Introducing Little Black Classics: 80 books for Penguin’s 80th birthday. Little Black Classics celebrate the huge range and diversity of Penguin Classics, with books from around the world and across many centuries. They take us from a balloon ride over Victorian London to a garden of blossom in Japan, from Tierra del Fuego to 16th-century California and the Russian steppe. Here are stories lyrical and savage; poems epic and intimate; essays satirical and inspirational; and ideas that have shaped the lives of millions.
Four hilarious and provocative stories from Boccaccio’s Decameron, featuring cuckolded husbands, cross-dressing wives and very bad priests.
1. Mrs Rosie and the Priest by Giovanni Boccaccio
2. As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Gerard Manley Hopkins‘O let them be left, wildness and wet’
As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a selection of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ incomparably brilliant poetry, ranging from the ecstasy of 'The Windhover’ and 'Pied Beauty’ to the heart-wrenching despair of the 'sonnets of desolation’.
3. The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue'In two I’ll slice the hair-seat / of Helga’s kiss-gulper’
In this epic tale from the Viking Age that ranges across Scandinavia and Viking Britain, two poets compete for the love of Helga the Fair - with fatal consequences.
4. On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts by Thomas De Quincey
'People begin to see that something more goes to the composition of a fine murder than two blockheads to kill and be killed - a knife - a purse - and a dark lane…’
In this provocative and blackly funny essay, Thomas de Quincey considers murder in a purely aesthetic light and explains how practically every philosopher over the past two hundred years has been murdered - 'insomuch, that if a man calls himself a philosopher, and never had his life attempted, rest assured there is nothing in him’.
5. Aphorisms on Love and Hate by Friedrich Nietzsche
'We must learn to love, learn to be kind, and this from our earliest youth … Likewise, hatred must be learned and nurtured, if one wishes to become a proficient hater’
This volume contains a selection of Nietzsche’s brilliant and challenging aphorisms, examining the pleasures of revenge, the falsity of pity, and the incompatibility of marriage with the philosophical life.
6. Traffic by John Ruskin
'You shall have thousands of gold pieces; - thousands of thousands - millions - mountains of gold: where will you keep them?’
Two of Ruskin’s most powerful essays: 'Traffic’ and 'The Roots of Honour’
7. Wailing Ghosts by Pu Songling
’…revealing great shining fangs more than three inches long.’
Some of the most macabre and wonderful of all Chinese stories, including 'The Golden Goblet’, 'Scorched Moth the Daoist’ and 'The Black Beast’
8. A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
’… a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food…’
Swift’s devastating short satire on how to solve a famine
9. Three Tang Dynasty Poetsby Wang Wei
'Can I bear to leave these blue hills?’
A generous selection from three of the greatest and most enjoyable of Chinese poets
10. On the Beach at Night Alone by Walt Whitman
'All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages…’
A selection taken from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass
11. A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees by Kenko
'It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met…’
Moonlight, sake, spring blossom, idle moments, a woman’s hair - these exquisite reflections on life’s fleeting pleasures by a thirteenth-century Japanese monk are delicately attuned to nature and the senses.
12. How to Use your Enemies by Baltasar Gracián
'Better mad with the crowd than sane all alone’
In these witty, Machiavellian aphorisms, unlikely Spanish priest Baltasar Gracián shows us how to exploit friends and enemies alike to thrive in a world of deception and illusion.
13. The Eve of Saint Agnes by John Keats
'Hoodwink’d in faery fancy…’
This volume contains a selection of Keats’s greatest verse - including his gothic story in verse, 'The Eve of St Agnes’, and the mysterious 'Lamia’ - exploring themes of love, enchantment, myth and magic.
14. Woman Much Missed by Thomas Hardy
'Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me…’
After the death of his wife Emma, a grief-stricken Hardy wrote some of the best verse of his career. Moving and evocative, it ranks among the greatest elegiac poetry in the language.
