I have a love hate relationship with classics, as I’ve said before. On one hand, I really want to love them…. on the other, frequently, I don’t. I’m definitely getting better at actually finishing classics, especially as I’m learning the historical context and studying them. I think a little context goes a long way, especially with Victorian and Georgian texts, which are so heavy on wit and class features. I have a feeling many of the books I didn’t like before I would like now, as I’m more able to understand the wider meaning. I also have the feeling that because my country and experience so widely differs from that of Europe or America, I don’t have the feel for the landscape as well as I would like to. A good Australian classic has a very different feeling for me- I know the land and I know the culture. Both of those things are so utterly important in Australian writing. We may have been a British colony, but we have a very different mindset.
But which classics do I love already? And what even is a classic? How do I decide which book is a classic and which book is not? I’m going to go with books that have changed society and crop up time and time again in discussions!
1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!”
I LOVE Jane Eyre. I read it for the first time a few years ago and was absolutely blown away by Jane’s strength and attitude. She’s absolutely fantastic and brings all the sass! Yes, she’s a little given to moroseness, but I really could see myself in Jane. She’s sassy and strong but also pretty fragile. I find her to be such a real character.
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.
I didn’t like this book the first time I read it. I didn’t understand the language and I was reading it for school, which never really helps matters. I watched that BBC production and decided to try again… and loved it! I think I found the language easier and I could picture the situations better. I read it a month or so ago again and picked up even more on the turns of phrase and the comedy of it all! I laughed out loud many times! It’s also helped with other classics reading, as I am more able to see why certain manners are terrible in this era.
3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien
“Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!”
Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. “But no living man am I!”
I think this one is a classic! It was a hard toss up between this and my beloved Harry Potter, but I choose LOTR. I was always a little afraid of getting into this world. I was told it was extremely difficult by people. Now, I can’t quite understand why I listened to them, because I never thought they were all that intelligent anyway! This series is AMAZING. It’s so, so deeply layered with folklore, history and action. Tolkien was an absolute genius. I can’t say I much like Frodo and his sections of the book- I felt like they dragged on forever. But the other sections were phenomenal. I loved how everything was linked between the stories and events matched so perfectly- many authors trying this strategy fail. The prose is pretty dense at times, but it’s well worth powering through- it will grab you and you’ll never want to leave Middle Earth. The movies are really good too! You can read this first or go for The Hobbit, whichever you think. I did The Hobbit first and think this was a good idea, as it gave me more detail in the universe.
4. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
If one hears bad music, it is one’s duty to drown it in conversation.
This book is positively dripping with wit! Oscar was such a clever fellow. The observations made are as relevant now as they were in the 19th Century.
5. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late.
This book is so utterly powerful and tragic. To read a book about war is one thing… To read one so brutal and with such a message is entirely another. You can definitely see why this book upset Hitler so much- he had it burned, banned, the movie was banned and he beheaded Remarque’s sister because he couldn’t get his hands on the man himself. Brutal.
6. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier
For love, as she knew it now, was something without shame and without reserve, the possession of two people who had no barrier between them, and no pride; whatever happened to him would happen to her too, all feeling, all movement, all sensation of body and of mind.
I know this is an unusual choice for Daphne Du Maurier- I think all of her books are amazing (the ones I’ve read anyway). This book just spoke to me. I was so absolutely moved by it and devoured every word.
7. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery
Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.
I wanted to be Anne when I was a child. I haven’t read this series- yes, it’s a series!- in a very long time, but Anne is just as real to me now as she was then. She’s an awesome character who I think every little girl can relate to in some way- I could definitely relate to her imaginings!
8. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
This Australian classic is SUCH a mind fuck. Seriously. What is real? What isn’t? Where the hell did they go?
The story unfolds in the Macedon Ranges in Victoria, a place I know and love. It is just so very beautiful and it’s the perfect juxtaposition for this story. Hanging Rock hasn’t been seen in the same light again!!
Word to the wise: Don’t read the alternate ending. It’s just not worth it.
9. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Pass the damn ham, please.
It took me far too long to read this book. I supposedly read it for my HSC exams as a related text – I actually watched the movie, as I had run out of time! I’m glad I read this on my own terms, rather than for school.
10. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
‘Contrariwise,’ continued Tweedledee, ‘if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic!
The choosing of my tenth classic has been hard! I choose Alice, as the book is just so very wonderful. Everyone needs a little bit of nonsense in their life and no other book has me singing about soup so frequently. I have a copy given to my grandmother for her 6th birthday, and she’s coloured in all the pictures (though she claims that was never, ever her!). I think that’s pretty magical. Thanks, Granny!
This was such a difficult list to put together! I hope by the time I finish my Classics Club challenge it will be even more difficult! I know I’ve left something out and I will kick myself later, but these classics immediately spring to mind. I can think of a few more that would make my top classics list if I could choose 20!