This Week’s Free B&N Classics: Women Who Inspired Us


These ebooks are only free for one week, so get them now before they expire!

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

4.5 stars, 31 reviews

“I think I could be a good woman, if I had five thousand a year,” observes beautiful and clever Becky Sharp, one of the wickedest—and most appealing—women in all of literature. Becky is just one of the many fascinating figures that populate William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair, a wonderfully satirical panorama of upper-middle-class life and manners in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Scorned for her lack of money and breeding, Becky must use all her wit, charm and considerable sex appeal to escape her drab destiny as a governess. From London’s ballrooms to the battlefields of Waterloo, the bewitching Becky works her wiles on a gallery of memorable characters, including her lecherous employer, Sir Pitt, his rich sister, Miss Crawley, and Pitt’s dashing son, Rawdon, the first of Becky’s misguided sexual entanglements.

Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

4 stars, 7 reviews

We meet young, free-spirited Rachel Vinrace aboard her father’s ship, the Euphrosyne, departing London for South America. Surrounded by a clutch of genteel companions—among them her aunt Helen, who judges Rachel to be “vacillating,” “emotional,” and “more than normally incompetent for her years”—Rachel displays a startling maturity when she finds her engagement to the writer Terence Hewet listing toward disaster. As she soon discovers, “tragedies come in the hungry hours.”

Villette by Charlotte Bronte

4.5 stars, 22 reviews

Charlotte Brontë’s last and most autobiographical novel, Villette explores the inner life of a lonely young Englishwoman, Lucy Snowe, who leaves an unhappy existence in England to become a teacher in the capital of a fictional European country. Drawn to the school’s headmaster, Lucy must face the pain of unrequited love and the question of her place in society.

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

4 stars, 12 reviews

“This is America—a town of a few thousand, in a region of wheat and corn and dairies and little groves.” So Sinclair Lewis—recipient of the Nobel Prize and rejecter of the Pulitzer—prefaces his novel Main Street. Lewis is brutal in his depictions of the self-satisfied inhabitants of small-town America, a place which proves to be merely an assemblage of pretty surfaces, strung together and ultimately empty.

Night and Day by Virginia Woolf

4 stars, 8 reviews

Set in Edwardian London, Night and Day contrasts the lives of two friends, Katherine Hilbery and Mary Datchet. Katherine is the bored, frustrated granddaughter of an eminent English poet. She lives at her parents’ home and is engaged to a prig who exemplifies the stultifying life from which she wishes to be free, until she meets a possible avenue of escape in the person of Ralph Denham. Mary Datchet, on the other hand, represents an alternative to marriage—she has been to college, lives on her own, and finds fulfillment in working for the women’s rights movement.

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

4.5 stars, 24 reviews

A gripping saga of love, murder, greed, failure, and triumph, O Pioneers! vividly portrays the hardships of prairie life. Above all, it champions the belief that hard work is the surest road to personal fulfillment. Described upon publication in The New York Times as American in the best sense of the word, O Pioneers! celebrates the men and women who struggled to build a nation that is both compelling and contradictory.

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

4.5 stars, 14 reviews

As the story begins, Isabel, resolved to determine her own fate, has turned down two eligible suitors. Her cousin, who is dying of tuberculosis, secretly gives her an inheritance so that she can remain independent and fulfill a grand destiny, but the fortune only leads her to make a tragic choice and marry Gilbert Osmond, an American expatriate who lives in Florence. Outwardly charming and cultivated, but fundamentally cold and cruel, Osmond only brings heartbreak and ruin to Isabel s life. Yet she survives as she begins to realize that true freedom means living with her choices and their consequences.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

4.5 stars, 22 reviews

Far From the Madding Crowd tells the story of beautiful Bathsheba Everdene, a fiercely independent woman who inherits a farm and decides to run it herself. She rejects a marriage proposal from Gabriel Oak, a loyal man who takes a job on her farm after losing his own in an unfortunate accident. He is forced to watch as Bathsheba mischievously flirts with her neighbor, Mr. Boldwood, unleashing a passionate obsession deep within the reserved man.

But both suitors are soon eclipsed by the arrival of the dashing soldier, Frank Troy, who falls in love with Bathsheba even though he’s still smitten with another woman. His reckless presence at the farm drives Boldwood mad with jealousy, and sets off a dramatic chain of events that leads to both murder and marriage.

House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

4.5 stars, 28 reviews

Edith Wharton s dark view of society, the somber economics of marriage, and the powerlessness of the unwedded woman in the 1870s emerge dramatically in the tragic novel The House of Mirth. Faced with an array of wealthy suitors, New York socialite Lily Bart falls in love with lawyer Lawrence Selden, whose lack of money spoils their chances for happiness together. Dubious business deals and accusations of liaisons with a married man diminish Lily s social status, and as she makes one bad choice after another, she learns how venal and brutally unforgiving the upper crust of New York can be.

Daisy Miller and Washington Square by Henry James

3.5 stars, 30 reviews

In Daisy Miller, James paints a vivid portrait of a vibrant young American girl visiting Europe for the first time. Lovely, flirtatious, eager for experience, Daisy meets a wealthy American, Mr. Winterbourne, and a penniless but passionate Italian. Her complex encounters with them and others allow James to explore one of his favorite themes, the effect of Americans and Europeans on each other.

Nana by Emile Zola

3.5 stars, 6 reviews

In Nana, the characters are a prostitute, who rises from the streets to become what Zola calls a “high-class cocotte,” and the men—and women—whom she loves, betrays, and destroys. Among the novel’s many ironies is the mutual envy felt by Nana and those around her. She yearns for their material possessions, while they admire her apparent independence and sexual self-confidence. And despite the chaos Nana causes, Zola imagines her as being essentially “good-natured,” a stupid, vain but beautiful creature who can’t help drawing people into her web.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

5 stars, 17 reviews

Often considered Charles Dickens’s masterpiece, Bleak House blends together several literary genres—detective fiction, romance, melodrama, and satire—to create an unforgettable portrait of the decay and corruption at the heart of English law and society in the Victorian era.

Opening in the swirling mists of London, the novel revolves around a court case that has dragged on for decades—the infamous Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit, in which an inheritance is gradually devoured by legal costs. As Dickens takes us through the case’s history, he presents a cast of characters as idiosyncratic and memorable as any he ever created, including the beautiful Lady Dedlock, who hides a shocking secret about an illegitimate child and a long-lost love; Mr. Bucket, one of the first detectives to appear in English fiction; and the hilarious Mrs. Jellyby, whose endless philanthropy has left her utterly unconcerned about her own family.

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