15. Femme Fatale by Guy de Maupassant
'They trailed in all their vulgar glory, over the fresh green grass…’
A selection of Maupassant’s brilliant, glittering stories set in the Parisian beau monde and Normandy countryside.
16. Travels in the Land of Serpents and Pearls by Marco Polo
'You will hear it for yourselves, and it will surely fill you with wonder…’
In this selection from Marco Polo’s famous travel book, the intrepid Venetian describes the customs of India, recounts the story of the king who died eighty-four times and explains how to retrieve diamonds from snake-infested caves…
17. Caligula by Suetonius
'Because of his baldness and hairiness, he announced it was a capital offence for anyone either to look down on him as he passed or to mention goats in any context.’
The biography of the brutal, crazed and incestuous Roman Emperor Caligula, who tried to appoint his own horse consul.
18. Jason and Medea by Apollonius of Rhodes
'The Argonauts were terrified at the sight. But Jason planting his feet apart stood to receive them, as a reef in the sea confronts the tossing billows in a gale.’
The tragic, epic love affair that allowed Jason to get the Golden Fleece.
19. Olalla by Robert Louis Stevenson
'Is it me you love, friend? or the race that made me?’
A gothic novella about love, torment and doomed aristocracy, set in the remote mountains of Spain.
20. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
'The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.’
Marx and Engels’s revolutionary summons to the working classes - one of the most important and influential political theories ever formulated.
21. Trimalchio’s Feast by Petronius
'I blush to say what happened next.’
A satirical portrait of a drunken, orgiastic Roman banquet, hosted by the grossly ostentatious Trimalchio.
22. How a Ghastly Story Was Brought to Light by a Common or Garden Butcher’s Dog by Johann Peter Hebel
'The devil gave the woman a nudge: “Look at that belt full of money peeping out from under the butcher’s shirt!”’
Written for a local German journal and published in 1811, these fabulous, funny, jewel-like miniature tales describe con men, tricksters, disasters, murders, rascals and lovers, and include Franz Kafka’s favourite story.
23. The Tinder Box by Hans Christian Anderson
'There sat the dog with eyes as big as mill wheels’
Though criticised for their anarchic immorality when first published, Hans Christian Andersen’s tales made him an international star, taken to the hearts of children and adults for their beauty, sorrow and strangeness. Included here are 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier’ and 'Big Klaus and Little Klaus’.
24. The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows by Rudyard Kipling
'Mind you, it was a pukka, respectable opium-house, and not one of those stifling, sweltering chandoo-khanas that you can find all over the City.’
Kipling first became famous for his pungent, harsh and shocking stories of northwest India, where he grew up. This is just a small selection from his inexhaustibly contentious and various early work.
25. Circles of Hell by Dante
'I truly thought I’d never make it back.’
Ten of the most memorable and most terrifying cantos from Dante’s Inferno.
26. Of Street Piemen by Henry Mayhew
’…a good bit of spice to give the critlings a flavour, and plenty of treacle to make the mince-meat look rich’
Radical Victorian reformer Henry Mayhew walked the streets of London interviewing ordinary flower girls, market traders, piemen and costermongers to create the first ever work of mass social observation, and the ultimate account of urban life - including an extraordinary description of the city from a hot air balloon.
27. The Nightingales are Drunk by Hafez
'Drunk or sober, king or soldier, none will be excluded’
Sensual, profound, delighted, wise, Hafez’s poems have enchanted their readers for more than 600 years. One of the greatest figures of world literature, he remains today the most popular poet in modern Iran.
28. The Wife of Bath by Geoffrey Chaucer
'Those husbands that I had,
Three of them were good and two were bad.
The three that I call “good” were rich and old…’
One of the most bawdy, entertaining and popular stories from The Canterbury Tales.
29. How We Weep and Laugh at the Same Thing by Michel de Montaigne
'No one characteristic clasps us purely and universally in its embrace.’
A selection of charming essays from a master of the genre exploring the contradictions inherent to human thought, words and actions.
