I am one of those people who enjoys Tolstoy and Dickens, Austen and the Brontes and Tacitus and Homer. I have read these over the years not only for university and school, but because I have chosen to, something some people find very strange.
I don’t mind this – we all like different things, and I don’t tell people not to read something just because I don’t like it, nor do I try to tell people they should read a book or series over another one: it’s not right and I don’t like it when it is done to me.
Now, why do I enjoy the classics? They open up to me a world that can only be found in the annals of history, a world that I want to explore through fiction and non-fiction, through characters both real and imagined. Like any literature, they illustrate what the world was like when they are written and as such, should not be altered or fiddled with to appease new readers (censorship and editing of books to take out taboo or subjects that cause discomfort will be another post). I enjoy the raw originals – give me them any day over sanitised versions – I like the worlds they open me up to, the attitudes that were once in place, and even if I find these to be disagreeable, I read on because all literature has is written for its time and place.
One of my favourite classic writers is Virginia Woolf. Many people I know have baulked at reading her essays, short stories and novels. I admit they are unusual but this is what I love about them – you get a great narrative but just told in an unusual way – a style, admittedly, that takes a while to get used to. Of all her works, Jacob’s Room and A Room of One’s Own are my favourites, and I have read them several times. They are amongst the works that I like to revisit.
Homer is another favourite, the Homer who wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey around the eighth century BC, although there has been much debate over whether the author was a singular person called Homer or whether several authors wrote each book, given that they were each written a generation apart and The Iliad has a more militaristic and legendary tone when compared with the mythological and fairy tale feel of The Odyssey. Of the two, my favourite is The Odyssey.
The long list of classics I have read, that includes War and Peace, Anna Karenina and now Nicholas Nickleby, amongst many, many others, has contributed to my knowledge and understanding of literature and the different things that inspire it for different people. Having read across the board of classics both for adults and children, the question arises to me about how people judge what is a classic and how they judge one to be more complex than another. Is it the translated ones that people think will be obscure? Or is it the length? Length is no issue for me, and I have certainly read books that are initially written in English with far more insane ramblings than War and Peace. Or perhaps its the amount of characters? Certainly keeping track of dozens of characters is overwhelming and confusing, and after reading something like this I feel overloaded and have to delve into something lighter, at least in terms of length, though the story might not be simple.
Classics or not, I see complexities in every piece of literature, whether or not others see these. Questions of complexity should not be limited to length, amount of characters or whether or not the book is a translation, and certainly not limited to the classics. It is a genre that I fear people look upon with disdain or a similar emotion when they recall what they had to read in high school English. Do not fear the classics. If they are your boggart, look beyond what you see to the humour within, because fear of a name, and in this case fear of the name of a genre or author, only increases the fear of that genre or author if one is indeed afraid of reading it or looks upon it with trepidation. I bit the bullet with Dracula. Since then, I have no longer been afraid of the classics.