Discover the best 1920s books with these timeless classic books. Learn more about 1920s literature from these stories by authors in the 1920s.
When you think about the Roaring Twenties, flapper girls and speakeasies come to mind. It was the decade sandwiched between two world wars, a time of decadence and change.
Along with such famous 1920s books as The Great Gatsby, you’ll find other books written in the 1920s the showcase how much the world was changing. Anti-war sentiment was on the rise, as were socialism and progressive ideas like women’s rights.
It’s astounding to think of the staying power of novels written a hundred years ago. If you are interested in classics, you’ll want to try one of these classic books of the 1920s.
Well-Known 1920s Books
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great American novel serves as the quintessential work of the Jazz Age. As the narrator enters the world of Long Island’s fabulously wealthy, we meet the mysterious Jay Gatsby and the beautiful Daisy Buchanan. The quintessential example of books about the roarings 20s, this short but memorable book is one that everyone should read in their lifetime.
James Joyce pushed 1920s literature to new levels with this classic book. With a story loosely based on The Odyssey, Ulysses captures a single day of ordinary Dubliners in 1904, using experimental technique, lyricism, and vulgarity to make it a ground-breaking work.
One of the best known satirical books about the 1920s, Babbitt is Sinclair Lewis’s statement against the inanity of middle-class life in America. George Babbitt, a successful realtor, spends his life working hard to increase his income and earn more modern conveniences, highlighting the mediocrity of America’s consumer society.
William Faulkner’s best known novel details the fall of the Compson family, Southern aristocrats in Jefferson, Mississippi, whose family is beginning to break up. Over thirty years, the family meets financial ruin, loses its reputation and many of its members die tragically.
Dreiser’s story follows Clyde Griffiths, who spends his life desperately seeking success while shirking personal responsibility and asking impulsively. When his pregnant girlfriend dies while they are on the lake, Clyde is placed on trial for her murder. You probably didn’t expect to find a true crime novel among my list of 1920s novels, but Theodore Dreiser’s classic work is based on an actual criminal case.
Ernest Hemingway’s debut novel is the story of a group of American expatriates in Paris drinking their way through life. Typifying the Lost Generation, you meet the hapless reporter Jake Barnes and the vivacious Lady Brett Ashley. From the streets of Paris to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, Hemingway paints a picture of unrealized love, moral confusion, and lost hope.
1920s Novels from Female Authors
In 1851, Father Jean Marie Latour is appointed the Apostolic Minister of New Mexico. Over forty years, he comes to understand this desert setting with its red hills and people who may be American by law but are Mexican and Native American tradition.
As he prepares to marry the traditional Mary Welland, Newland Archer’s eye is suddenly caught by the return of Countess Ellen Olenska after her disastrous marriage. Now Archer must decide between duty and passion and whether he dares to face the scandal his actions may cause. If you are looking for award-winning 1920s books, you don’t want to miss Wharton’s portrait of the Golden Age of New York society, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1921.
Agatha Christie’s mysteries are one of the books in the 1920s that we still read today. In her debut novel, for the first time, we meet Detective Hercule Poirot, a Belgian refugee investigating the murder of a wealthy older woman in the English countryside. Full of red herrings and plot twists that we expect from Christie, The Mysterious Affair at Styles showcases the start of a long and successful career of one of the best mystery writers to ever live.
Considered Virginia Woolf’s best novel, Mrs. Dalloway chronicles a single day in the life of its titular character. On this particular day, Clarissa Dalloway is preparing to host a party that evening. As she works on her preparations, her mind wanders as she reexamines her past choices against her present realities.
When talking about literature in the 1920s, I can’t help but mention Virginia Woolf twice. To the Lighthouse is a novel not of plot but of introspection. The novel describes the Ramsay family and their visits to the Island of Skye in Scotland over ten years, highlighting the complex relationships inherent in family life.