30. The Terrors of the Night by Thomas Nashe
’…dreaming of bears, or fire, or water…’
The greatest of Elizabethan pamphleteers, Nashe had a magical ability with words, never more so than in The Terrors of the Night, where he mulls over ghosts, demons, nightmares and the supernatural.
31. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe
'Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was a groan of mortal terror … the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul.’
Stories about murder, mystery and madness, portraying the author’s feverish imagination at its creative height.
32. A Hippo Banquet by Mary Kingsley
'While engaged on this hunt I felt the earth quiver under my feet, and heard a soft big soughing sound, and looking round saw I had dropped in on a hippo banquet…’
Told with verve and self-mocking wit, the adventures of doughty female Victorian explorer Mary Kingsley describe stumbling upon five hippos by night, dodging elephants and fighting off a leopard with a stool.
33. The Beautifull Cassandra by Jane Austen
'She has many rare and charming qualities, but Sobriety is not one of them.’
A selection of Austen’s dark and hilarious early writings - featuring murder, drunkenness, perjury, theft, poisoning, women breaking out of prison, men forging wills and babies biting off their mothers’ fingers…
34. Gooseberries by Anton Chekhov
“Oh, good God,” he kept saying with great relish. “Good God…”
'Gooseberries’ is accompanied here by 'The Kiss’ and 'The Two Volodyas’ - three exquisite depictions of love and loss in nineteenth-century Russia by Chekhov, the great master of the short story form.
35. Well, They are Gone, and Here Must I Remain by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
'Ye Ice-Falls! Ye that from the mountain’s brow
Adown enormous ravines slope amain -…’
A selection of Coleridge’s poems, including 'This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison’ and 'Frost at Midnight’.
36. Sketchy, Doubtful, Incomplete Jottings by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
'I can promise to be candid, not, however, to be impartial.’
A selection of the most insightful maxims and reflections from one of Germany’s greatest ever thinkers.
37. The Great Winglebury Duel by Charles Dickens
Two of Dickens’ hilarious early stories from Sketches by Boz: 'The Great Winglebury Duel’ and 'Bloomsbury Christening’.
38. The Maldive Shark by Herman Melville
'No voice, no low, no howl is heard; the chief sound of life here is a hiss.’
Stories and poems by Herman Melville drawn from his years at sea.
39. The Old Nurse’s Story by Elizabeth Gaskell
'Even in the stillness of that dead-cold weather, I had heard no sound of little battering hands upon the window-glass…’
A phantom child roams the Northumberland moors, while a host of fairytale characters gone to seed gather in the dark, dark woods in these two surprising tales of the uncanny from the great Victorian novelist.
40. The Steel Flea by Nikolay Leskov
'He gave orders that they were not to get any hot glum pudding in flames, for fear the spirits in their innards might catch fire’
The Steel Flea is an uproarious and alcohol-soaked shaggy-dog story from one of Russia’s great comic masters.
41. The Atheist’s Mass by Honoré de Balzac
'This is as much a mystery as the Immaculate Conception, which of itself must make a doctor an unbeliever.’
A stunning pair of short stories about faith and sacrificial love.
42. The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
'The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.’
Written with barely controlled fury after she was confined to her room for 'nerves’ and forbidden to write, Gilman’s pioneering feminist horror story scandalized nineteenth-century readers with its portrayal of a woman who loses her mind because she has literally nothing to do.
43. Remember, Body… by C. P. Cavafy
'All those excessive, useless regrets…’
A collection of nostalgic, erotic poetry from one of the greatest Greek poets to have ever lived.
44. The Meek One by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
'I could see that she was still terribly afraid, but I didn’t soften anything; instead, seeing that she was afraid I deliberately intensified it.’
In this short story, Dostoyevsky masterfully depicts desperation, greed, manipulation and suicide.
45. A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert
'She decided she would teach him to speak and he was very soon able to say, 'Pretty boy!’, 'Your servant, sir!’ and 'Hail Mary!“
With pathos and humour, Flaubert imagines the unexamined life of a servant girl.
