Respect the old: in defense of classic literature

Julia James, Staff Writer

The classics are books written ages ago by authors who have long since gone before us. They’ve been respected and widely read for generations. There is something about the classics that has a level of authenticity and sophistication surrounding them that makes enduring the challenge of reading these old books worth it.

Even though these classic books are written in English, the text of them often sounds very differ- ent from the English spoken today. The classics sometimes seem daunting or not worth reading at all due to the drastic differences in English style. They come across as boring novels to read only because it’s been assigned in English class. They come across as the type of novels people pick up because they want to look scholarly or in- telligent. For example, when people ask, “What are you reading?”, they can sound smart by saying something like, “Oh this? It’s only ‘War and Peace’”.

I must say though, while it’s quite arduous, the plot is so riveting you don’t even notice its length. “War and Peace” is over 1,000 pages long and was published in 1869, so if you’ve gotten through it, kudos to you — maybe you really have earned bragging rights.

Some classics are quite difficult to get through. In some cases, you don’t even know what the author is talking about. The references make no sense and you begin to question why you’re struggling through a book written in the 1800s, written in a completely different English, when you have no clue as to what’s actually happening.

But the classics are classics, and have survived hundreds of years for a reason, which explains why people have continued to read and respect them.

All of that is just to say that when these classics do begin to seem a bit much and go over our heads, we need to continue, because they are worth it. I have both successfully and unsuccessfully conquered and failed in reading particular classics. I’ve selected some of the most recognized classics that have become my favorites. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them and still do.

Let’s start with the Brontës. The famed novel “Wuthering Heights” was written by Emily Brontë in 1847. Hopefully that doesn’t induce a cringe from past and pres- ent AP Lit students. I personally enjoyed the novel and disagree with many student complaints. “Wuthering Heights” is a true Gothic novel with completely unlikable protagonists and their detrimental love for each other. The novel weaves together hate, revenge, class and everlasting love through truly terrible characters who perform truly awful acts. But there is something to be said through the darkness in the book and, once you read it, you can decide for yourself if there really was any romance in the novel, or if there are just characters who lacked morals and cared only for themselves.

The oldest of the Brontë sis- ters, Charlotte, wrote the classic “Jane Eyre”. “Jane Eyre” is a romance, and, just like “Wuthering Heights”, contains several dark themes. The darkness in “Jane Eyre” is different from that of “Wuthering Heights”. Though Charlotte Brontë’s novel is a romantic, suspenseful mystery. There is a level of foreboding hor- ror that is modestly intertwined in the text throughout the novel. The mystery and big secret that comes to light as the story progresses is hauntingly compelling. The story is sad, interesting, romantic and intense in an understated way. Jane is a strong-willed and independent female protagonist, which makes the story refreshing, because reading about weak female protagonists in other novels can be both annoying and frustrating.

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen is another great classic. This novel is different from the Brontës’ novels in the sense that there is no major event that alters the course of the novel as a whole. Austen’s novel follows Elizabeth, the second oldest of her five sisters, and her path to love and marriage. The reader follows the sisters to balls and visits to estates. The story is not at all fast-paced in an action-based way, but Elizabeth and her stubborn wit, along with Mr. Darcy and his reserved, prideful attitude, makes for an amazing story.

Maybe you don’t favor 19th century romances. But next time you’re in the bookstore, take a second to browse the classics table. They are not all as boring and difficult as some may believe. And if you are interested in becoming a fan of the classics, look out for future articles in which I rec- ommend classic books that have nothing to do with love or the surrounding drama that accompanies these romances.