Thursday 26 September 2013

My Changing Attitude to Classics

As I’m sure a fair few of you know, I just graduated with a degree in English Literature. That means that I’ve been made to read classic literature for around ten years now; that’s a long time to be made to read things that you don’t want to read and don’t like reading. I know you’re probably thinking, then why on earth did you pay thousands of pounds to spend three years doing just that?! Well, because I wanted to like them and I do genuinely enjoy studying them. That actually sounds really strange when put into words...

So, yes. For the last ten or so years when I’ve been made to read classics I’ve resented it. Now I’ve graduated, I want to read them and I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve read so far. My brain is an inconvenient so-and-so. There are a fair few novels, classics and modern classics, that never came up on my reading lists that everyone else seems to have read and I felt a little hard done by. So I invented a new feature, Blast From the Past, and declared I would read something that I should have read years and years ago once a month at least. 

There are of course a few that slipped through the net and I ended up enjoying, but only a few considering how many of them I’ve read and studied. I immediately loved Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which I studied for my A-levels; after reading The Island of Doctor Moreau by HG Wells several times I began to like it; Virginia Woolf’s feminist treatise A Room of One’s Own struck a chord; I loved Antony and Cleopatra and The Picture of Dorian Gray was good fun. And yet it’s my violent hatred for Great Expectations (with the exception of Miss Havisham and one speeh Pip gives her); Samuel Richardson’s behemoth, Clarissa; Samuel Beckett’s plays and Virginia Woolf’s novels that sticks in my mind when I think of classics. So I’m glad my mind is slowly changing about that.

When it comes to classics classics I’ve read The Great Gatsby, The Hobbit and To Kill a Mockingbird (well, I will have when this goes live!) and I loved Gatsby and thoroughly enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird and The Hobbit. I’m continuously surprised by that. I have a huge list of books that I planned to read over the next few years that contains novels from Anna Karenina and Wuthering Heights to I Capture the Castle and The Giver. 

For the not quite-classics-but-will-be books I’ve read - Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson – they’re brilliant. And there are so many of them! The children’s classics I missed when I was a little girl, the popular and essential novelsand series’ I passed over in my early teens.

Next up for me is The Book Thief by Markuz Zusak and The Road by Cormac McCarthy and I’m genuinely excited to discover both of them.

What classics did you read and love/hate at school or university? Do you read them now? Any you think I should prioritise?



  1. From what I remember studying for my GCSEs, I had to read Animal Farm, An Inspector Calls and Macbeth (and some Carol Ann Duffy, though only 2/3) and I think I liked most of them (Macbeth breaks this room).

    But I haven't read them since school so maybe I should try and reread one of them for pleasure and see if my views have changed.

  2. I've never really been able to stick with classics, not because I don't like them but because I can't always quite get their language. I think BSU has changed that for the better :) I like your Blast From The Past feature, I haven't read The Hobbit since year 5, To Kill a Mockingbird in year 9 so it's interesting to see what you think of them now. I also need to re-read The Book Thief before the film! But you don't really want to read The Road - it's weirdly written, bit creepy and quite sad. But it's the first dystopian so maybe you do need to try it for yourself. Don't say I didn't warn you!

  3. The Giver is very special. I think you will adore I Capture the Castle. I read Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984 and loved it - planning a re-read soon! I'm partial to George Eliot's Adam Bede but couldn't stand Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. I'm not a Wuthering Heights fan and also find some of Woolf's stuff a drag. One of my favourite novels that I studied at university was John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman. I wasn't that fond of The Book Thief but I think Little M's book group is planning on reading it. There are some wonderful African classics too which are a change from the western canon - of course, Things Fall Apart but I'm a big fan of The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born ((Ayi Kwei Armah), Nervous Conditions (Tsitsi Dangarembga) and Houseboy (Ferdinand Oyono). The Classics Club challenge, where you plan to read 50 classics in 5 years and you choose to define what 'classics' is, haslots of title ideas on their blog.

  4. I loved all of the required reading I was assigned at school .. and I hated that we didn't read more widely. I remember reading Crime and Punishment and Doctor Zhivago just for the fun of it. (I was also trying to read a lot of the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list that had a whole heap of classics in it)

    And then I started an English Literature degree and they had us analysing poems. That I just couldn't do!

    Good luck reading more classics :)

  5. I didn't realise your degree was English Lit, I thought it was work based nursing! got that wrong didn't I? I enjoyed The Book Thief which was a book group read giving it 4*. I have The Road on my TBR.

  6. I'm a huge fan of classics – a huge, HUGE fan! It's rare for kids my age to read, let alone to read classics, so I guess I'm a bit of an oddball in that sense. :P I've read every single book you mentioned, and I thoroughly enjoyed them all!

    I recently finished Anna Karenina (I quite enjoyed it) and both Wuthering Heights and I Capture the Castle are favourites of mine!

    Have you read 1984 or Brave New World? I love those two too. :D

  7. I, too, am an English major, so specific works of literature have started to grow on me. If you asked me a year ago, I would have cringed to poetry, now it's starting to grow on me. The pieces you mentioned are quite fascinating, I've read plenty of them, including "Frankenstein." It must have put a lot of inspiration to your "Blast From The Past" feature which is a great section to come out of you!

  8. I haven't read many classics and am hoping to soon but I do lean towards the YA on my TBR pile so they build up. I would love to read The Great Gatsby though, and have Agnes Grey on the go and have really enjoyed that (when I've bothered to pick it up!).

    Great post, Sophie!

  9. I always mean to read more classics, but somehow they always get sidelined by all the awesome new YA books I keep finding :/ So, most of the classics I've read are thanks to school for making me read them, although I have read a few of my own accord.

    Currently, we're studying Pride and Prejudice for GCSE and I really rather enjoyed that when I read it over the summer (although I have a really boring English teacher who makes studying it really boring :/ ). It's kind of like an old-fashioned bad boy/good girl storyline...kind of...well, I think you'll get what I mean if you read it!

    I really like the story of Jane Eyre, and I also really liked Wuthering Heights (well, the first half at least; I found the second half a bit boring) 1984 was quite interesting, but I didn't love it; Lord Of the Flies, I don't think I particularly enjoyed, but it is quite chilling...

    I intend to read The Book Thief soon, too, especially since there's going to be a movie coming out!

  10. I never read classics AT ALL before I did my English Literature A level and now, I guess I kind of see them in a different light as I'm a bit older.
    Read Wuthering Heights! It's really, really good. One of my favourite books and also one of the only books I've still loved after studying it (as well as The Great Gatsby).

  11. It's funny you should mention classics - you know how I struggle with them, yes? Well I started reading Pride and Prejudice last night (it's my BFF's favourite) and I'm 23% in. Most of it I understand, some of it I don't. It's the language I can't wrap my head around - so wordy!

    I never had to study any except Mockingbird, but I want to try and read more on my trusty Kindle. Great post!


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