What to read, published 1900-1909?
October 20, 2016 2:37 PM   Subscribe

For the past couple of years, I've been doing an informal, personal challenge to read a new-to-me book published in each year from 1900 to 1999. The only decade I haven't touched yet is the first, and I'd appreciate recommendations for books published from 1900 through 1909.

Wikipedia pages for each year (1900, for example) have been a good resource for possibilities, but what I'd really like are actual recommendations. What from these years is worth reading? What's still enjoyable to read?

This project is just for my own fun and enrichment, so I'm not relentlessly strict when it comes to publication dates: for example, I'll take original publication date or first U.S. publication date or first English translation date.

I'd prefer fiction (in any and all genres; in the form of novels, novellas, or short story collections), but I'm not opposed to non-fiction, plays, or poetry collections. I already know that I enjoy the work of P. G. Wodehouse and Mary Roberts Rinehart, and that they both published in this decade, but I'm hoping to broaden my reach to authors less familiar to me. (Also, prior to this project I'd already read the Anne of Green Gables books published in this decade, alas.)

I'm resigned to expecting racism, colonialism, antisemitism, sexism, etc., in works from this era, so I'm open to reading books with these elements if they're worthy/interesting in other ways.

Thank you!
posted by mixedmetaphors to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair was published in 1906. It is historically important because its description of the practices of the meatpacking industry resulted in the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. Sinclair, however, was really aiming to get people concerned about the plight of the immigrant workers. He said, "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident, I hit it in the stomach." Sinclair saw socialism as the solution to the problem and the last pages are very political, but it's also a good read.
posted by FencingGal at 2:44 PM on October 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Goodreads has lists! Here's the list for 1901.
posted by janell at 2:44 PM on October 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

House of Mirth (1905) for certain. It's wonderful and reads very modern.
posted by vunder at 2:49 PM on October 20, 2016 [14 favorites]

The scarlet pimpernel for 1905 - I actually didn't know it was published that long ago.
posted by umwhat at 2:50 PM on October 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh and since you're not fussy, Heart of Darkness was apparently serialized in 1899 but published in full form in 1902. It's great too and very interesting to follow it up with a viewing of Apocalypse Now and then Hearts of Darkness documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now.
posted by vunder at 2:53 PM on October 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

1909: "The Machine Stops," a novella/long short story by E.M. Forster.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:53 PM on October 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Kim (Kipling, 1901). I just read it, and liked it quite a bit.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 3:02 PM on October 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Enthusiastically seconding "Kim" and "The Machine Stops"!

What a wonderful personal challenge.
posted by kestralwing at 3:14 PM on October 20, 2016

posted by kickingtheground at 3:16 PM on October 20, 2016

1901: seconding Kim. 1903: call of the wild (if you didn't read it in school already); for more Jack London White Fang is 1906. 1906 - seconding Upton Sinclair, The Jungle. 1908 - G K Chesterton, The man who was Thursday; really interesting / strange novel.

For 1900 the Wallet of Kai Lung has been on my list forever for various reasons (one being that Dorothy Sayers liked it), but I haven't yet read it and I still have no idea whether I'll like it.
posted by advil at 3:19 PM on October 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz and Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim both jump to my mind.
posted by Fizz at 3:20 PM on October 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Wings of the Dove, the Ambassadors, and the Golden Bowl were published 1902-4. If you only want to pick one James from that group, go for The Ambassadors.
posted by praemunire at 3:22 PM on October 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Secret Garden was published in 1910, and it is lovely.
posted by pintapicasso at 3:22 PM on October 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

McTeague is sooo close (1899).
posted by stoneandstar at 3:22 PM on October 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I really enjoyed George Barr McCutcheon's "Graustark" is from 1901. It is fun, light, swashbuckly stuff... basically Prisoner of Zenda fanfiction. (It had sequels in 1904 and 1909 if you can't find other books in the decade) Sometimes it's fun to read the popular potboilers in addition to the 'classics.'
posted by Caravantea at 3:23 PM on October 20, 2016

