Throughout time, telling stories, whether fiction or nonfiction, has driven some of the most brilliant minds to share their innermost desires and demons. Their great works have shaped literature worldwide, been published in dozens of languages, and influenced countless authors who came after them.
Stacker has compiled a list of 20 authors who are widely recognized for a single novel or other significant work, even though they may have published several different types of writing during their lives. Two such authors, Edgar Allen Poe and Ralph Ellison, both started second novels, but did not complete or publish these works before they died; Stacker included them on the list.
The following 20 books, organized alphabetically by the author's name, are undoubtedly some of the most notable novels ever composed. Defined, a novel is a long narrative work of fiction with some realism, which is definitely the case in the novels listed. For example, the main character Marthe Gail in “The Shutter of Snow,” may be fake, but author Emily Holmes Coleman was similarly institutionalized after the birth of her child.
Another example, G.B. Edwards' fictionalized autobiography, “The Book of Ebenezer Le Page,” illustrates how easy it is for an author to use real life as a case-study for fiction. “The preparation for it has been so cleverly plotted and yet is so psychologically accurate that we wonder if the novel itself is not here returning to its old tricks,” reported The New York Times.
Though the provenance of the first novel ever written is questionable, what makes up a book is not. Elements including setting, plot, character development, conflict, climax, all followed by resolve are necessary to a novel's success and qualifications. Unlike short stories, a novel must contain at least 55,000 words to be considered a long narrative work. Some of the novels on the list are long, and some barely surpass novellas in length. Whether lengthy or not, the following novels were written by authors who are best known for telling what can be considered their greatest story ever.
Read on to discover famous authors who only wrote one novel.
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- Novel: "Black Beauty"
- Publication date: Nov. 24, 1877
Author Anna Sewell died five months after the publication of “Black Beauty,” composing most of her only novel on her deathbed in the late 1800s. The story, written from the horse's point-of-view, is about animal cruelty and human kindness and was originally intended for adults. The first edition and full title of the book, which altered the country's attitude toward animal rights, according to NPR, is “Black Beauty: His Grooms and Companions. The Autobiography of a Horse. Translated from the Original Equine by Anna Sewell.”
- Novel: "The Golden Ass"
- Publication date: Late 2nd century
Author and Roman philosopher Lucius Apuleius gained literary fame after creating a protagonist, who attempted to change himself into a bird but ends up a donkey, referred to as The Golden Ass. Originally titled “Metamorphoses,” it's the only Latin novel to survive in its entirety since the late 2nd-century and is said to have inspired more significant literary works including Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Apuleius is also famed for authoring "De Platone et dogmate eius," translated as “On Plato and His Doctrine.”
- Novel: "Doctor Zhivago"
- Publication date: 1957
Boris Pasternak, the Nobel Prize winning post-revolutionary poet and author, who declined the accolade since it drew attention to the Soviet Union, reportedly based this true love story on his life. The international best-seller was so ill-received by the Russian community, it was only read in secret there until it was published for the first time in Italy in 1957. Documents released in 2014 prove the Central Intelligence Agency used the controversial “Doctor Zhivago” as Cold War propaganda.
- Novel: "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket"
- Publication date: July 1838
Considered the architect of the short story, Edgar Allan Poe only authored one novel about a castaway who experiences everything from shipwrecks to cannibalism. The Guardian reports Poe's “classic adventure story with supernatural elements” impacted generations of authors, including William S. Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson. Though the Boston-born Poe's sole novel may not be well known, works like “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Raven,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” remain terrific ghost stories any time of year. Poe was working on a serial novel, "The Journal of Julius Rodman," which had six installments published in Burton's Gentleman's Magazine in 1840, but it remained unfinished due to his death in 1849.
- Novel: "Wuthering Heights"
- Publication date: December 1847
Emily Brontë authored the English literature classic “Wuthering Heights,” but penned it under Ellis Bell; a pseudonym Brontë used along with her sisters including Charlotte Brontë, author of “Jane Eyre.” The novel, which challenged Victorian-era gender roles in the heroine character Catherine, was reportedly one of two manuscripts written by Brontë, who died a year after its publication in 1848.
- Novel: "The Shutter of Snow"
- Publication date: 1930
Emily Holmes Coleman used her real-life nervous breakdown to author a novel about a mother committed to a mental institution after she gives birth. Coleman's previous papers, poems, and personal thoughts that tell about her early-life travels around England and Paris and her late-life Catholicism conversion also were published along with her sole novel. But when it comes to The “Shutter of Snow,” "Mrs. Coleman has engaged in literary pursuits before, and her clinical picture is drawn with skill," according to the National Institutes of Health.
- Novel: "Gargantua and Pantagruel"
- Publication date: 1532–1564
The pentalogy about the giant Gargantua and his son Pantagruel made the author and priest François Rabelais notable among authors who only inked one book. It took Rabelais more than three decades to compose the satire reviewed as “gross burlesque,” making the French physician's scatological tomfoolery a source of contention in his home country at the time. Also an author of almanacs, New Advent reports, Rabelais is reportedly not the author of the fifth book in the pentalogy, which published after his death.
- Novel: "The Book of Ebenezer Le Page"
- Publication date: March 16, 1981
Noted as a fictionalized autobiography and published posthumously, the Guardian regards “The Book of Ebenezer Le Page” as a “one great book per life” novel, detailing the undeniable similarities between G.B. Edwards and the main character Victor Hugo. Like the character Hugo, Edwards bequeathed his novel to his real-life friend Professor Edward Chaney before his death in 1974. In 2015, Chaney published a biography of Edwards, proving the author drew from his own life to shape the plot and characters of his one book.
