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The Top 10: Alternative Book Titles

How are these books better known? A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented; A Study of Provincial Life; and There and Back Again

John Rentoul
Saturday 10 March 2018 11:24 GMT
Ben Whishaw and Matthew Goode in the film version of ‘The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder’
Ben Whishaw and Matthew Goode in the film version of ‘The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder’ (Rex)

We did Original Titles of Novels five years ago (five years – has this series really been running that long?).* This is different: alternative titles, after an “or”, or subtitles, as published; and one of them isn’t a novel.

1. The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder: Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited. Peter Warner, who had the idea for this list, suggested this one.

2. The Mutiny of the Hispaniola: Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island. Nominated by Mr Memory.

3. The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life: Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Thanks to George Bosanko and Truth in Politics.

4. A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented: Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles. From John Peters.

5. A Study of Provincial Life: George Eliot, Middlemarch. Nineteenth-century clickbait via Rob Jackson.

6. There and Back Again: J R R Tolkien, The Hobbit. Nominated by Robertson Barley, Toby Jebson, Bruce Napier and David Rowe.

7. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up: J M Barrie, Peter Pan. Thanks to Graham Kirby.

8. The Modern Prometheus: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. Nominated by Darren Sugg, Tony Jebson, Matt Bano and Robert Boston. The original Prometheus in Greek myth was a Titan who created humans from clay.

9. A Tale of the Seaboard: Joseph Conrad, Nostromo. Thanks to John Peters.

10. The Parish Boy’s Progress: Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist. From Alwyn W Turner and Robert Boston.

Chi the Cynic pointed out that many of Dickens’ novels had far longer original serialisation titles, such as The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account).

If I could have had an 11th, it would have been Other People’s Letters: Janet and Allan Ahlberg, The Jolly Postman, but I wasn’t sure how well known it was.

Several nominations for The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death: Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five. But I haven’t read it. The same applies to A Novel Without A Hero: William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (from Graham Kirby); and to Virtue Rewarded: Samuel Richardson, Pamela (Stair at the Sky).

Next week: Indian English words, such as juggernaut, thug and kedgeree.

Coming soon: Songs on albums that don’t sound like the others, such as “London Calling” on London Calling, by the Clash

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

*This series has been running since the Top 10 worst Beatles songs in May 2013 (with a few more on the Independent Blog before then), including the book of the series, Listellany, in 2014.

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