That puts you in range of some amazing childrens' fiction, including stuff for young readers by L. Frank Baum, Kipling, Jack London and Edith Nesbitt. I remember Nesbitt's Five Children and It (1902) being very good, though I haven't picked it up in a long time.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:23 PM on October 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh! And it gets you The Wind in the Willows (1908) which is just lovely.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:26 PM on October 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

Dreiser's Sister Carrie is -- if I remember correctly from when I read it 20 years ago -- really very good. (And originally Doubleday passed because it was "too sordid.") Most early EM Forster falls into this decade (although you just miss Howard's End) and Room With a View is wonderful. Hound of the Baskervilles is 1902 if you want some Sherlock Holmes.

I agree that House of Mirth is great.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 3:27 PM on October 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

1900. L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
1901. Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career
1902. Owen Wister, The Virginian
1903. Joseph Furphy, Such is Life
1904. M.R. James, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
1905. Lord Dunsany, The Gods of Pegana
1906. Natsume Soseki, Kusamakura
1907. William Hope Hodgson, The Boats of the "Glen Carrig"
1908. L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
1909. Robert Walser, Jakob von Gunten
posted by Wobbuffet at 3:28 PM on October 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

(…and some of the early Peter Pan stuff too, which is frankly weird as shit and really darkly fascinating in a way that modern adaptations miss.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:28 PM on October 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Colette's Claudine novels are fun and strange and poignant. John Muir's Stickeen is charming. W.E.B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk is mandatory, poetic and powerful. Jane Addam's Democracy and Social Ethics, or The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets are both good and contain ideas that may feel refreshing when compared to others of their time. George Santayana's The Life of Reason, gorgeous and a rare book of philosophy that I have actually found helpful. Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie has an odd bleakness about it but it's one book I've read multiple times because it does have more to offer than comes through the first time.

It's weird, I always think of Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather, Lytton Strachey and such as being part of this decade, but they were still ripening then.
posted by notquitemaryann at 3:30 PM on October 20, 2016

McTeague is sooo close (1899).

And dark and funny. It's this wonderfully gruesome tale about a dentist and gold set on the frontier. Just read it anyways, even if its not on your list. It's kind of fucked up but in a great way.
posted by Fizz at 3:32 PM on October 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Jack London! He was prolific right up until his death, but it's the work between 1900-1910 that makes all the lists. So, White Fang and Call of the Wild and the two novels of his that made a lasting impression on a youthful notyou:

The Sea-Wolf 1904.
Martin Eden 1909.
posted by notyou at 3:37 PM on October 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Cheri is too late, but you could do Colette's Claudine novels.

dammit, forgot to preview. Try Chekhov!
posted by Diablevert at 3:38 PM on October 20, 2016

I really love "The Riddle of the Sands," by Erskine Childers, from 1903. It's a kind of spy novel, about two Englishmen, college chums, one a boat bum and one a Foreign Office man, who take a boat trip to the German Frisian Islands (north sea coast of Germany) and encounter another Englishman whose behavior is very unusual to the point of being suspicious.

It is said that this book so alarmed the British Defense personnel that they began radical changes in how they planned to mobilize and defend the country from invasion. This may not be true, but the book certainly and accurately predicted a dire threat to the island nation.

Protip: The book is in the public domain. I recommend printing out the 5 maps found in the book, or copying them out of a paper edition so you don't have to flip back to them when you wish to compare them to the narrative.

P.S.: Any chance you could post your list to Project.Mefi?
posted by Sunburnt at 4:14 PM on October 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, 1907
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:35 PM on October 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Having fenced in a previous life, I found "The Sword and the Centuries" by Alfred Hutton (1901) to be a fun read. It has transcribed records of duels fought in different places in Europe, as well as some discussion of techniques and descriptions of various dueling cultures and approaches.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 4:43 PM on October 20, 2016

Oooh yes, Kipling's Kim is definitely worth the read.

