First Novels by Famous Authors

Who’s that man in the picture?

Yesterday I had the idea to make a list of the first novels written by a few famous authors. Once I got started, however, I didn’t know where to stop! And then I went down the rabbit hole of reading about many of the authors’ lives. Some have led troubled and tragic lives (like the Brontë sisters) and some have lived happily well into their 90s. And some are just getting started.

Looking back, it was interesting to see what was being written during the same time frame. I’ve always liked imagining authors together in the same room, like the salons that Gertrude Stein used to host in Paris.

 I have read some of these firsts and the linked titles are ones I’ve reviewed on my blog. The thing is, we don’t always read the firsts, do we?

I decided to limit it to adult novels, so no plays, essays, poetry, short story collections or children’s or young adult books. I tried to mix the literary type writers with popular fiction writers, like James Patterson, John Grisham, Stephen King and others.

19th Century

  • Charles Dickens: The Pickwick Papers (1836-37)
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky: Poor Folk (1845)
  • Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights (1847) – read in college
  • Anne Brontë: Agnes Grey (1847)
  • Wilkie Collins: Basil (1851)
  • Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary (1857)
  • Charlotte Brontë: The Professor (published posthumously 1857)
  • Mark Twain: The Innocents Abroad (1869)
  • Thomas Hardy: Desperate Remedies (1871)

20th Century

  • Edith Wharton: The Valley of Decision (1902)
  • P. G. Wodehouse: The Pothunters (1902)
  • Eleanor H. Porter: The Turn of the Tide (1908)
  • D. H. Lawrence: The White Peacock (1911)
  • Virginia Woolf: The Voyage Out (1915)
  • Franz Kafka: The Metamorphosis (1915) – read in college
  • James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)
  • Agatha Christie: The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: This Side of Paradise (1920)
  • Erich Maria Remarque: The Dream Room (1920)
  • Aldous Huxley: Crome Yellow (1920)
  • Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises (1926)
  • William Faulkner: Soldier’s Pay (1926)
  • Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the Wind (1926)
  • Graham Greene: The Man Within (1929)
  • John Steinbeck: Cup of Gold (1929)
  • Daphne du Maurier: The Loving Spirit (1931)
  • George Orwell: Burmese Days (1934)
  • John O’Hara: Appointment in Samarra (1934)
  • Ayn Rand: We the Living (1936)
  • J. R. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit (1937) – read in high school
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: Nausea (1938)
  • Albert Camus: The Stranger (1942) – read in college
  • Jack Kerouac: The Sea Is My Brother (1942)
  • Truman Capote: Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948)
  • Doris Lessing: The Grass Is Singing (1949)
  • Isaac Asimov: Pebble in the Sky (1950)
  • J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
  • Kurt Vonnegut: Player Piano (1952)
  • James Baldwin: Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)
  • Leon Uris: Battle Cry (1953)
  • Ian Fleming: Casino Royale (1953)
  • William S. Burroughs: Junky (1953)
  • Philip K. Dick: Solar Lottery/World of Chance (1955)
  • Herman Wouk: Marjorie Morningstar (1955) – read in the 90s
  • Gabriel García Márquez: Leaf Storm (1955)
  • John Updike: The Poorhouse Fair (1958)
  • Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • Philip Roth: Letting Go (1962)
  • Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar (1963, her only novel) – read in my 20s
  • Susan Sontag: The Benefactor (1963)
  • Anne Tyler: If Morning Ever Comes (1964)
  • Cormac McCarthy: The Orchard Keeper (1965)
  • Margaret Atwood: The Edible Woman (1969)
  • Sidney Sheldon: The Naked Face (1969)
  • Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye (1970) – read in the 90s
  • Charles Bukowski: Post Office (1971)
  • Stephen King: Carrie (1974)
  • Salman Rushdie: Grimus (1975)
  • Anne Rice: Interview with the Vampire (1976)
  • James Patterson: The Thomas Berryman Number (1976)
  • Judith Krantz: Scruples (1978)
  • Ian McEwan: The Cement Garden (1978)
  • Haruki Murakami: Hear We the Wind (1979)
  • Marilynne Robinson: Housekeeping (1980)
  • Isabel Allende: The House of Spirits (1982)
  • Kazuo Ishiguro: A Pale View of Hills (1982)
  • Hilary Mantel: Every Day is Mother’s Day (1985)
  • Scott Turow: Presumed Innocent (1987)
  • David Foster Wallace: The Broom of the System (1987)
  • Michael Chabon: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988)
  • Alan Hollinghurst: The Swimming Pool Library (1988)
  • Jonathan Franzen: The Twenty-seventh City (1988)
  • W. G. Sebald: After Nature (1988)
  • Chris Bohjalian: A Killing in the Real World (1988)
  • Amy Tan: The Joy Luck Club (1989) – read in the 90s
  • John Grisham: A Time to Kill (1989) – read in the 90s
  • Neil Gaiman: Good Omens (1990)
  • Harlan Coben: Play Dead (1990)
  • Elena Ferrante: Molesto (1992)
  • Ann Patchett: The Patron Saint of Liars (1992)
  • Michael Connelly: The Black Echo (1992)
  • Anne Enright: The Wig My Father Wore (1995)
  • Kate Atkinson: Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995)
  • Jennifer Egan: The Invisible Circus (1995)
  • George Saunders: CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996)
  • Elizabeth Strout: Amy and Isabel (1998)
  • David Mitchell: Ghostwritten (1999)
  • Markus Zusak: The Underdog (1999)
  • Colson Whitehead: The Intuitionist (1999)