46. The Nose by Nikolay Gogol
'Strangely enough, I mistook it for a gentleman at first. Fortunately I had my spectacles with me so I could see it was really a nose.’
With this pair of absurd, comic stories Gogol indulges his imagination and delights readers.
47. The Great Fire of London by Samuel Pepys
'With one’s face in the wind you were almost burned with a shower of Firedrops’
A selection from Pepys’ startlingly vivid and candid diary, including his famous account of the Great Fire.
48. The Reckoning by Edith Wharton
'If marriage was the slow life-long acquittal of a debt contracted in ignorance, then marriage was a crime against human nature.’
Two moving stories of love, loss, desire and divorce, from one of the great chroniclers of nineteenth-century New York life.
49. The Figure in the Carpet by Henry James
'Did she know and if she knew would she speak?’
The story of an unsolved literary mystery that explores what James referred to as "troubled artistic consciousness”.
50. Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen
'Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.’
The true horror of the trenches is brought to life in this selection of poetry from the front line.
51. My Dearest Father by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
'They wanted me to give a concert; I wanted them to beg me. And so they did. I gave a concert.’
A selection of personal correspondence between Mozart and his most important mentor and supporter, his father.
52. Socrates’ Defence by Plato
'I’ll stop doing it as soon as I understand what I’m doing.’
Somewhere between a historical account and work of philosophy, Socrates’ Defence details the final plea of Plato’s beloved mentor.
53. Goblin Market by Christina Rosetti
'She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth’
A selection of Rossetti’s most famous poems, from the hallucinatory 'Goblin Market’ to 'In the bleak mid-winter’.
54. Sinbad the Sailor
'The valley was full of snakes and serpents as big as palm trees, so huge that they could have swallowed any elephant that met them.’
A selection of fantastic and perilous adventures at sea from the Thousand and One Nights.
55. Antigone by Sophocles
'It’s a dreadful thing to yield…but resist now?
Lay my pride bare to the blows of ruin?
That’s dreadful too.’
The remarkable story of Greek tragedy’s most intrepid heroine.
56. The Life of a Stupid Man by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
'What is the life of a human being - a drop of dew, a flash of lightning? This is so sad, so sad.’
Autobiographical stories from one of Japan’s masters of modernist story-telling.
57. How Much Land Does a Man Need? By Leo Tolstoy
'Although he feared death, he could not stop. 'If I stopped now, after coming all this way - well, they’d call me an idiot!’
A pair of short stories about greed, charity, life and death from one of Russia’s most influential writers and thinkers.
58. Leonardo Da Vinci by Giorgio Vasari
'In this painting of Leonardo’s there was a smile so pleasing that it seemed divine rather than human.’
Often called “the first art historian”, Vasari writes with delight on the lives of Leonardo and other celebrated Renaissance artists .
59. Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime by Oscar Wilde
'He was not blind to the fact that murder, like the religions of the Pagan world, requires a victim as well as a priest…’
Wilde’s supremely witty tale of dandies, anarchists and a murderous prophecy in London high society.
60. The Old Man of the Moon by Shen Fu
'Our passion was so great. Will the Old Man understand and help us once again?’
The Old Man of the Moon is Shen Fu’s intimate and moving account of his marriage - from early passion to the trials of poverty and separation - and his great, enduring love for his wife in eighteenth-century China.
61. The Dolphins, The Whales and the Gudgeon by Aesop
'An ass, clothed in the skin of a lion…’
Aesop’s animal fables are some of the earliest stories ever told, thought to have been composed by a slave in Greek antiquity and giving glimpses of a world that is harsh, pitiless and yet also eerily familiar.
62. Lips Too Chilled by Matsuo Basho
'Nothing more lonely -’
A selection of Basho’s most magical haiku.
63. The Night is Darkening Round Me by Emily Brontë
’… ever-present, phantom thing;
My slave, my comrade, and my king’
Some of Emily Brontë’s most extraordinary poems.
