Since graduating university, my relationship with classics has changed drastically and I've begun actively seeking them out. This year I pledged to read a classic a month and so far I've achieved that goal and so I'm sharing some of my favourites with you.
Persuasion, Jane Austen
Anne Elliot has few romantic prospects at 27 after refusing the proposal of a young naval captain eight years before upon the encouragement of a family friend. But when Captain Wentworth returns, complete with a fortune, and they cross paths once again, Anne finds herself just as much in love as she was when they first met. Can they overcome the hurt and heartache and find their way back to each other?
This is my favourite Austen novel and it was my mum’s too. With Pride and Prejudice being the most popular I always imagined that would be top dog in my heart too, but Anne spoke to me in the most unexpected ways. Though we are oceans apart in age and situation, I fell in love with with her fierce love for Wentworth (well, who could blame her?), her capacity for sympathy and compassion and her passion for literature. And quite frankly, that letter from Wentworth to Anne alone makes Persuasion worth a spot on my list.
Jay Gatsby has everything a man could want. In his Long Island mansion, bright young things party the nights away at drinking, dancing and speculating on the mysterious Gatsby. He may be rich and revered, but the only thing he really wants, Daisy Buchanan, is still out of his reach.
This was the novel that reintroduced me to reading classic novels for pleasure and was the first I read upon completing my English literature degree. It's a very easy read, but an engaging, thought-provoking one and I loved it. It's the kind of classic where you yourself can identify the symbolism and the social and cultural references as well as being enjoyable and forming a connection to the characters. It's a beautiful novel and a good one to start with if you’re just venturing into classics or going back in without the aid of your studies for the first time.
The Island of Doctor Moreau, HG Wells
Edward Prendick is the sole survivor of the Lady Vain and is rescued by a strange ship carrying a menagerie of animals. Prendick soon finds himself on an uncharted Pacific island with the crew of rescuers and the beasts from the ship, and beasts they are. The captain of the ship Dr Moreau, a brilliant, twisted scientist has been exiled from English society for his horrific experiments and this island is where he will continue his work.
I actually studied this novel for my A-levels and I read it twice over the time I was studying it. Though I didn’t particularly like it on the first read, as I studied it, re-read it and delved further into the novel, I grew to love it and it became one of the first classic novels I fell in love with via education. It’s very short, but it's also gripping, darkly fascinating and incredibly thought-provoking. It's a science fiction novel to launch a love of science fiction and a wonderful gateway into classics, especially as it’s not even 200 pages long!
Victor Frankenstein is obsessed with the idea of creating life. He scavenges body parts from graveyards, sews them together and brings his creation to life with pulses of electricity, but his creation is far more than he could ever have imagined. With fear and terror, Frankenstein abandons the monster leaving it to fend for itself and learn about the harsh world it has been brought into. Denied the warmth and compassion of humans through fear, the monster sets out to destroy it's maker and all he holds dear.
It still astounds me that Shelley wrote this at the age of nineteen in what was essentially a challenge between her, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. It’s a Gothic masterpiece and the inspiration to a hoarde of horror films, but it’s definitely worth reading. This was another that I fell in love with during my A-levels – the writing is beautiful, the plight of Frankenstein’s monster is surprisingly emotional and the scope of the story is breath-taking. But I must warn you: reading this book will cause a lifetime of shouting at people who call the monster Frankenstein… With great power comes great responsibility, and all that.
A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
Based on a lecture Woolf delivered at Girton College, Cambridge, this is a feminist polemic that ranges from discussions about Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë to Shakespeare’s imaginary sister to the effect of poverty and consent on a woman’s creativity.
I did an entire module on Virginia Woolf and her works in my final year of university. I knew very little about her when beginning the module, but I became a fan of the power in her beliefs, the Bloomsbury Group, Woolf’s intelligence and her non-fiction, her essays in particular, even while struggling with her fiction. This was the first piece of Woolf’s writing outside of her essays and letters that I really connected with while studying her and it changed the way I looked at both her work and her life. Woolf is most famous for her death, but she really shouldn’t be.
Lady Dona St Columb is famed in the Restoration Court for being up for anything that causes trouble or a laugh, but no one knows that she secretly pines for a true love, freedom from the constraints of her society and adventure spiced with danger. Dona escapes court life by fleeing to her husband’s family estate in Cornwall where she meets a pirate who would gamble his life for a speck of adventure. Soon she must choose between risking her life or losing her new love.
Now this is a book that surprised me. Virago relaunched Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek and Jamaica Inn in gorgeous new editions, one set for an adult audience and another for YA shelves and I took part in the blog tour. I devoured a chuck of it on a long train ride and finished it the next da. I fell in love with the dreamy, lyrical prose, Dona’s struggles against her society and the dangerous, romantic adventure she and Jean-Benoit undertake aboard the La Mouette. It's a gorgeous novel and I highly recommend it.
Dracula, Bram Stoker
On a visit to Transylvania to help Count Dracula secure the purchase of a London estate, Jonathan Harker sets in motion a terrifying train of events. An unmanned ship is wrecked in Whitby, the raving of a patient in an asylum start to ring true and a young woman discovers strange marks upon her neck.
During my second year of university I took a module about Gothic literature, from what is said to be the first Gothic novel up until the end of the traditional format in 1890, and of course, Dracula featured on the list. But I never got further than a few chapters in. I thought it was boring and it wasn’t what I expected, but this time I listened to a full-cast Audible recording and I loved it. The story is composed of letters and diary entries and gives you all sides of the story, and actually rarely features Dracula himself. It’s tense, dark and brooding and it’s perfect for the dark and dreary months of Autumn and Winter.
What are your favourite classics? Have you read any of these?
And Happy Christmas!!