Thursday, 21 May 2009

The Classics - who reads them?

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!


Meg Wiviott said...

Thomas Hardy is one of my favorites. Also Jane Austen (of course) and Trollope. Hemingway and Steinbeck are my favorite American "classic" writers.

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, and EAST OF EDEN are probably tied for my top reads - maybe right after Winnie The Pooh.

Rena said...

My daughters do. They're 19 and 18 years old. They'd much rather read Dickens or some other classic author over most YA novels.

Kate said...

Meg, I hadn't thought of Winnie the Pooh, but yes, he's definitely a classic!

Rena, I'd forgotten Dickens. I loved him when I was a teenager, too.

C.R. Evers said...

I don't read the classics a lot, but I do see the value in them, even though the style and content can't be replicated by today's standards. I think the language is one reason. They tend to have a poetic voice that is often missing in more modern pieces.

Also it's good for picking out what structure and plot devices have stood the test of time.

Once I've finished my 50 book challenge in 2009, I think I'm going to pick a classic to read. I can't include it in my 50 books, or it may slow down my pace in order to reach my goal. Now. . . I just have to decide which one.

Kate said...

I don't recommend you start with Les Miserables, Christy. I'm really enjoying it, but I have to admit that I'm skim reading vast tracts of it that are description of French history and hard work to read! But there are some really good ones out there.