10 favourite classics

This week’s Top Ten meme hosted by the Broke and Brookish is about a few of our favourite things. I’ve neglected my Classics Club project this year but looking back at the list of books I put together 5 years ago reminded me of so many other classics I’ve loved over the years. So here are my top ten classics .

From the Seventeenth Century

1. Paradise Lost by John Milton  (1667). I can remember sitting on my bed in

Lucifer-The-Fallen

Depiction of Satan, illustration of the central character of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. 1866.From Wikepedia under creative commons licence

my university halls of residence feeling daunted by having to read this for a tutorial. It was a monster of a book because of the extensive notes to explain Milton’s references. And boy did I need those explanations not being blessed with a deep knowledge of the Bible or the classics. But I still found this epic a gripping read with its rebel angels, the clash of good and evil, creation of the world and then the fall from grace of Adam and Eve. Yes it’s long and the prose is often convoluted but well worth tackling.

From the Nineteenth Century

This was the century that saw the greatest change in the form and nature of the novel. From early realist texts of the early part of the century, by the end we’re in the realm of stream of consciousness. So many wonderful novels from which to choose that I could easily have just done a list of 10 favourite 19th century novels. But I’ve tried to pick ones that are novels I never tire of reading.

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813) There is no way that a list of favourites from the nineteenth century could ignore Jane Austen. This one can be read as a story about romance but as the title indicates Austen was more concerned about social issues. In this novel we get issues of social class and the precarious position of unmarried women.

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847) This was one of the first classics I ever read and it’s still giving me pleasure 50 years later. Obviously my understanding and interpretation of Charlotte Bronte’s most famous novel has changed over those decades. But that’s one of the beauties of this novel, that it can be read in many different ways. At it’s most basic level it can be a story of a put-upon orphan to finds love and happiness. Delve deeper however and you can find ideas about women’s right for independence and a fulfilling life; the unenviable position of governesses and 19th century attitudes towards science in the form of phrenology.

4. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871) Another novel that lends itself to multiple readings and interpretations. I know so many people who have started to read this book but struggled because it’s a bit slow to get going and has a very large cast. One way to read it is to think of it like a soap opera with a few key relationships – the ‘eternal triangle’ of Dorothea, Casaubon and Ladislaw and the predatory Rosamund who snares Dr Lydgate and almost bankrupts him. Look beyond that however and you’ll find  a novel about ambitions for great medical discoveries, altruism and electoral reform. All are thwarted. This is a novel about big ideas but one that also shows how gossip can bring a man down.

5. Germinal by Emile Zola (1885) My first experience of reading Zola and, though I’ve gone on to read a few others by him, this is the one that has  a special place in my affection. It’s hard reading not because Zola’s prose is impenetrable but because of the subject matter –  a struggle for survival by impoverished miners in France. They take strike action  in the hope of a better future but their rebellion is violently crushed by the army and police.  Uncompromisingly harsh this is a novel that is unforgettable.

6. The Awakening  by Kate Chopin (1898) A novella about a woman who feels trapped in her role as wife and mother that was deplored at the time of publication but has come to be viewed as a key feminist text. Edna Pontellier’s process of “awakening” and self-discovery that constitutes the focus of the book takes several forms: she learns to swim, has an affair and leaves her husband and children. But her freedom doesn’t provide her with happiness. The ending is enigmatic – does Edna’s action represent a failure of her bid for freedom or is it a liberating triumph?

From the Twentieth Century 
8. A Passage to India by E. M Forster  (1924) Set against the backdrop of the British Raj and the Indian independence movement in the 1920s, Forster’s novel traces the disastrous consequences when well-meaning but clueless representatives of the colonial class mix with those who are subjects of the Raj.   It features a tremendous set piece of an expedition to the Marabar caves where something happens (exactly what is a typical Forsterian ‘muddle’ that causes the disgrace of an Indian doctor and inflames the ruling Sahibs. The novel might feel a bit dated at times but it’s on the ball in its depiction of the difficulties in bridging cultural divides.
Heart of the Matter9. Heart of the Matter  — Grahame Greene (1948). Few authors do a better job of portraying people undergoing a moral crisis and tortured by their consciences. Greene himself didn’t care much for this book but I find his story of a British police officer who becomes embroiled in a moral crisis when he tries to do the decent thing for his wife who has had to endure years with him in a decaying, rotting African outpost of the British Empire. In the end there is no way out for him, except one of eternal spiritual damnation.

