The ides of march

The novels that became instant classics

In the world of books, a modern classic is an altogether more slippery thing than a classic: it must walk a line between freshness and durability; reflect the current age but hope to outlast it. For individual publishers, given many 20th-century writers are still in copyright, a modern classics list will necessarily be partial. However, few such partial lists are as complete as Penguin Modern Classics (PMCs), founded in 1961 four years after Penguin’s general editor A.S.B. Glover said: ‘We don’t want — without outstandingly good reasons — to start any new series such as “Modern Classics”.’ The outstandingly good reasons were lots of outstandingly good books that weren’t old