(Source: La liseuse by Jean-Jacques Henner)
Hark, something is afoot. Wilt ye lend me thine ear? Oh, do not fret–tis not a matter of great weight, but tis a fullsome subject worthy of note. Friend, I shall address classic literature, of which time hath wrought much to discuss. I beseech thee: trow thine language, reflect upon what thou hast read…
Now that you’re having violent flashbacks to reading Romeo and Juliet in school and scrambling for No Fear Shakespeare, I’ll cease speaking like I have a time machine. (Although, I wish I did have a time machine; I would give the Doctor a run for his timelord money.)
In case it wasn’t clear in mixed-period English, I’ve been delving into classic literature lately. Alright, alright, I saw that flinch; please, just give me a chance to explain.
I studied English and I’m an unrepentant book fiend, but with all of that said, I still didn’t get classic lit until about six months ago. So, after my TAMUCT courses forced me to read enough of it to fill a small library and the lightbulb finally flicked on, I got a bit excited.
Don’t misunderstand: before college I read a few classics. I fangirled over On the Road, loved watching my senior English teacher act out Hamlet, and used a bisexual flag to represent Whitman for “book in a bag.” But, I didn’t stop hiding in the young-adult lit section and learn to love the classics until college.
After all the old English fear, I can now quote Austen and my bookshelves are a bit beyond burgeoning. That’s what brings us to this post.
You see, as a relatively new classic lit lover, I feel that I need to declare my love, rom-com style. Since holding a boombox outside my love’s window is logistically impossible, this blog post is my declaration…and also my encouragement of everyone to be a bit more, shall we say, polyamorous with the lit they love.
Give me just a couple minutes and maybe you’ll want to disappear into Austenland or wish you could befriend a dead poet…
In general, there are two objections to classic lit: it is hard to read and it is boring/irrelevant. Well…
It may be difficult at first to get used to older language and styles, but there is a lot buried within all of those thee’s and thou’s.
For starters, Shakespeare has some of the most blatantly sexual and legitimately amusing scenes that I’ve ever read (*cough* Shakespeare, Sonnet 151 *cough*). Plus, Shakespeare has so many brilliant insults and dismissals.Wouldn’t you feel smooth if you called someone a “scurvy companion” (Henry IV, Part 2) or said someone’s “abilities were too infant-like for doing much alone” (Coriolanus)?
Plus, if Eric in Boy Meets World can act out Shakespeare, the least you can do is read some of it!
Let’s also not forget the great moments within other works like Don Quixote and A Modest Proposal though. I mean, Jonathan Swift responded to poverty by sarcastically suggesting that people sell and consume small children…what’s not to enjoy?
But, in the end, if the language is a problem, annotated editions are your friend.
As far as objections to the old-fashioned or “boring” plots in classic lit go, I have to say that is merely a false impression of the genre.
The Great Gatsby is about love, money, and the Jazz Age, with a storyline full of excessive partying, maudlin observations, and tragic deaths.
1984 deals with omnipresent government control, personal freedom, and the past, or essentially being tired of pretending that everything is peachy keen.
The Canterbury Tales follows a group of people headed to the same place for different reasons. Think of it as an old Love, Actually (2003) or Valentine’s Day (2010).
And, let’s not even get that far into The Odyssey. It has war, creatures, and heroism. Plus, most people don’t even realize that dozens of the most popular video games, shows, and movies were based upon it.
Precisely what part of all of that sounded uninteresting and irrelevant? Nothing, it is all amazing! Those books/collections are all amazing!
No matter what you’ve previously been told, classic lit is enjoyable, relevant, and quite entertaining. Books transcend time and those within the classic lit genre are no exception. That’s precisely why I’m courting classic lit and calling you all to do the same.
If the Doctor offered to take you to another planet, wouldn’t you go? Of course!
So, why not take a trip by cracking open a new, old one?
Have I convinced you yet? Well, if anyone decides to venture into the classic lit world, or has already discovered it (you sir or madam, are a smart duck), let me know. Perhaps we can have a chat and start a ship war–I’m happily sailing Katherine/Petruchio, Emma Woodhouse/Mr. George Knightley, and Fanny/Edmund. Or, we can just have virtual tea and become Goodreads friends, it’s your choice.
Regardless, best of luck in the world of literature and always remember:
The introductory paragraph of literary torture–I mean, fun–via mixed-period English was brought to you by this delightful little resource: I Bequeath Thee.
Also, the inspiration for this post and my newfound appreciation of classic literature was this wonderful little lit-nerd tidbit: Disgruntled English Major.