How about Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles was published 1901, and The Return of Sherlock Holmes in 1904.

And there's most of the Raffles short stories by E.W. Hornung (Conan Doyle's brother-in-law!): the first collection, The Amateur Cracksman, was published in 1899, but The Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman is from 1901, A Thief in the Night in 1905, and Mr. Justice Raffles in 1909.

They're often considered children's books, but Francis Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess dates from 1905 (althought it's a rewriting of an 1888 version, so it might not count), and The Secret Garden from 1909.

(If you still need something for 1912, there's Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan of the Apes. Or for 1911 there's G.K Chesterton's The innocence of Father Brown.)
posted by easily confused at 4:44 PM on October 20, 2016

Lots of Jack London suggested, but not …

1908 - The Iron Heel. Considered to be the first 'modern' dystopian novel, it charts the rise and early failure of a socialist revolutionary movement in the USA. A bit polemical - think Ayn Rand, but shorter, readable, and more somewhat believable - but also darkly satirical while also being terribly naïvely earnest.

(And speaking of earnest, a central character is an obvious author-insert with a blatantly eye-rolling aptonymic name…)
posted by Pinback at 5:05 PM on October 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

And not forgetting Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men on the Bummel for 1900. Three men, no dog, 10 years after … On A Boat, older, no wiser, cycling around Germany.
posted by Pinback at 5:12 PM on October 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

A Girl of The Limberlost, by Gene Stratton-Porter, is kind of like the American Anne of Green Gables. It was published in 1909. It's quite good, if a bit romantic (a hazard of the times). It has strong conservationist/ecological themes, and contains some absolutely fascinating information about moths, although I'd guess a lot of it is out of date now.
posted by katyggls at 5:13 PM on October 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Came in to say The House of Mirth, not surprised to see it's already been mentioned several times; hard to imagine anything else beating it for raw emotional power and literary technique.
posted by escabeche at 5:15 PM on October 20, 2016

Seconding Chesterton's 1908 novel "The Man Who Was Thursday," which would pair nicely with Conrad's "The Secret Agent," as they are both about the anarchists of London, and the cops who chase them. Chesterton's book is a bit more surreal, though. Conrad for certain, and possibly Chesterton, was inspired by the bomb attack on the Greenwich Observatory in 1894 by a French anarchist.

Chesterton also has a good collection of stories in a theme, published in 1905 as "The Club of Queer Trades," in which a detective investigates 6 members of the titular club, trying to unravel what strange thread binds these people together.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:15 PM on October 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Note that many of the children's novelists cited here also wrote stories for adults. I'm now curious about Frances Hodgson Burnett's book The Shuttle, for example. (Her novel A Lady of Quality is fascinating, but just a bit too early for your project. It's not high art, and the middle-book love story drags a bit, but it's a fluffy escapist romance about English nobility where the heroine cross-dresses and quite literally gets away with murder.)
posted by yarntheory at 5:29 PM on October 20, 2016

Some suggestions from Russia:

1901: Chekhov, Three Sisters
1903: Gorky, The Lower Depths (also translated At the Bottom, Night’s Lodging, Submerged, Down and Out)
1904: Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard
1907: Sologub, The Petty Demon (also translated The Little Demon)
1908: Bryusov, The Fiery Angel
           Andreev, The Seven Who Were Hanged
1909: Bely, The Silver Dove
posted by languagehat at 5:34 PM on October 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

B. M. (Bithnya May) Croker was a very entertaining Victorian novelist who wrote ghost stories as well as novels that depicted her time in India, Burma, and Ireland. Her most famous work is the Road To Mandalay, which was written in 1917, but there are e-copies of several of her other earlier things floating around the web.

