Books that meet high moral standards and contain limited foul language, sexual content, and descriptions of violence.
- Before using this list, please read my disclaimer.
- Every book on this list meets “My Clean Reading Criteria” and is one that I finished, liked, and felt was worth my time to read. To learn more about the purpose of this list please see “About Novaun Novels.”
- For information on how I classify religious fiction, please see “Is Fiction Marketed to Latter-day Saints ‘Christian Fiction’?” For how I evaluate religious content in the books I read, please see “What About Doctrinal Differences?“
- All descriptions in quotation marks come from the book jackets or other descriptions from the publishers. Follow the author links to the corresponding Project Gutenberg pages. Follow the title links to the page, post, or Goodreads review that contains my commentary on the book.
Agnes Grey (English classic)
“When her family becomes impoverished after a disastrous financial speculation, Agnes Grey determines to find work as a governess in order to contribute to their meagre income and assert her independence. But Agnes’s enthusiasm is swiftly extinguished as she struggles first with the unmanageable Bloomfield children and then with the painful disdain of the haughty Murray family; the only kindness she receives comes from Mr Weston, the sober young curate.“
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (English classic)
“Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by Helen Graham, a beautiful and secretive young widow who has moved into nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. He is quick to offer Helen his friendship, but when her reclusive behavior becomes the subject of local gossip and speculation, Gilbert begins to wonder whether his trust in her has been misplaced. It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of her past.”
Jane Erye (English classic)
“Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.”
Shirley (English classic)
“A mill-owner, Robert Moore, is determined to introduce new machinery despite fierce opposition from his workers; he ignores their suffering, and puts his own life at risk. Robert sees marriage to the wealthy Shirley Keeldar as the solution to his difficulties, but he loves his cousin Caroline. She suffers misery and frustration, and Shirley has her own ideas about the man she will choose to marry.”
Villette (English classic)
“With neither friends nor family, Lucy Snowe sets sail from England to find employment in a girls’ boarding school in the small town of Villette. There she struggles to retain her self-possession in the face of unruly pupils, an initially suspicious headmaster, and her own complex feelings, first for the school’s English doctor and then for the dictatorial professor, Paul Emmanuel. Charlotte Brontë’s last and most autobiographical novel is a powerfully moving study of isolation and the pain of unrequited love, narrated by a heroine determined to preserve an independent spirit in the face of adverse circumstances.”
My Antonia (American classic)
“Against Nebraska’s panoramic landscape, My Antonia (1918) re-creates the life of an immigrant girl who becomes, in the memories of narrator Jim Burden, the ideal of strong and resourceful womanhood, and a figure of salvation.”
A Lost Lady (American classic)
A young Nebraska man gradually becomes disillusioned as the beautiful and elegant Mrs. Forrester proves to be less than perfect.
O Pioneers! (American classic)
“O Pioneers! tells the story of Alexandra Bergson, the daughter of Swedish immigrants, who is given her family’s farm after the death of her father. She sets out to make the land pay—even when everyone else is moving on—and succeeds brilliantly, while coming to realize her love for a close family friend.”
The Song of the Lark (American classic)
“Thea Kronberg, a minister’s daughter in a provincial Colorado town, seems destined from childhood for a place in the wider world. But as her path to the world stage leads her ever farther from the humble town she can’t forget and from the man she can’t afford to love, Thea learns that her exceptional musical talent and fierce ambition are not enough.”
The Keys of the Kingdom (Christian historical fiction)
“Francis Chisholm is a compassionate and humble priest whose individuality and directness make him unpopular with other clergy. Considered a failure by his superiors, he is sent to China to maintain a mission amid desperate poverty, civil war, plague, and the hostility of his superiors.”
David Copperfield (English classic)
“David Copperfield is the story of a young man’s adventures on his journey from an unhappy and impoverished childhood to the discovery of his vocation as a successful novelist. Among the gloriously vivid cast of characters he encounters are his tyrannical stepfather, Mr. Murdstone; his formidable aunt, Betsey Trotwood; the eternally humble yet treacherous Uriah Heep; frivolous, enchanting Dora; and the magnificently impecunious Micawber, one of literature’s great comic creations.”
Our Mutual Friend (English classic)
“A body is found in the Thames and identified as that of John Harmon, a young man recently returned to London to receive his inheritance. Were he alive, his father’s will would require him to marry Bella Wilfer, a beautiful, mercenary girl whom he had never met. Instead, the money passes to the working-class Boffins, and the effects spread into various corners of London society.”
