Must-read novels from the vintage era

by Meagan Dill

At first glance, the worlds of fashion and literature may seem to be completely unrelated. Fashion engages the eye; literature engages the mind. Nevertheless, both fashion and literature form part of culture. Most agree that the vintage era, in terms of fashion, began during the 1920s and ended in the 1970s. The novels written during this period say a lot about the ever-evolving mindset of the time. Here are a few favourite novels from that era.

'To The Lighthouse' by Virginia Woolf (1927)

One of Woolf’s best known works, this novel is known for its experimental approach to narrative. The plot, spanning ten years, centres around a family’s visits to their holiday home on an island off the coast of Scotland. The novel has no omniscient narrator (except in one short section), but rather follows the consciousness of a particular character before moving on to another character’s thoughts. This can be confusing and hard to follow at times, but allows for a creative and interesting text. Reading this book is just as rewarding as it is challenging. But don’tjust take our word for it: it holds the number 15 slot on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century.

'The Catcher in the Rye' by J.D. Salinger (1951)

The coming-of-age story of teenager Holden Caulfield has become famous for its ability to resonate with both the young and the old. The relaxed colloquial language is charming and makes it an easier read than To The Lighthouse. This doesn’t mean it has no value or depth, though. There are plenty of poignant moments throughout which stay with the reader long after the book has been closed. One particularly memorable quote: “Certain things, they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad anyway.”

'On the Road' by Jack Kerouac (1957)

On the Road has doubtlessly inspired many a cross-country road trip. The novel paints a memorable portrait of the 1950s beat scene. What attracts many to the novel is that fact that Kerouac, a legend of his time, based the book on his own experiences. There has been much speculation on the real life counterparts of the names and details of the novel – in fact, the original version of the text with all original names has since been published for die-hard fans. It is Kerouac’s skill in so fully preserving the memory of a generation that makes this a remarkable read.

'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee (1960)

Though set in the 1930s in the Deep South of America, To Kill a Mockingbird has a universal quality that makes it essential reading. It follows the story of small town lawyer, Atticus Finch, who daringly takes on a case defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. The story is told from the perspective of Finch’s six-year-old daughter, Scout. The novel is moving and thought provoking from start to finish. 

'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath (1963)

Sylvia Plath is perhaps better known for her poetry, but this novel goes beyond any story her poems have managed to tell. Like Kerouac, Plath chose to loosely base some incidents in her novel on her own life. The Bell Jar tells the harrowing story of the protagonist’s struggles with clinical depression – leading to a suicide attempt and then institutionalisation along with electroshock therapy. This is an interesting look into a world far removed from today’s reality in terms of modern developments in the treatment of depression. Ultimately, the story ends on a note of hope.

On-screen icons of vintage style

Five steps to an easy vintage look

Five steps to an easy vintage look