B.M. Croker
posted by jfwlucy at 8:40 PM on October 20, 2016

Oh, I'm not 100% sure, but it looks as if the first American edition of Kropotkin's Conquest of Bread was in 1906 or 1907 (although it was first published in French in 1892 and serialized in English in part in London a couple of years later). Anarchism before anarchism became the province primarily of horrible little man-children.
posted by praemunire at 9:01 PM on October 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Anne of Green Gables 1908.
(What a cool challenge!)
posted by chapps at 10:45 PM on October 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Browsing the wiki lists the two I'd recommend without hesitation or caveat are The Man Who Was Thursday and Room With a View.

And yes this is absolutely a cool challenge to set yourself.
posted by mark k at 11:03 PM on October 20, 2016

Some lists to help you:

posted by TheRaven at 1:22 AM on October 21, 2016

You can't go wrong with a lot of the novels suggested here -- I favorited House of Mirth with enthusiasm -- but you might consider a work of non-fiction with elements of a novel (character, story), -- for one thing, it gives an incredibly vivid (and disturbing) sense of fin-de-siecle life: Freud's case of "Dora," Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (1905 [1901]. This is a case history of Freud's failure with the young patient -- she tells Freud how her father tried to "give" her sexually to the husband of the woman he himself is having an affair with, as a way of keeping the husband pacified -- and when Freud insists that she (as a young teen) must have actually been attracted to this adult family friend, she quits analysis. For obvious reasons this case study generated much feminist discussion of psychoanalysis, and it's also a compelling read. (But if you want only fiction: I third House of Mirth!)
posted by flourpot at 1:36 AM on October 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Several of H.G. Wells’ books, including The First Men on the Moon (1901); The War in the Air (1907) and Tono-Bungay (1908).
A number of George Bernard Shaw’s plays, including Major Barbara (published 1907).
Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove (1902) and The Ambassadors (1903), etc.
The Hill of Dreams by Arthur Machen (1907, but written earlier).
posted by misteraitch at 2:52 AM on October 21, 2016

Stopped by to second the recommendation of The Virginian by Owen Wister. If the description sounds cliché, that is because it was one of the first to do the cliché. And it does it very, very well.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:53 AM on October 21, 2016

E.M. Forster's A Room With A View (1908). It is utterly delightful and frothy, yet packs a real punch.
posted by kariebookish at 2:56 AM on October 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Now looking at Wikipedia, some more thoughts:

Thomas Mann: Buddenbrooks (1901). I read this when I was probably too young to appreciate it, but I was taken by its rich tapestry of characters and the amount of minutiae.

Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh (1903). Read this about ten years ago. Felt it was quite Victorian but in an interesting way, if that makes sense?
posted by kariebookish at 3:07 AM on October 21, 2016

I am very fond of Elizabeth. Most of her best things don't fall in your timeline, but if you'd like a sort of combination of travel book/comic novel, I recommend The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rugen from 1904.
posted by JanetLand at 6:51 AM on October 21, 2016

The Dubliners (James Joyce) was supposed to be published in 1905. Another publishing house was supposed to publish it 1909, but reneged and burned all of the copies, except for one which Joyce rescued. It was published in 1914 and is on the list of greatest books of the 20th Century.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:14 AM on October 21, 2016

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin is a great novel from Australia of 1901.
posted by goo at 7:19 AM on October 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin is a great novel from Australia of 1901.

Seconding this recommendation!
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:22 AM on October 21, 2016

My username compels me to recommend some Ernest Thompson Seton. He was a naturalist that believed that every animal is as individual as any human is. He was also cognizant of the impact that humans were having on the environment.

I would read 'The Biography of a Grizzly', 1900 (unfortunately missing his classic 'Wild Animals I Have Known', 1898). Hopefully you can find a copy of the work that contains his drawings, many of which lived in the margins. They are truly wonderful. Seton was a co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America (even though he was Canadian, and they later kicked him out because of it).

Also: try not to cry. I dare you.
posted by Quonab at 10:52 PM on October 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for the recommendations, advice, and information! I'm hitting up the library and Project Gutenberg this weekend; I've been avoiding this decade out of ignorance but now I'm absolutely spoiled with an abundance of diverse and exciting things to read.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 4:36 PM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

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