There is no shortage of great literature about England, or by English writers. Whether it’s about the English and their manners, a foreigner moving to London, a little red-headed school girl taking a class trip, or a day in the life of a woman planning a party, stories set in the country you’re visiting will provide you with a new perspective and add another layer of excitement into your planning or actual trip.
If you’re headed to England, spend some time reading these books before your travels. Reading about a country you will soon explore will make your adventures rich with knowledge and more fulfilling. There’s nothing like learning as much as you can before a trip to get the most out of it and to see the stories you read about come to life.
1. LONDON: A BIOGRAPHY by Peter Ackroyd
Get to know London through its history, people, and observations. Two thousand years worth of history and folklore are in this biography of the capital of England – read it to get a good sense of the culture and events that shaped this city.
2. A LITTLE PRINCESS by Francis Hodgson Burnett
You might know this story better as the movie version, which we grew up watching too many times to count. In this 1905 children’s novel, wealthy Sara Crewe tries to make friends at boarding school in London. However, when her father, Captain Crewe dies, the headmistress of the school strips Sara of her nice things, and she is transformed from a princess to a pauper.
3. SORRY!: THE ENGLISH AND THEIR MANNERS by Henry Hitchings
What does it mean to have proper manners? Henry Hitchings examines English manners and investigates what it means to be English. We love books that help us better understand different cultures, mannerisms, and provide a unique anthropological view of how others live.
4. WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s debut novel is the story of two friends and veterans from World War II – Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal – in their later years. Set in North London, Smith tackles a beautiful story of friendship, life, race, history, and culture.
5. THE GREAT STINK by Clare Clark
In 1855, engineer William May returns to Victorian London to transform the city’s sewer system. When a murder occurs in the tunnels, William is considered a suspect. Clark creatively combines fact and fiction to produce a gripping story.
6. BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens
Dickens tackles the injustices of the British legal system in this classic novel. Known as one of Dickens’ most ambitious novel, he takes readers from the British aristocracy to the poorest of the London slums.
7. LONDONERS by Craig Taylor
Journalist Craig Taylor shines a unique perspective on London through the eyes of those who live there. From a rickshaw driver in the West End to a Soldier of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, London is loved and hated. The memories and stories from those who have been a part of its history are included in this book.
8. MRS. DALLOWAY by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf’s extraordinary talent is captured in this novel through her examination of a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares for a party in London in June 1923.
9. A CONCISE CHINESE-ENGLISH DICTIONARY FOR LOVERS by Xiaolu Guo
An inventive novel of language and love, Guo explorse a young Chinese woman’s journey to London to learn English. When she meets an Englishman and falls in love, she learns more about herself and language than ever before.
10. THE BALLAD OF PECKHAM RYE by Muriel Spark
In this story, Dougal Douglas, a Scottish migrant, moves to Peckham in London and wreaks havoc on the town and those who live there. This 1960 short novel is known to have a fresh comic style and interesting supernatural elements.
11. BRICK LANE by Monica Ali
After an arranged marriage, Nazneen is taken to London and has to leave her Bangladeshi village behind. Readers are taken along for the adventures of Nazneen’s new life.
12. THE NIGHT WATCH by Sarah Waters
In this story of four Londoners, three women and a young man’s lives intertwine and then change in the shadow of a grant event. We are all for literary suspense.
13. SECOND-CLASS CITIZEN by Buchi Emecheta
In this classic tale of a Nigerian woman, Adah, who brings her family to London, themes about immigration, identity, and racism emerge. Though Adah seeks an independent life for herself and her children, she is faced with the hard truths of being a new citizen.
14. MADELINE IN LONDON by Ludwig Bemelmans
The beloved Madeline makes her way to London with her class and Miss Clavel to visit Pepito, who has just moved there.
15. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen
First published in 1813, this beautiful novel is one for the ages. The story follows Elizabeth Bennet as she deals with issues of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in the society of the landed gentry of the British Regency. You can never go wrong with Jane Austen.
What books about London have you read or are interested in reading?