The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer (1902-1974)
This writer started a whole new genre--Regency romance--hit a home run her very first time at the plate. Here is her description of the wicked, fascinating, and impeccably dressed Duke of Andover, who is attempting to seduce a young woman:
"He walked coolly forward into the full light of a great pendant chandelier, standing directly beneath it, the diamond order on his breast burning and winking like a living thing. The diamonds in his cravat and on his fingers glittered every time he moved, until he seemed to be carelessly powdered with iridescent gems. As usual, he was clad in black, but it would have been difficult to find any other dress in the room more sumptuous or more magnificent than his sable satin with its heavy silver lacing, and shimmering waistcoat. Silver lace adorned his throat and fell in deep ruffles over his hands, and in defiance of Fashion, which decreed that black along should be worn to tie the hair, he displayed long silver ribands, very striking against his unpowdered head."
Sadly, we have to wait a few more years for any of her other works to fall into the public domain. This gem of a book was the first Heyer I read, and it's every bit as thrilling and romantic as you could wish!
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1797-1851)
Anyone who has only seen a movie version of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster probably doesn't know that the original is slightly more philosophical than the groans and screams of the many adaptations. Its alternate title is "The Modern Prometheus." The Goodreads summary does a good job here:
"Frankenstein, an instant bestseller and an important ancestor of both the horror and science fiction genres, not only tells a terrifying story, but also raises profound, disturbing questions about the very nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos: What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we have to each other? How far can we go in tampering with Nature? In our age, filled with news of organ donation genetic engineering, and bio-terrorism, these questions are more relevant than ever."
All this philosophizing doesn't make the story of monstrous hubris any less sinister than it was when it first came out in 1818.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (1820-1849)
The youngest and least-known of the famous Brontë sisters, Anne wrote two novels: this one and Agnes Grey (a governess story!) Goodreads says that her writing is sharper and more ironic than the romantic style of Charlotte and Emily. The lesser known female novelists of the Victorian era are hidden gems, and I look forward to reading the last Brontë's works.
(So I gave you more than three this time. Bonus: here are Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë's tiny but wonderful oeuvres in Project Gutenberg. Enjoy!)