It’s time for books again! I recently wrote about 21 books to read while traveling and 11 books to read about London. To continue in that vein, today I want to share my 15 picks for books to read in England. I’ve read all of them and I hope they inspire you to travel in the UK and keep you company while you do.
Books to Read in England
The following list includes my favorite books set in England. Whether the author discloses the exact location or sets the story in a general area, they all give a flavor of local life in their corner of the country.
1. Pride and Prejudice – Derbyshire
Pride and Prejudice has probably done more for tourism in Derbyshire than anything else in history. Among other parts of England, this Jane Austen novel whisks readers off to Mr Darcy’s estate at Pemberley (now associated with Chatsworth House) and its lovely surroundings. You can get the book here.
2. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Stonehenge
Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles is one of the most famous novels set in Stonehenge. The dramatic scene that takes place in the middle of the standing stones is haunting and beautiful, and imagining it adds a fascinating layer to the visit as you walk around the site. You can get it here.
3. Canterbury Tales – Canterbury
Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are some of the most famous stories in the English language (well, Middle English anyway). They’re told from the perspective of religious pilgrims making their way to Canterbury Cathedral, and go from hilarious to rude and back again. If you’re traveling to Canterbury, they’re just the things to help you pass an enjoyable journey. You can get them here.
4. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Devon
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes didn’t just solve mysteries in London. In The Hound of the Baskervilles he headed out to Dartmoor to solve a mystery involving a phantom dog. Doyle’s descriptions of the moors are great preparation for the moody atmosphere you’ll encounter in this part of Devon. You can get it here.
5. On Chesil Beach – Dorset
Another of my picks for books to read in England is Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach. This book follows a couple on honeymoon on the Dorset coast at Chesil Beach, where things don’t go quite the way they imagined. It’s a quick read and a great one to pick up before traveling to the seaside. You can get it here.
6. Emma – Surrey
Jane Austen’s Emma follows one of England’s most famous literary socialites as she swans around her village in Surrey. While the town in the novel is fictional, many think it’s based on Leatherhead. Whatever the truth, Surrey is just outside London and packed with picture-pretty villages, so it’s worth grabbing a copy of Emma and hitting the road. You can get it here.
7. Wuthering Heights – Yorkshire Moors
Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is not only an English classic, but also a great book to read to get inspiration for visiting the Yorkshire Moors. The misty ambiance and wild parkland she describes in the novel are based on her personal experience living in Yorkshire. They’ll get you in the mood to visit this dramatic part of England. You can get it here.
8. Dracula – Whitby
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is partially set in the seaside town of Whitby, and the town is famous for its association with the novel. It’s a great book to read if you’re traveling to the north of England, as it sets the tone for an emotive visit. Then again, there are also scenes set in London’s Hampstead, so if you’re looking for something closer to the capital this is the ticket. You can get it here.
9. Life at Blandings – Shropshire
P. G. Wodehouse is one of the best loved humorists of all time, and Life at Blandings is one of his best loved novels (well, three novels in one). Set in Shropshire at the fictional Blandings Castle (which some believe is based on Apley Park House), it’s the perfect read if you’re looking to laugh out loud and get in the English country spirit at the same time. You can get it here.
10. Brideshead Revisited – Oxford
Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is a staple of 20th century English fiction. It begins in Oxford, where the protagonist meets Sebastian Flyte, an aristocrat who brings him home to Brideshead Castle (which may have been modeled after Madresfield Court in Worcestershire). If you’ll be visiting Oxford University, this is a great novel to bring along. You can get it here.
11. Middlemarch – Midlands
George Eliot’s Middlemarch is subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life” for good reason. Set in the Midlands, this epic novel focuses on 19th-century village life with intertwining plots and a rich roster of characters. It’s just the book to read on a long-haul flight or to get inspiration for a trip to the English countryside. You can get it here.
12. Great Expectations – Kent
Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is one of the most famous novels to come out of the UK, and is certainly deserving of its place on a list of books to read in England. The novel begins in the Kent marshes, which Dickens describes in moving detail. Even Satis House, the home of Miss Havisham, is the name of an actual mansion in Rochester. If you’re heading to Kent, this is a good read for the journey. You can get it here.
13. The Sense of an Ending – Bristol
In Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, Tony Webster goes to Bristol University. His life gets complicated after he meets a girl named Veronica there, and years later their paths cross again. The book was made into a movie earlier this year, but since we all know that books are better than their film counterparts (well, usually), I recommend getting a copy before heading to Bristol. You can get it here.
14. The Merry Wives of Windsor – Windsor
So it’s not exactly a book, but I couldn’t resist including Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor in my list. Not only is the play the sole Shakespearean comedy entirely set in England, but also a good read (or watch, if you have the opportunity to see it on stage). If you’re itching to visit Windsor or just want some good old fashioned entertainment, this is just the thing. You can get it here.
15. Persuasion – Bath
I stared my list of books to read in England with Jane Austen, so it seems fitting to end it with her. Bath is one of the most beautiful towns in the country, and Persuasion culminates here. So if you’re in the mood to be whisked off to the Regency era, grab a copy and get inspired. You can get it here.
What do you think are the best books to read in England?
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