Reading the Classics

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A couple of months ago, my boss, in his 50s and an owner of windmills and steam engines, lent me some books he enjoyed. One of these books included E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View which described itself as a social comedy set during the early years of the 20th century.

Florence, the setting for the first half of the novel. Via Wikimedia Commons

I’m going to be honest, and say that this type of book seems like the sort of book I’d only read the first few pages of, in a vague attempt to appear cultured and clever. When I began to read, however, I found myself immersed in a world so amazingly different to my own that I was transfixed. It followed a young girl who was bound by the social conventions held by the generations above her, who desperately wanted to break free (this novel came at a time when womens’ suffrage was a contentious issue). I was constantly astounded by Forster’s way with words; he was poetic, but at the same time, he was never too pretentious when expressing the language and dialect used by stuffy Edwardians.

These days, many people dismiss “classics” as simply books which are only good for English lessons. Understandably, our restricted diet of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice at school was not exactly enjoyable because of the constant analysis, quoting, re-reading and discussion of themes in them. When was the last time you did that with Harry Potter? Never, I’d guess, mainly because you read those books at whatever pace you thought necessary and probably enjoyed them for what they were: a good story.

We can all appreciate that J.K. Rowling is a great writer without reading the first page of The Philosopher’s Stone over and over again, so why can’t we do the same with Frankenstein, Romeo and Juliet and The Picture of Dorian Gray? No wonder illiteracy is becoming all the more common these days! If we are taught that reading is a laborious chore, it should come as no surprise that fewer are reading for pleasure. Take my word for it, reading a classic piece of literature may be more difficult (you’ll probably need a dictionary by your bedside table) but they’re classics for a reason. They’re damned good stories.