BBC’s 100 Novels that Shaped Our World

The BBC has announced its list of 100 novels that shaped our world in advance of Friday’s public panel discussion at the British Library. See previous post. The panel of 7 were asked “to choose 100 genre-busting novels that have had an impact on their lives.” This event kicks off an extended celebration of the 300th anniversary of the English novel but is heavily skewed to the most recent 40-50 years.

There is nothing on the list by Evelyn Waugh, nor are F Scott Fitzgerald, Anthony Powell, D H Lawrence, William Faulkner, E M Forster or James Joyce represented. From Waugh’s generation, there are novels by Ernest Hemingway (For Whom the Bell Tolls), Graham Greene (The Quiet American), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty Four), Virginia Woolf (Orlando), Patrick Hamilton (Slaves of Solitude) and P G Wodehouse (Psmith, Journalist) on the list. Apparently, only one book per author could be listed. creating anomalies such as Herman Melville’s being represented by Bartleby, the Scrivener and not Moby Dick.

The Daily Telegraph dismisses the selection as “a short-sighted list that will please nobody.” The Guardian’s story (entitled “Discworld dishes Moby Dick”) carries these remarks by one of the panel members, author Juno Dawson:

As this panel of judges, we’re not qualified to say this is the definitive list, but we are qualified to say these are our favourites. We knew right from the beginning that the role of these lists, almost, is for people to disagree with them … and we could only pick 100 books.[…] I hope people look at the list and recognise how we have allowed the emotions behind a novel to factor into our choices, not how many copies it’s sold, or if it’s considered a work of great literature,…

The Guardian’s report also contains this statement from a BBC spokesperson:

BBC Arts director Jonty Claypole said the list took “months of enthusiastic debate” to put together. “There are neglected masterpieces, irresistible romps as well as much-loved classics. It is a more diverse list than any I have seen before, recognising the extent to which the English-language novel is an art form embraced way beyond British shores,” he said.

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