1920s Literature To Try
Carol Milford has always dreamed of redesigning villages and towns. While working as a librarian in St. Paul, she marries Will Kennicott and he convinces her to move to his small hometown of Gopher Prarie, Minnesota. There, her efforts to bring about progressive reforms are derided by the leading townspeople. Main Street was the first breakout success from Sinclair Lewis, who later became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Ernest Hemingway’s semiautobiographical work recounts the story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front of World War I who falls in love with a beautiful English nurse. Set against the horrors of war, A Farewell to Arms was Hemingway’s first bestseller, and rightfully deserves a place on any list of 1920s books.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
When you think about books set in the 1920s, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby probably comes to mind first. But you shouldn’t discount his first novel, which helped him win the hand of his wife Zelda Sayre and catapulted Fitzgerald into an instant celebrity. In the semiautobiographical This Side of Paradise, an idealistic Princeton student struggles with love that is dependent on wealth and status-seeking.
Written a decade earlier, The Trial‘s publication date a year after Kafka’s death puts it firmly among the 1920s books. In Kafka’s terrifying story of a totalitarian government propped up by mindless bureaucracy, Josef K., a respected bank manager, is arrested one day but authorities refuse to tell him his crime.
E. M. Forster
When Adela Quested and her elderly companion Mrs. Moore arrive in India, they are put off by prejudiced English society. Instead, they set off to see the “real India” under the guidance of Dr. Aziz, a charming Indian Muslim. But an incident in a cave sets off a scandal with the respectable doctor at its center in this novel about India during English imperialism.
On July 20, 1714, a century-old Incan rope bridge in Peru breaks, killing five people. After witnessing the event, Brother Juniper, a Franciscan friar, sets out to learn more about the lives of each individual, looking for the divine in the accident.
Herman Hesse’s acclaimed novel follows a wealthy Indian Brahmin who forsakes his riches for a life of self-enlightenment. Written as a contemporary of the Buddha, Siddhartha’s journey encompasses both Eastern and Western philosophies. Originally published in 1922 in Germany, Siddhartha didn’t receive its first American edition until the 1950s.
If you haven’t already guessed, Sinclair Lewis is one of my favorite authors, and I couldn’t help but include one more of his seminal works. In my favorite of his books, we meet the corrupt golden-tongued preacher Elmer Gantry. A study in hypocrisy, Gantry rises to fame as an evangelist minister while living a private life full of lies, sex, and vulgarity.
Poetry Books Written in the 1920s
T. S. Eliot
Written in five parts, Eliot’s poem combines the Holy Grail and the Fisher King stories with looks at contemporary British Society. Considered one of the premier works of modern poetry, The Waste Land is considered the most famous work of the Nobel Prize-winning poet.
The rise of anti-war sentiment in 1920 literature is readily apparent in Wilfred Owen’s poetry. Discussing the horrors of the trenches and gas warfare during World War I, Owens’s firsthand experiences reverberate through his powerful verses. Owens died in action just one week before the Armistice was signed, and his first collection of poetry, with some of his most famous works, was published posthumously in 1920.
This poetry collection was the first published book by Langston Hughes, father of the Harlem Renaissance. Powerfully speaking about the experiences of African Americans, Hughes is known for creating the form of jazz poetry.
1920s Books for Children
Franklin W. Dixon
One of the most famous 1920s books children still read today is the mystery series starring the Hardy brothers (although the books were heavily revised in the 1950s.) Teenagers Frank and Joe Hardy are amateur sleuths, solving cases that stumped adults. In their first case, the search for a treasure a dying criminal claims to have hidden in a tower.
Gertrude Chandler Warner
One of the most timeless books of the 1920s is Warner’s The Boxcar Children series, which I devoured in my childhood. Four orphaned children create a home for themselves in an abandoned boxcar in this beloved children’s series.
This beloved children’s classic, illustrated by William Nicholson, tells of a stuffed animal bunny given as a Christmas present. Although initially overlooked, the bunny becomes the boy’s favorite toy and longs to become real.
A. A. Milne
The adventures of Christopher Robin’s beloved bear of very little brain is one that every child should have read to them and that every adult should read again. With his smart humor, A. A. Milne reminds you of the pure joy of a child’s imagination.
I wanted to add one last 1920 book to my list. In 1920, Hugh Lofting introduced the world to Doctor Doolittle, a physician who prefers animals to humans. Eventually, the good doctor learns to speak to the animals, setting off a series of wild adventures.
How Do You Feel About 1920s Literature?
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my 1920s Books list? What books published in the 1920s have I forgotten? As always, let me know in the comments!
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