Can You Match These Literary Masters to Their Iconic Work?

By: Mark Laufgraben
Image: Wiki Commons/Gorup de Besanez via Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

Of all the many different arts that come together to make up the tapestry of culture, none is more human than writing. The written language is as old as civilization, and forms a critical bridge for bringing people together- not merely across the gulf of space and distance, but through time itself. Through the magic of the written word, our minds become the recipients of thoughts from other people from other places. We can live their lives and dream their dreams. It is an extraordinary gift, and the pinnacle of our art.


Here we have gathered a list of some of the greatest writers in all of human history. The places where their pens touch paper are magical: the words they craft are not mere temporal entertainments, but treasures to be valued for all time. They come to us from around the world, from every color and creed, bringing messages that echo down through the ages.


How much do you know about these writers? Can you recognize greatness when it sits in front of you? Be prepared to test your ability to discern the finest writing minds our world has to offer. Take a breath, turn the page, and go! 

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, about a man's obsession with a pre-teen girl, was ranked fourth on the list of the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels. Besides his extraordinary writing, Nabokov is known in certain circles for his skill in composing chess puzzles!

F. Scott Fitzgerald, despite being known as one of America's greatest writing talents, only composed four novels. His relationship with his wife Zelda was itself worthy of inclusion in one of his books, them both being freewheeling products of the jazz age.

Marcel Proust was born into a France in great social turmoil, and it is said to have been the cauldron in which his works were born. The fall of the Paris commune and subsequent 3rd Republic saw the decline of the old aristocracy and the gradual rise to prominence of the French middle classes.

James Joyce was a Dubliner born, and the city and his experiences there informed every part of his work. The characters of his fictions, which were often experiments into stream of consciousness and other unusual inventions, were reflections of the people he knew, loved and hated in that great city.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is best known for his beloved fictional village of Macondo, at which several of his stories are based. He also was the chief popularizer of Magical Realism, which integrates oftimes unexplained supernatural elements into otherwise real world stories.

One of the greatest American Southern authors, William Faulkner is the only man from Mississippi to have won a Nobel Prize for literature. His novel, The Sound and the Fury, is considered one of the greatest modern works of all time.

Virginia Woolf is considered not only an incredible author but also an early herald of what would become the feminist movement. Tragically, she suffered from what was probably bipolar disorder, and she committed suicide at the age of 59.

Flannery O’Connor was a writer in the Southern Gothic style, and her characters often had an air of darkness around them as they struggled with ethical dilemmas. She did not agree with the description of them being "grotesque," however, saying, "Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."

H.G. Wells, often called the Father of Science Fiction, is best known for the genre he helped craft. Besides his futurism, however, he also contributed his progressive social and economic views, which oftimes were interwoven with his prose.

Leo Tolstoy, who was in fact a count in the Russian nobility, was a Russian Anarchist with pacifist Christian views. He later became a convert to the economic views of the Georgists, which even found their way into his writings.

Gustave Flaubert was a total perfectionist about his art: He might spend days out of contact with others to craft even a scant few pages. He used words sparingly with an eye toward finding "the perfect word," and was great inspiration to Kafka.

Mark Twain is world famous as one of America's most beloved humorists, and his unique voice was invaluable in paving the way for a truly American literature. Near the end of his life he formed a special club for girls who he would mentor and spend time with, and those were some of the finest days of his life.

Anton Chekhov is known for his exceedingly precise, spare texts. Everything has a purpose. This is summed up in his quote: "Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." This concept is known as Chekhov's Gun.

George Eliot was not George Eliot, but rather Mary Ann Evans! She used a male pen name to ensure her writing got the serious criticism it deserved. Her novel Middlemarch has been described by some as the single greatest novel in all of English.

Herman Melville's writing style fluctuated enormously over the course of his works, but it hit its apex after he finally discovered Shakespeare- it was the Bard's influence that brought him into the style that ran through Moby Dick, one of the greatest novels ever written in America.

Charles Dickens has enormous influence on the progress of English fiction, but the way he wrote was fairly new- he wrote in a serial style, chapters at a time, often ending on cliffhangers. He would then gauge his audience's response, and make changes to better suit their desires. In this he clearly anticipated modern television and comics.

Fyodor Dostoevsky's works are deeply concerned with matters of human psychology, morality and theology. Beyond this, he is concerned a pioneer in the area of existentialist writing. Russian to the core, he unsurprisingly also found Orthodox Christianity to be the perfect embodiment of that religion.

Jane Austen's works embodied her scything wit and biting use of irony, but more than that her criticism of the sentimentality of the novels of her age proved a key part in the transition to literary realism, of which her work was a forerunner.

