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Young England again boasts a remarkable galaxy of fiction writers. At the turn of the century Jane Austen created six exquisitely crafted comedies of manners that combine sparkling style, keen irony, and profound moral insight. Pride and Prejudice may have been displaced as the most important by Emma as the result of a flurry of excellent cinematic adaptations. Among the great victorian novels, Dickens’s David Copperfield, Bleak House, and Great Expectations; Thackeray’s Vanity Fair; George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Mill on the Floss; and Trollope’s Barchester Towers and The Way We Live Now would seem to be indispensable.

Seventeenth-century France boasts its great triumvirate: the tragedians Corneille and Racine and the comedian Molière. For Corneille, Le Cid is the obvious choice; for Racine, Andromache or Phaedra; for Molière, The Misanthrope or Tartuffe. Spanish Golden-Age drama— the theatre of Cervantes’ contemporaries—is an undiscovered treasure for most Americans. Lope de Vega is notable for his prodigious fecundity rather than for any one outstanding play. His younger contemporary, Calderón de la Barca, was also remarkably productive, but his Life Is a Dream stands out as perhaps the most powerful and representative baroque drama, while The Prodigious Magician is a fascinating version of the Faust legend.

Joyce’s greatest disciple, and one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century, is William Faulkner in works like The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. Yet the most enduring novelist of the early twentieth century, although she lacks academic cachet at the present, may be Sigrid Undset for her multivolume historical works, Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken. Perhaps no one comes closer to the great nineteenth-century Russians in achieving the esssential task of the novelist: to shape a complex, compelling narrative, peopled with convincing characters, and transfigured by profound spiritual significance.

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