. S. Naipaul’s In a Free State (short novel). Probably other works by this Nobel Prize in Literature-winner as well.

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