21st Century

Trivia Quiz

What famous author is in the top picture?

What newer authors will stand the test of time? Are any authors from the 90s to present at the same level as Dickens, the Brontës, Hemingway or Fitzgerald and many others? I think so. Drop some names in the comments!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

45 thoughts on “First Novels by Famous Authors

  1. Hi Barbara, I’ve read many of these authors but not that many of their first books. I didn’t like Hemingway’s first book and obviously many of these authors improved with age as their first book isn’t their most famous book.

    1. Hi Robbie, yes I was thinking that too. I did like The Sun Also Rises, but not as much as Hemingway’s other books. I know you like The Old Man and the Sea best, right? Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  2. Super post, Barbara. There are so many authors who rival the classics. I think the craft has become more reader focused than author-focused. I re-read Moby Dick recently and was astonished by the droning narrative that modern readers would not tolerate.

    1. Hi John – thank goodness there’s someone else who thought Moby Dick was full of droning narrative! I read it a couple times for school and found it very boring. Thanks for stopping by – hope you’re doing well!

  3. You are on a roll here. Like Robbie, I’ve read many of these authors. Harper Lee, Toni Morrison, Anthony Doerr, and Emily Bronte stand out. My guess on the author: Dostoevsky.

    1. Thanks, Marian – this list has inspired me to read some more of the “firsts” – I have been wanting to read Go Tell It on the Mountain and The Patron Saint of Liars. Thanks for guessing on the picture – it’s not Dostoevsky but you’re in the right century!

    1. Hi Rosaliene – thank you for reading and commenting – I haven’t read all of these – not by a long shot, but I’m inspired by seeing the list. Hope you are doing well 🙂

  4. What a great reading list idea! I’m surprised at how many of these that I’ve read (also didn’t realise many of them were firsts). I think it’s Dickens in the picture. Cheers.

    1. Yes, I got stuck in the Bronte rabbit hole. They had so much tragedy in their lives and died at such young ages. I’ve read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, but not Agnes Grey. Did you read that for one of your book groups?

  5. By coincidence I reviewed ‘A Pale View of Hills’ yesterday. Incidentally it appears to be worth 100 times what I paid for it in 1982 – not that that will make any difference.

  6. So far, I’ve preferred Doerr’s About Grace more than his other books so… Other authors who are making it big… Maggie O’Farrell and Marie Benedict and Rachel Joyce. There’s also Fredrik Backman

    1. Ah yes, I was thinking about including Backman, but I haven’t really enjoyed his books. Not that I’ve read all of these either and would know whether I like them, so that’s not a good reason! I’m going to look up O’Farrell’s and Benedict’s books. Thanks for the visit!

  7. What a fun list! I’ve read a few, but there are plenty more by authors I enjoy that I should go back and read as well. Hard to believe that House of the Spirits is Isabel Allende’s first book — it’s so beautifully written!

    1. Hi Lisa – thank you so much for stopping by! I have not read anything by Allende but I’ve been thinking about reading one of her books. I hope you are doing well and that you’re in the middle of a good book! 🙂

  8. Dickens? FYI..I’m saving this post to look at when I have more time. I knew I shouldn’t have kept reading?

    1. Hi LA – you are correct! Thank you for stopping by to read this. I hope you are doing well. I’ve been scrambling around doing so many things that I haven’t had a lot of extra time to visit blogs – I’ll be around to see what you’re up to soon. I always enjoy your thought-provoking posts!

  9. I’ve read some of those books, but not nearly as many as I should have. I love Tana French, but I think “In the Woods” wasn’t one of her best. I really prefer “Faithful Place” and “Broken Harbor!”

    1. Hi Ann – I’m glad you commented on Tana French. I liked In the Woods and I also read The Searcher which I thought was pretty good. I’ve been wanting to go back and read something else by her – thanks for the recommendations! And thanks for the visit!

  10. Powerful list. My recommendation for addition would be of Amitav Ghosh, a New York based Indian origin writer whose first book Circle of Reason, was published in the eighties. However, I did not like Circle of Reason as much as his later books.

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