William Shakespeare, The Bard of Avon, is arguably the single greatest writer in the entire history of the English language. Harold Bloom said this: "Shakespeare is the true multicultural author. He exists in all languages. He is put on the stage everywhere. Everyone feels that they are represented by him on the stage."

Franz Kafka's work fills his writers with dark, terrible beauty and intense loneliness. His works abound with father-son conflict, and also look at alienation from society, the feeling of being a perpetual outsider.

George Orwell, whose real name was Eric Blair, is best known for his political fiction works 1984 and Animal Farm. Besides his politics, however, he has made numerous contributions to the English language through his work, including concepts like Thoughtcrime and Newspeak.

John Steinbeck was the plainspeaking champion of the California everyman, and themes on fate and injustice, interwoven with his wry sense of humor, are found throughout his works.

J.R.R. Tolkien was not merely a writer, but also a professor and philologist. He is best known for The Hobbit and his masterwork The Lord of the Rings. Much of his inspiration is said to have come from reading a translation of the Finnish national legend, The Kalevala.

C.S. Lewis was a close friend with Tolkien, and it is the latter who brought him to Christianity. That religion would of course go on to inform every aspect of his work, fiction and nonfiction alike.

The brilliant Oscar Wilde's life and career were ruined due to his homosexuality. He was arrested for this and imprisoned, and an injury he sustained while imprisoned led to his premature death. He remains a symbol of the gay rights movement today.

Toni Morrison's writing bears a lot of traits that would be described as feminist, but the writer herself did not agree. She did not identify as feminist, and said: "In order to be as free as I possibly can, in my own imagination, I can't take positions that are closed. Everything I've ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it, to open doors, sometimes, not even closing the book – leaving the endings open for reinterpretation, revisitation, a little ambiguity."

Sylvia Plath was a haunted soul. Her incredible writing talent could not soothe the depression she suffered from, and she made multiple attempts on her own life. In spite of treatment that included electroshock therapy, she eventually did kill herself at the tender age of 30.

Victor Hugo is known in the English speaking world for his books, like Les Miserables, but in France itself he is actually better known for his collections of poetry. A passionate supporter of Republicanism, this anti-aristocratic spirit frequently shines through in his work.

Mary Shelley's rainy summer with her husband and the Lord Byron took a strange turn when they decided that they would invent ghost stories. Though initially struggling to think of one, this proved the seed of the idea that was to lead to Frankenstein: Or, A Modern Prometheus.

Rudyard Kipling was one of the most beloved writers in the United Kingdom, but his legacy today is tarnished by his politics. He is seen as an unapologetic force for Imperialism and colonialism, with all that entails.

Alexandre Dumas was not merely a brilliant writer of adventurous fiction, but he also had an incredibly unusual heritage for one of his accomplishments- his father was a former slave from Haiti! In France. This meant he faced enormous challenges his entire life but he did so with his trademark humor and pride.

WEB Dubois was scintillatingly brilliant, and as a person of color in the post Civil War United States, he unsurprisingly made the topic of racism his main concern, particularly Jim Crow laws and the lynchings that were all too common at that time.

Zora Neale Hurston was a major player in the Harlem Renaissance, writing books about the African American experience in the United States and the racism that went alongside it.

Ralph Ellison was a complicated literary figure: His Invisible Man became famous for many different things; its portrayal of different forms of regional racism and its discussion of communism among them. Ellison's on-again off-again connection to the communist party would, along with his frank discussions of racism, form a challenging legacy.

Charlotte Bronte originally published her works under a pseudonym, Currer Bell, so as to avoid discrimination for her sex. Her Jane Eyre is now one of the most beloved novels of all time!

Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a permanent classic of African American literature. Discussing the experiences of a young Angelou, it follows her young life and her struggles with her identity, her family and American racism.

Dorothy Parker, like many above, had to change her name to avoid unwanted scrutiny- in her case due to her jewish background. Her gift for screenwriting was sadly interrupted by her being blacklisted as a potential communist by Hollywood.

Ernest Hemingway lived a lifetime of public adventure and secret sorrow. His great novels were inspired by his experiences in war zones, but writing did not manage to exorcise his inner demons, and he eventually took his own life.

Miguel de Cervantes was relatively rare in that his genius was recognized in his time- his Don Quixote actually sold very well! Living quite an adventurous life himself, he is notable for having spent five years as a captive of the Barbary Pirates!

Joseph Conrad's view of humanity sees a dispassionate, rational universe in which we make trials and tribulations for ourselves. His characters are frequently anti-heroic, and they challenge the readers to peer into the darkest places in the human spirit. No more so than Heart of Darkness, which was eventually recast as the famous film Apocalypse Now.

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