Do people still read the “classics”? As writers, we’re told to read all the time to help us find our style and voice, but what can the classics do for that?
I have to admit I haven’t really read anything that could be classified as a classic for a long time. When I was at Uni I read a lot. Some of those were because I had to, as part of the English course. I hated most of them at the time, but I’ve reread some since then - without the need to analyse - and really enjoyed them. One day I might even make myself read ‘Heart of Darkness’ again, just to find out what it was that I found so loathsome about it at the time.
What I loved reading when I was younger was the works of Sir Walter Scott. I look at them now and wonder how I ever even started to read them, but when I was in exam mode I found them really wonderful for taking my mind off study without letting my brain go out of gear. They were great stories, well told.
One author that I had to read, but didn’t come to hate was Thomas Hardy. I loved his books. They were full of miserable characters going from one disaster to another. I couldn’t feel depressed about my own life when theirs were so much worse. As for his poetry, he remains my favourite poet to this day.
For obvious reasons, I’ve just got hold of a copy of ‘Les Miserables’. All I can say is it would make a great flower press! Its size is daunting, its language mind-boggling (yes, it’s an English translation), but I’m determined to read it again. That dvd I bought has inspired me.
So why read the classics? Obviously if I started to write in the style of Hugo or Scott or even Hardy, I’d stand no chance of being published. But these were all great storytellers. Their characters are real and three-dimensional and we can relate to them, even in this day and age. The ‘goodies’ are not necessarily the heroes and the ‘baddies’ are not necessarily all bad. The plots are full of twists and turns and they capture the times and society they write about so perfectly. There’s still a lot to learn from them, old-fashioned or not.
If you don’t hear from me again for six months, it’s because I’m struggling along with Valjean! Wish me luck!