The Best English-Language Fiction of the Twentieth Century
A Composite List and Ranking
by Brian Kunde


<- Hemingway, Ernest, 1899-1961.
         Full name: Ernest Miller Hemingway. American journalist and writer of novels and short stories, noted for his deceptively simple and understated style, extraordinary influence on later 20th century authors, macho persona, and suicide. The textbook case of a writer ruined by celebrity. Winner of the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (for The Old Man and the Sea), and the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature. Hemingway’s works are generally not appropriate for readers under, say, high school age.
  • <- A Farewell to Arms. 1929.
             Semi-autobiographical novel drawn from the author’s experiences as an ambulance driver on the Italian-Austrian front in World War I. Frederic Henry, an American volunteer, is wounded during the war and treated by nurse Catherine Barkley, with whom he falls in love. Returning to the front in time to share in a major defeat, he deserts and flees with the pregnant Catherine to Switzerland, only to see her and their baby die in childbirth. The title is from a poem by George Peele. Adapted to the stage in 1930, film in 1932 and 1957, and television in 1966.
  • <- For Whom the Bell Tolls. 1940.
             The story of Robert Jordan, an American volunteer with a band of guerillas on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, vividly portraying the brutality of conflict. Assigned what all realize is a suicide mission to blow up a bridge, he and his comrades confront their impending mortality in their own ways before going to their fate. The title is a quotation from John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. Adapted to film in 1943, radio in 1945, television in 1975, and, incredibly, as a musical in 1978.
  • <- In Our Time. 1925.
             A collection of short stories and semi-fictional vignettes, preceded by a shorter version in 1924; the definitive complete edition followed in 1930. The title is a quotation from the English Book of Common Prayer (in full: “give us peace in our time, O Lord”). A first taste of the spare Hemingway style, it whetted readers’ appetites for greater things to come.
  • <- The Old Man and the Sea. 1952.
             The best of Hemingway’s later works, or the only one that’s any good, according to some critics; others don’t even like it. Don’t worry; it’s a wonderfully evocative portrait of human striving, a fable of the struggle of man against nature, or fate, or whatever else you care to read into it. Prepare to be either tickled or appalled by the Cuban protagonists’ discussion of American baseball, a literal rendering of their formal Spanish. Winner of the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Adapted to film in 1958, television in 1990, and animation in 1999.
  • <- The Sun Also Rises. 1926.
             The first and perhaps best of the author’s major novels; the standard portrait of the post-World War I "Lost Generation" of Americans in Europe, a tribute to bull-fighting, and a masterpiece of minimalist first-person narration that elevates action over thought — the latter must be inferred from the former, even in the case of the narrator. You will search in vain for anything explicit as to the exact nature of Jake Barnes’ war wound. The title is a quotation from Ecclesiastes 1:5. Adapted to film in 1957 and 1984.

Posted Jun. 24, 2008, and last updated May 14, 2013.
Please report any errors to the compiler.
Published by Fleabonnet Press.
The source list data is public domain.
Additional material © 1999-2013 by Brian Kunde.