This most recent example of the idiotic "best of" genre seems even more idiotic than usual; but that is one person's opinion only. The article about it precedes the list itself.

Vote goes by the book as Austen wins
Maev Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent
The Guardian, Monday, May 12, 2003

It is a generally acknowledged cliche that whenever readers are asked their favourite books by women, they will reply Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights -- and so it proves in a survey released today of the 50 best books in the history of women's literature.

Pride and Prejudice, the choice of the broadcaster Sue MacGregor, is a predictable chart topper, but the rest of the list is an intriguing mixture of quality, nostalgia and recent marketing blitzes.

It was compiled through more than 6,000 public votes, by customers of Orange -- which sponsored the list -- and voting cards in public libraries and bookshops.

There will be some careful cross referencing to be done on Friday, when the BBC releases its list of the 100 best-loved books by all authors.

Kate Mosse, the co-founder of the Orange Prize for Fiction, which will be announced later this month at the Guardian Hay literary festival, said: "Our aim was to encourage as a wide a range of readers to vote as possible and to see which contemporary novels found their place among the classics.

"So I am pleased to see Bridget Jones's Diary and the Harry Potter novels doing so well, alongside firm favourites such as Middlemarch, Pride and Prejudice and Gone With the Wind."

The most hyped author of the last decade, J. K. Rowling, beats all her contemporaries with four placings. Her hero's original outing, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, did the best, at number 13.

There are four Jane Austen books listed, three in the top 10, and Austen also achieved a unique literary twinning, sharing 23rd place for Sense and Sensibility with Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary.

Virginia Woolf and George Eliot each have three books on the list, and Iris Murdoch two.

The Brontë sisters, Charlotte and Emily, occupy the second and third places. The author and commentator Bonnie Greer chose Wuthering Heights, writing: "I still get shivers down my spine whenever I read the words of Cathy: 'I am Heathcliff'."

Little Women gets Joanna Louisa May Alcott on to the list at 28, but Dodie Smith's I Capture The Castle, which was out of print for many years despite being many readers' favourite bittersweet teenage romance, may have been helped by publicity for the new film.

Other cherished authors of childhood and adolescence, including E Nesbitt, Elizabeth Goudge -- or even Enid Blyton -- do not make the cut.

Merely writing runaway best sellers was no guarantee of a place: Zadie Smith's dazzling first novel, White Teeth, makes the top 50, but her second, The Autograph Man, which was equally hyped and widely nominated for literary prizes, does not. Only Jeanette Winterson's poignant first novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, makes the list.

Of all the women authors of classic detective fiction -- a genre in which Britain has led the world with names such as Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, PD James, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy L Sayers -- none makes it into the top 50.

Well loved
Old favourites and new heroines
The Guardian, Monday, May 12, 2003

  1. Pride and Prejudice -- Jane Austen

  2. Jane Eyre -- Charlotte Brontë

  3. Wuthering Heights -- Emily Brontë

  4. Middlemarch -- George Eliot

  5. Rebecca -- Daphne du Maurier

  6. Persuasion -- Jane Austen

  7. Frankenstein -- Mary Shelley

  8. Emma -- Jane Austen

  9. Unless -- Carol Shields

  10. To Kill a Mockingbird -- Harper Lee

  11. The Handmaid's Tale -- Margaret Atwood

  12. White Teeth -- Zadie Smith

  13. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone -- J. K. Rowling

  14. Gone with the Wind -- Margaret Mitchell

  15. To the Lighthouse -- Virginia Woolf

  16. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire -- J. K. Rowling

  17. The Poisonwood Bible -- Barbara Kingsolver

  18. Silas Marner -- George Eliot; Possession -- A. S. Byatt

  19. The God of Small Things -- Arundhati Roy

  20. Mrs Dalloway -- Virginia Woolf; The Mill on the Floss -- George Eliot

  21. Bridget Jones's Diary -- Helen Fielding; Sense and Sensibility -- Jane Austen

  22. The Blind Assassin -- Margaret Atwood

  23. Chocolat -- Joanne Harris

  24. The Shipping News -- E. Annie Proulx

  25. Little Women -- Louisa May Alcott

  26. The Sea, the Sea -- Iris Murdoch; I Capture the Castle -- Dodie Smith

  27. Family Bites -- Lisa Williams

  28. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets -- J. K. Rowling; The Shell Seekers -- Rosamund Pilcher

  29. Orlando -- Virginia Woolf; The Thorn Birds -- Colleen McCullough

  30. Fingersmith -- Sarah Waters

  31. Girl with a Pearl Earring -- Tracy Chevalier; Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit -- Jeanette Winterson; Wide Sargasso Sea -- Jean Rhys

  32. The Clan of the Cave Bear -- Jean Auel

  33. The Bell Jar -- Sylvia Plath

  34. The Secret History -- Donna Tartt

  35. Five Quarters of the Orange -- Joanne Harris

  36. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban -- J. K. Rowling; Beloved -- Toni Morrison

  37. Bel Canto -- Ann Patchett

  38. Hotel du Lac -- Anita Brookner

  39. The Bell -- Iris Murdoch

  40. Regeneration -- Pat Barker

  41. The Bone People -- Keri Hulme; The Color Purple -- Alice Walker

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