The Classics Club is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a series of questions designed to tease out our experiences of reading classics.
1. When did you join the Classics Club?
I signed up in October 2012 with a list of just over 80 books. I started off with great enthusiasm but got side-tracked so it took me eight years to finish my list. I’m hoping it won’t take me as long to complete my second list which I put together in July.
2. What is the best classic book you’ve read for the club so far? Why?
It’s impossible to pick just one book out of the fifty classics I’ve read during the Classics Club project so I’ll have to pick a few of my favourites. They include:
All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville West, a novel I keep recommending to friends.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, the best of her novels I think
L’Assommoir by Emile Zola; one of my most favourite Zola novels
3. What is the first classic you ever read?
The first one I can recall reading for myself is Black Beauty over which I wept buckets.
4. Which classic book inspired you the most?
If we’re talking about “inspired” in the sense of “motivated” or “stimulated”, I can’t say that any of the books I’ve read fit that description. That’s not such a bad thing — it means I’ve not been motivated to become a murderer like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment or take to drink like the main character in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne.
5. What is the most challenging one you’ve ever read, or tried to read?
I’ll take “challenging” to mean books that were a struggle to read. I failed once more to get to the end of A Tale of Two Cities . This was my third attempt and I failed at the same point as on the previous attempts. I’ve come to the conclusion that this book just isn’t going to work for me. I also abandoned Pamela by Samuel Richardson which dragged on and on and on.
The two plays — Medea and Electra — were challenging in a different way. They were my first experience of Greek tragedy. It took me a while to tune into the language and understand how the plays were structured. I didn’t become a convert to this form of drama but it was good to sample a few.
6. Favourite film adaptation of a classic? Least favourite?
Favourite film version? I don’t have one. I’ll opt instead for a TV serialisation. It would hard to surpass the version of Brideshead Revisited broadcast in the UK in 1981. Superb cast: Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud. Stunning locations: Oxford, Castle Howard and Malta (representing Morocco and Central America).
Least favourite adaptation? Breakfast at Tiffany’s without a doubt. I had such high expectations for this but it was so dire I couldn’t even get to the end. Audrey Hepburn was wonderful as the party girl Holly Golightly and I loved the opening scene of her looking through the windows of Tiffay’s dressed in a ball gown. But after that it went downhill.
7. Which classic character most reminds you of yourself?
Jo in Little Women of course. A very predictable choice and it’s not even a perfect match since unlike Jo I have never mastered the art of climbing trees.
8. Has there been a classic title you expected to dislike and ended up loving? Respecting? Appreciating?
What an odd question. I’m not a masochist so why would I set out to read a book I expected to dislike? That way madness lies.
However there have been books that exceeded my expectations. All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville West was a brilliant portrayal of a woman in her twilight years who exerts her right to independence after years of being a dutiful colonial wife. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell turned out to be far more gritty than I imagined having only previously read Cranfield by this author (and not liking it).
9. Classic/s you are definitely going to make happen next year?
I’m not capable of planning what to read next month let alone next year.
10. Favourite memory with a classic
Since I did such a rubbish job on the last question, I shall attempt to make up for it with a double answer for this one.
Favourite memory 1: Reading Crime and Punishment on a flight to the USA. About the only time a landing announcement was unwelcome — I still had 20 pages left to read.
Favourite memory 2: Reading Germinal by Émile Zola on holiday and getting angry about his descriptions of the poverty of coal miners in France. It reminded me so much of the appalling way my own coal mining ancestors were treated.