I was wondering if you have any recommendations for works of fiction that have a clear, prevalent philosophical underpinning. For example, I enjoyed the theme of absurdism in Albert Camus' _The Plague_, but I don't have enough free time right now to commit to something like _Atlas Shrugged_. Perhaps there is a fairly accessible and thought-provoking philosophical work of fiction that consists of between 250 and 400 pages? Thanks.

Well, to take the obvious starting point, what about Jane Austen? -- any of her novels you choose, really, other perhaps than Northanger Abbey.1 My own favourite is Emma, though perhaps her exploration of the virtues (Aristotelian and Christian) is equally near the surface in e.g. Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion. The great tradition of subtle moral reflection in novel form continues in e.g. George Eliot, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.

Then of course there are the Russians (longer, yes: but wonderful -- and, for heaven's sake, with such masterpieces to read, don't wastetime on a fourth rate writer like Ayn Rand). What about Crime and Punishment, for another obvious suggestion? And the greatest of all novels -- Anna Karenina -- is shot through and through with reflection on what it is to live well.

1. Incidentally, there's an engaging essay by the philosopher Gilbert Ryle, 'Jane Austen and the Moralists' which is well worth reading (perhaps most accessible in old collection of Critical Essays on Jane Austen edited by B.C. Southam). He puts it beautifully "I am not going to try to make out that Jane Austen was a philosopher or even a philosopher manquée. But … she was interested from the south side in some quite general or theoretical problems about human nature and conduct in which philosophers proper were and are interested from the north side."

Camus' THE STRANGER and THE FALL would also be great. As well as Miguel Unamuno's, "St Manuel the Good Martyr." For another short masterwork there is Dostoyevsky's NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND and Tolstoy's DEATH OF IVAN ILYCH. Hope this helps. Happy reading.

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