- Novel: "Malina"
- Publication date: 1971
The Australian and Harvard visiting scholar, who wrote poems, speeches, radio plays, and short stories, is noted for her one manuscript “Malina,” but authored two other unfinished novels. “Malina,” a book about a woman in love with two men at the same time, is a substantial piece of feminist literature, with the New Yorker reporting: “The male characters in the book, some have speculated, are mere alter egos, not ‘real' men but part of her psyche.” Along with gender, Bachmann also often pointed to the Cold War and how it affected Australians, giving “Malina” even more cultural consideration after her death.
- Novel: "The Catcher in the Rye"
- Publication date: July 1951
The staying power of “The Catcher in the Rye” dominates the mixed reception the novel received when first published. The narrator and protagonist Holden Caulfield, who tells the story of his affluent New York City life through flashbacks from a California sanitarium, appeared in other Salinger works, with the author admitting the iconic book was semi-autobiographical. Though the Manhattan-born writers' short stories got published often in the influential literary magazine The New Yorker, his novel became a classic read in middle and high school literature.
- Novel: "Pedro Páramo"
- Publication date: July 18, 1955
Catholicism, gender, the supernatural, and madness are some themes in this Spanish-language fiction novel, which was funded by the Mexican government and not well-received at first. Rulfo, who is also known for his book of short stories “El Llano en Llamas,” uses his experience as an immigration agent during the rise of industrialism to tell the post-revolutionary story of Mexico through the fragmented narration of the protagonist Pedro Páramo, who dies by stabbing in the last scene.
- Novel: "The Help"
- Publication date: Feb. 10, 2009
Mississippi-native Kathryn Stockett, like the character in her book, grew up in the Deep South and was close to an African American maid. But before the novel about segregation in 1960s Mississippi became a best-seller, Stockett's manuscript was rejected up to 60 times. Since the story, which took her five years to complete, debuted a decade ago, “The Help” remains Stockett's most notable work. The book also inspired a 2011 award-winning film.
- Novel: "Battle Royale"
- Publication date: April 1999
Published initially in Japanese at the turn of the century, ”Battle Royale” reportedly influenced “The Hunger Games,” with the same plot of teenagers killing one another off. Also a blockbuster movie and manga series, “Battle Royale” debuted at the 1997 Japan Horror Novel Award literary competition but was rejected due to author and journalist Koushun Takami's brutal and bloody fighting scenes, which have since made him one of the most famous Japenese authors of all time.
- Novel: "Gone with the Wind"
- Publication date: June 30, 1936
Before it was a 10-time Academy Award winner in 1940 and long after, ”Gone with the Wind” has remained America's second-favorite book after the Bible, according to a 2014 Harris Poll. The five-part, coming-of-age love story set in the South during the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction only one year after it was published, making Margaret Mitchell the only author listed to win that most notable literary award.
- Novel: "The Phantom Tollbooth"
- Publication date: 1961
“The Phantom Tollbooth,” which is the only adolescent novel on the list, made architect Norton Juster a famous children's' fantasy author, who is also acclaimed for the early reader books “The Dot and the Line,” and “The Hello, Goodbye Window.” Written in wordplay and puns, “The Phantom Tollbooth,” which is about a bored boy named Milo who discovers a time-traveling tollbooth, came about serendipitously when Juster sat blase at his drawing desk pondering childhood.
- Novel: "The Picture of Dorian Gray"
- Publication date: July 1890
“The Picture of Dorian Gray's” reception was controversial, to say the least, with author Oscar Wilde reportedly cutting sections and adding a preface to the sexually scandalous novel about a man who trades his soul for an ever-youthful appearance. With much of the book was considered immoral by its Victorian audience due to its homosexual overtones, Wilde noted in his preface that “diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.” And he was right, as “The Picture of Dorian Gray” remains a timely literary topic today since it was published more than a century ago.
- Novel: "The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge"
- Publication date: 1910
Considered a semi-autobiographical novel, “The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge” somewhat reflects the life of German-Australian writer Rainer Maria Rilke, who is also famed for the set of poems titled “Duino Elegies.” Along with his only novel, Rilke authored more than 14,000 letters, according to the Paris Review. “Letters to a Young Poet,” a set of letters written by Rilke to officer and cadet Franz Kappus, remains one of the poet's most famous works.
- Novel: "Invisible Man"
- Publication date: April 14, 1952
Winner of the National Book Award only a year after it was published in 1953, “Invisible Man” brought the author and literary critic Ralph Ellison overnight fame for his portrayal of black nationalism and Marxism in his main, unnamed character. The 1952 novel received rave reviews when published and still does today. Ellison is also noted for his second unfinished novel “Juneteenth,” which he reportedly struggled to finish for 40 years.
- Novel: "The Bell Jar"
- Publication date: Jan. 14, 1963
The semi-autobiographical novel about clinical depression and the only book written by poet Sylvia Path was penned under the pseudonym, Victoria Lucas. The story, centered around a young writer in New York City, details the slow mental decline of the main character Esther Greenwood. Plath committed suicide a month after “The Bell Jar” was published, and since then a series of letters she wrote to her former psychiatrist has been discovered.
- Novel: "Dictee"
- Publication date: 1982
Author Theresa Hak Kyung Cha was murdered a week after the publication of “Dictee,” a novel about several real and mythical women from her mother to Greek goddesses. “In her works, Cha often juxtaposed words from the languages she knew with images,” reports the L.A. Times of the author who spoke Korean, French, and English. Though Cha only authored one book in 1982, her novel and other mediums of art continue to influence students.