So today, we are talking about classic literature. How do you define classic literature? Is it the age of the book, the story itself, or something that you was forced upon you by the literature Nazi instructor in high school? Who decides which book becomes a classic? If a book wins a literary award is it destined to become a classic? Most people define a classic as a work that pre-dates mid to early nineteenth century, or “has withstood the test of time”. Some may view the classics as tedious, wordy, or stale. I must admit that when given the list of “required reading” in high school, I wasn’t overjoyed. I have never embraced being forced to do anything…much less having my selection of literary retreat chosen for me. However, once I started the woeful reading list, I fell in love with the richness of some of the stories, hated others, but ultimately decided that the intrigue lured me to venture further into the treasures of literary classics.
My favorite of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This is one of my “deserted on a secluded island” must haves…. Atticus Finch, the kind, gentle, and humble man with unwavering integrity, the consequences of right and wrong, knowing things are not always as they seem, the innocence portrayed through the eyes of Scout, the mysterious Boo Radley, and even the old oak tree with hidden treasures are the special memories of this story that stay with me. Atticus was my favorite character in the book, a representation of a man with unmatched morals and ethics, a rigid foundation of qualities that have diminished in today’s society.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy…..yet another of my must haves… is a literary classic that is not for the faint or weak, but then again, what Russian literature is? I believe I read somewhere, depending on which edition you possess, that you can read a chapter a day and finish this in a year. I have the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation and it comes in at a staggering 838 pages of splendid reading. This story involves love, desire, hate, social ideals, happiness and tragedy all rolled in between the covers of the book. Tolstoy wrote in such a descriptive way that you can “hear” the thoughts, “see” the facial expressions, “smell” the grass and flowers and “feel” the emotions of the 7 main characters. The reader must wonder if Tolstoy toiled with the characters paths, or was his intention to keep us spellbound with the constant twists of character development. While reading this story, you wonder if Tolstoy himself can decide which way to go with the characters and do they come out written as he originally had them pictured in his mind.
The Count of MonteCristo by Alexandre Dumas……..this is one of those stories that you read and at the end of it, you are thinking “Well played, Edmond Dantes, well played”. Edmond Dantes is a character that you empathize with, cheer on, and fall in love with. The story is full of intrigue, betrayal, and revenge. At the end of the 1200+ page story you are left with a feeling that every now and then the good guy actually does win. And on a sidebar…Never underestimate the person whom you betray!
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton…. Edith Wharton was a woman who wrote well ahead of her time. This is a story that touches the heart in more ways than one. Imagine seeing and wanting something that is always just out of grasp, knowing that it’s there, but you can’t quite touch it. A quote: “It was the spirit of it….the spirit of the exquisite romantic pain. The idea that the mere touching of a woman’s hand would suffice. The idea that seeing her across the room would keep him alive for another year” <sigh>
Sense &Sensibility by Jane Austen……I love Jane Austen and this is probably my favorite of hers. It’s a story of two sisters dealing with social ideals and money. Austen gives the characters traits that make you see them in a different light throughout the story. We quickly learn that “Prince Charming” isn’t necessarily so charming and “villains” are quite so villainous. The ideals of life and the perception of these ideals through innocent eyes graduate over time to reveal the trueness of what we seek.
If you are just starting out with the classics, out of my favorites I would have to recommend you start with To Kill a Mockingbird or Sense and Sensibility. Both are wonderful reads and ease you into the first steps of a classic literature romance. It's a love affair that will keep you coming back for more.