64. To-morrow by Joseph Conrad
'It was as if the sea, breaking down the wall protecting all the homes of the town, had sent a wave over her head’
One of Conrad’s most powerful, gripping stories.
65. The Voyage of Sir Francis Drake Around the Whole Globe by Richard Hakluyt
'Their fruits be diverse and plentiful, as nutmegs, ginger, long pepper, lemons, cucumbers, cocos, sago, with divers other sorts…’
Scholar, spy, diplomat and supreme propagandist for Elizabethan sea power, Richard Hakluyt’s accounts of famed explorers mythologised a nation growing rapidly aware of the size and strangeness of the world - and determined to dominate it.
66. A Pair of Silk Stockings by Kate Chopin
'At night, among the reeds on the bayou, Chicot could still hear the woman’s wail, mingled now with the croaking of the frogs…’
From one of the most daring writers of fin-de-siècle America, five stories of awakening that range from Louisiana’s plantations and poverty-stricken bayous to its gilded cities.
67. It Was Snowing Butterflies by Charles Darwin
'The vessel drove before her bows two billows of liquid phosphorus’
A selection of Darwin’s extraordinary adventures during the voyage of the Beagle.
68. The Robber Bridegroom by The Brothers Grimm
'Then she began to run, and she ran over the sharp stones and through the thorns, and the wild animals bounded past her …’
Four weird, dark and enchanting fairy-tales from the Brothers Grimm.
69. I Hate and I Love by Catallus
'I hate and I love, and if you ask he how, I do not know: I only feel it, and I’m torn in two.’
Dazzling modern lyrical poems from Catullus - by turns smutty, abusive, romantic and deeply moving.
70. Circe and the Cyclops by Homer
'You must be Odysseus, man of twists and turns…’
The tales of Odysseus’s struggle with a man-eating Cyclops and Circe, the beautiful enchantress who turns men into swine.
71. Il Duro by D. H. Lawrence
'But I ran up the broken stairway, and came out suddenly, as if by a miracle, clean on the platform of my San Tommaso, in the tremendous sunshine.’
Four personal, sun-drenched sketches of Lawrence’s experiences in Italy.
72. Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield
'And again, as always, he had the feeling he was holding something that never was quite his - his. Something too delicate, too precious, that would fly away once he let go.’
Three sharp and powerful short stories from Katherine Mansfield, one of the genre’s all-time masters.
73. The Fall of Icarus by Ovid
'Drawn on by his eagerness for the open sky, he left his guide and soared upwards…’
Ovid tells the tales of Theseus and the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus, the Calydonian Boar-Hunt, and many other famous myths.
74. Come Close by Sappho
'Yes, we did many things, then - all
Lyrical, powerful poems about love, sexuality, sun-soaked Greece and the gods.
75. Kasyan from the Beautiful Lands by Ivan Turgenev
“No, no, I’ve got your word for it, I’ve got to die … you promised me … you told me …”
Turgenev’s accounts of hunting in rural Russia, and the extraordinary characters he meets there.
76. O Cruel Alexis by Virgil
'But I, while vineyards ring with the cicadas’ scream,
Retrace your steps, alone, beneath the burning sun.’
Virgil’s lyrical, wistful and often witty pastoral poems.
77. A Slip under the Microscope by H. G. Wells
'I will go in, out of this dust and heat, out of this dry glitter of vanity, out of these toilsome futilities. I will go and never return.’
Three disturbing, mysterious and moving stories from Wells, science-fiction pioneer.
78. The Madness of Cambyses by Herodotus
'Do you see your son, standing over there, in the antechamber? Well, I am going to shoot him.’
The story of the great and mad Cambyses, King of Persia, told by part-historian, part-mythmaker Herodotus of Halicarnassus.
79. Speaking of Siva
'To the utterly at-one with Siva
there’s no dawn.’
Meditative, deeply personal poems to the god Siva, from four major Hindu saints.
80. The Dhammapada
'Hate is not conquered by hate: hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal.’
Captivating aphorisms illustrating the Buddhist dhamma, or moral system.