As of January 1, 2021, a new group of copyrighted works—not only literature, of course, but film and music too—have entered the public domain in the US. This is the class of 1925, which Jane Ciabattari, writing for the BBC, called “the greatest year for books ever,” handily beating out 1862 (Les Misérables, Fathers and Sons), 1899 (The Awakening, Heart of Darkness), and 1950 (I, Robot, The Martian Chronicles, Strangers on a Train, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).
“But 1925 brought something unique,” Ciabattari wrote. “a vibrant cultural outpouring, multiple landmark books and a paradigm shift in prose style. Literary work that year reflected a world in the aftermath of tremendous upheaval. The brutality of World War One, with some 16 million dead and 70 million mobilized to fight, had left its mark on the Lost Generation.” Case in point, the following books, which are now, after 95 years, free for anyone to use, remix, republish with horrible covers, and secretly read at work in full via Google Books (just me?).
Some highlights are below. If you’re in the mood to dig, you can see the full list of books copyrighted in 1925—awkward to browse but very searchable—here.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time
Franz Kafka, The Trial (in original German)
Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Edith Wharton, The Writing of Fiction
Alain Locke, The New Negro (including essays, poetry, and fiction by writers including W.E.B. du Bois, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Eric Walrond)
Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy
John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer
Willa Cather, The Professor’s House
Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith
Agatha Christie, The Secret of Chimneys
Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves
W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil
Sherwood Anderson, Dark Laughter