 
10. Cry, the Beloved Country  — Alan Paton (1948). I’m staying in Africa for my final choice. This novel is set in South Africa on the eve of apartheid,. Paton uses the story of a clergyman who travels to Johannesburg from his home in a small rural village and discovers racial tension, economic inequalities between black and white and a breakdown of traditional values.  Paton uses multiple voices to expresses his love for South Africa and his fear for the future of his homeland. This is a novel of protest in a sense but its also an appeal for justice.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on September 15, 2017, in Classics, Top Ten Tuesday and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. I’ve read “Jane Eyre” four times, once for fun, once for the dialogue, once to study foreshadowing, and once to study her descriptions.

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  2. Cry, the Beloved Country is one of those I will need to revisit as I read it in High School and of course couldn’t appreciate anything from it because I was being TOLD to do so.

    Also yay Austen and Brontë!

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  3. I was surprised I enjoyed paradise Lost, too. I have a big hardback edition with exceptionally helpful summaries and all the Dore illustrations. I also liked Germinal, but know exactly what you mean, I had planned to read the whole of Zola’s cycle, but don’t have the mental strength for that much misery right now! 😉

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  4. I love the way you set this out and didn’t go for all the most obvious classics – I need to reread The Awakening as I read it years ago and I only vaguely remember it at all.

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  5. An interesting selection of books from a range of different eras. It’s great to see E.M. Forster and Graham Greene on your list, two authors I’d like to return to in the future. Pride and Prejudice would make my list too, along with The Great Gatsby and Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep – my interpretation of the classics is fairly fast and loose.

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  6. I re-read Jane Eyre relatively recently and was so disappointed. I loved it as a teenager but we haven’t grown together. But Cry The Beloved Country is a book that I can return to time and time again.

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  7. I adooored Jane Eyre, much more than any Jane Austen novel ❤

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  8. A nice list, but I agree very hard to choose favourite classics. Oddly enough I picked up a copy of Middlemarch today, but who knows when I’ll be able to commit to it! 🙂

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  9. I couldn’t possibly do this but I do like your choices, particularly including books like The awakening and Cry the beloved country. As an Aussie, I’d have to include Patrick White’s Voss. I’m pretty hopeless at French classics but I’ve read a lot of Camus, and would include The Plague (La Peste). Trouble is I’m almost at 10 and of course I’d have to have Jane Austen, and I wouldn’t I think leave out Dickens (though would probably go for Bleak House)

    And here, I’m going to stop because this is getting ridiculous!!

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  10. Goodness ten favourite classics! I love your list though I haven’t read Paradise Lost or Heart of the Matter the others are all books I have read and loved. My list would definitely include Jane Eyre (I went to a play of it the other which I wrote about on my blog) at least one Jane Austen (but which?) Madame Bovary, Jude the obscure, the A Room with a View, To the Lighthouse perhaps. Then I am stuck – so so many to choose from.

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  11. I found your blog through another blog, either Jessica Bookworm or She Reads Novels. I am happy I visited! I love the way you write and the books you write about. I have read and loved five of your 10 favorite classics. (I am an American from the Los Angeles area, so I used our spelling.) I invite you to visit me and see what you think of my blog.

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  12. Great selection I love Greene just record old film of heart of the matter

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  13. *snap* *snap* and *snap* again and again! I have read and loved every one of these, and I am delighted that you love Paradise Lost because I read it at uni too and fell in love with its sexy Satan and its wonderful prose. It, along with Ulysses by James Joyce, are books which I would never have read if I hadn’t gone to uni and I consider myself so lucky to have had great teachers who helped me love the books the way I do.

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  14. I also love Pride and Prejudice, although I think Sense and Sensibility is still my Austen favourite 🙂

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  15. I enjoyed Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and Cry, the Beloved Country. I have been eyeing Middlemarch.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  16. Great choices! I have yet to read Graham Greene even though he’s sitting on my shelf. Glad to see him on here so I know to look forward to it!

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  17. This is a pretty impossible tasks – as I read your ten I’m thinking ‘yes I’d have chosen that too’ and ‘oh I’d have chosen this as well’ and I’m thinking both thoughts at the same time!!!! I’ve read 8 of your 10 ( not the Chopin or the Zola) and loved all of them though I have a special place in my affections for Jane Eyre and Middlemarch!!

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    • i could have easily listed 20 and still not captured everything. I missed out Dickens (Dombey and Son) for example as well as Madame Bovary and Tess of the D’Urbevilles. Oh this was hard

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