Crime and Punishment (Russian classic)
“The poverty-stricken Raskolnikov, a talented student, devises a theory about extraordinary men being above the law, since in their brilliance they think ‘new thoughts’ and so contribute to society. He then sets out to prove his theory by murdering a vile, cynical old pawnbroker and her sister. The act brings Raskolnikov into contact with his own buried conscience and with two characters—the deeply religious Sonia, who has endured great suffering, and Porfiry, the intelligent and discerning official who is charged with investigating the murder—both of whom compel Raskolnikov to feel the split in his nature.”
Note: I read the English translation by Constance Garnett.
The Idiot (Russian classic)
“. . . a saintly man, Prince Myshkin, is thrust into the heart of a society more concerned with wealth, power and sexual conquest than with the ideals of Christianity. Myshkin soon finds himself at the center of a violent love triangle in which a notorious woman and a beautiful young girl become rivals for his affections.”
Note: I read the English translation by Constance Garnett.
Douglas, Lloyd C.
Magnificent Obsession (inspirational fiction)
“When Robert Merrick’s life is saved at the expense of the life of an eccentric but adored surgeon, the carefree playboy is forced to reevaluate his own path. Merrick embarks on a course of anonymous philanthropy, inspired by reading the doctor’s private papers.”
Eliot, George (pen name of Mary Ann Evans)
Adam Bede (English classic)
“The story of a beautiful country girl’s seduction by the local squire and its bitter, tragic sequel is an old and familiar one which George Eliot invests with peculiar and haunting power.”
Flappers and Philosophers (American classic)
Stories that revolve around “beautiful and willful young women” coming of age on the threshold of the 1920s.
The Great Gatsby (American classic)
“After the war, the mysterious Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire pursues wealth, riches and the lady he lost to another man with stoic determination. When Gatsby finally does reunite with Daisy Buchanan, tragic events are set in motion. Told through the eyes of his detached and omnipresent neighbour and friend, Nick Carraway, Fitzgerald’s succinct and powerful prose hints at the destruction and tragedy that awaits.”
Mary Barton (English classic)
“In Manchester, long-suffering John Barton and his daughter, Mary, both want a better future for each other. John toils away with the trades’ union for better wages for his fellow workers in the textile mill, while Mary must consider whom she will marry. She decides to leave the working-class Jem Wilson, hoping instead to wed Harry Carson, the wealthy mill owner’s son. But when Harry is shot down in the street, Jem becomes the prime suspect—and learning the truth may yield a future Mary cannot bear.”
Mr. Harrison’s Confessions (English classic)
“The story revolves around the arrival in the town of a young doctor and the attempts of the ladies of the town to place his status within their society and of course to find him a suitable wife.”
My Lady Ludlow (English classic)
“Lady Ludlow is absolute mistress of Hanbury Court and a resolute opponent of anything that might disturb the class system into which she was born. . . . But [she] is not as rigid as one may think.”
Ruth (English classic)
“Ruth Hilton is an orphaned young seamstress who catches the eye of a gentleman, Henry Bellingham, who is captivated by her simplicity and beauty. When she loses her job and home, he offers her comfort and shelter, only to cruelly desert her soon after. Nearly dead with grief and shame, Ruth is offered the chance of a new life among people who give her love and respect, even though they are at first unaware of her secret—an illegitimate child.”
Far From the Madding Crowd (English classic)
“Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community.”
Return of the Native (English classic)
“Clym Yeobright, the native of the title, returns to Hardy’s fictional Egdon Heath determined to be a force for social progress. Dazzled by the beauty of Eustacia Vye, he imagines they’re soul mates, woos and wins her, and enters into what is at first a passionate marriage. He soon discovers that what she really wants is a passport to a more exciting and sophisticated life, away from provincial England.”
Tess of the D’Urbervilles (English classic)
“When Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D’Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting her ‘cousin’ Alec proves to be her downfall. A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent in the hope of a peaceful future.”
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (historical fiction)
Elderly English schoolmaster Mr. Chipping remembers his life with pleasure before he says goodbye for the last time.
Random Harvest (historical romance) “Charles Rainier, heir to a distinguished British family, has three years missing from his life. This is the story of his attempt to rediscover those years and the woman he loved, and may have lost forever.”
So Well Remembered (historical fiction)
George Boswell, an idealistic small-town politician in post World War 1 England, is delighted to entertain Lord Winslow in his home—until he learns that Winslow is there to deliver some disturbing news about George’s cryptic, unforgettable wife.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Russian classic)
“The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the story of a worldly careerist, a high court judge who has never given the inevitability of his dying so much as a passing thought. But one day, death announces itself to him, and to his shocked surprise, he is brought face to face with his own mortality.”
Note: I read the English translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (Irish classic)
“Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray sells his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. Under the influence of Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life, where he is able to indulge his desires while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only Dorian’s picture bears the traces of his decadence.”
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