Hit Me With a Classic!

So I’ve been reading lots of interesting things lately, but mostly genre fiction, and mostly modern and contemporary stuff. I’m ready for a change, and I’m not sure exactly what I want to read. Despite my huge TBR list, I don’t see much there in the way of classics. Give me some recommendations! What are your favorite classics? Try to avoid the 20th century (though turn-of-the-century is acceptable.) Any language, as long as it’s in translation. And tell me why you think I’ll love it!

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12 Responses to Hit Me With a Classic!

  1. I’ve only just started reading your blog, so I don’t have a very good idea of what you would like but I highly recommend The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Collins was a contemporary of Dickens (in case you haven’t heard of him; I hadn’t until recently). This book is a mystery that could only have been written in the 19th century: full of odd coincidences and slightly on the rambling side, but very fun. It might take a while to read, but it’s worth it!

  2. Teresa says:

    Am I correct in remembering that you have avoided Thomas Hardy? Because you really must read some Hardy. Why? Because he’s my favorite!

    I recently read Sister Carrie by Theodore Drieser and was surprised by how absorbing it was. It’s kind of an interesting twist on the “fallen woman” novel that I read a lot of. Since you’ve been reading The Awakening, Madame Bovary, and the like, you might enjoy it too (as long as you don’t need to like the main characters).

    And now I’m going to cheat and suggest something from the mid 20th century–Silence by Shusako Endo. It’s about a Jesuit priest in medieval Japan and is absolutely devastating and beautiful at the same time. I tear up just thinking about the ending.

  3. Jenny says:

    Avisannschild — Thanks for the recommendation! I love Wilkie Collins. Most recently I finished The Moonstone, which I just loved. Great suggestion — keep it up!

    Teresa — I tried Tess a couple years back, and I am sorry to inform you that I hated it. But I am willing to try it again. Or would you suggest another one to start with? I know I am a flawed human being unless I love Hardy!

  4. Sarah says:

    I’s second the Hardy suggestion! If you didn’t like Tess, try Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba Everdene is much less of a victim and her story has a happy ending.

    Otherwise, Scenes of clerical life was George Eliot’s first published book (and by her standards, a short one). It contains three stories set in the small town of Milby of which Dickens wrote:

    I have been so strongly affected by the two first tales in the book you have had the kindness to send me, through Messrs. Blackwood, that I hope you will excuse my writing to you to express my admiration of their extraordinary merit. The exquisite truth and delicacy both of the humor and the pathos of these stories, I have never seen the like of; and they have impressed me in a manner that I should find it very difficult to describe to you. if I had the impertinence to try. In addressing these few words of thankfulness to the creator of the Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton, and the sad love-story of Mr. Gilfil, I am (I presume) bound to adopt the name that it pleases that excellent writer to assume. I can suggest no better one: but I should have been strongly disposed, if I had been left to my own devices, to address the said writer as a woman. I have observed what seemed to me such womanly touches in those moving fictions, that the assurance on the title-page is insufficient to satisfy me even now. If they originated with no woman, I believe that no man ever before had the art of making himself mentally so like a woman since the world began.

    Of course, if you want a really big book, it’s hard to ignore Dickens. Bleak House or Our mutual friend would be my picks.

    And also cheating, from the 20th century, I’d suggest The Plague by Albert Camus.

  5. Melanie says:

    I’d also recommend “Far from the Madding Crowd”. It’s much less irritating than Tess! And I loved Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, if you want a long one. As for a tiny short classic, I love the Swedish 1901 novel “Doctor Glas”. It’s written as a diary and it is SO good. (foreword by Margaret Atwood)

  6. Juxtabook says:

    Hands up! I hate Hardy too. I read one every three years or so as I think I should but my disatisfaction persists. Far more interesting than Tess but on the same theme is Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth – if we both hate Hardy, perhaps we’ll share a taste for Mrs Gaskell?

    I can’t see it on Amazon.com except in an 8vol set, but it is available from the UK Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Oxford-Classics-Elizabeth-Cleghorn-Gaskell/dp/0192834762/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1221246406&sr=8-2

  7. Amanda says:

    Well my all-time favorite is The Count of Monte Cristo. Read the abridged version though. I also love Of Human Bondage and have been wanting to read more by Maugham. Good Autumn books are The Phantom of the Opera, Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, Frankenstein, and Dracula. I love those books. For Whom the Bell Tolls is my favorite Hemingway. And if you need a good Hardy book try The Mayor of Casterbridge. His books tend to be depressing but I liked this one. Also try Candide by Voltaire. If you’ve never read it, it’s pretty accessible and quite funny at points. Ok I’ll stop :)

  8. Amanda says:

    Oh and Jane Eyre or Rebecca.

  9. Jenny says:

    Sarah — I just love that quotation you give from Dickens! More Eliot is a great suggestion. I finished Middlemarch last summer, and adored it.

    Melanie — if you loved Our Mutual Friend, which is also probably my favorite of Dickens’s novels (along with Dombey and Son), and you found Tess irritating, I will probably take your recommendation of Far from the Madding Crowd. Sounds like we have the same taste. And I’ve never heard of Doctor Glas, but it’s going on my list!

    Amanda — your recommendations are great! I’ve read and enjoyed everything you suggest except for the Hardy, so you’re obviously on the right track! By the way, I’ve read The Moon and Sixpence, by Maugham, and I really liked it. You could try that next.

  10. Teresa says:

    Yes, Far from the Madding Crowd is a great suggestion! I was considering suggesting it, but I see that Sarah and Melanie beat me to it! I only read it once–back in college–so my memory is fuzzy, but I do remember that it’s not quite so dark as Tess–or Jude (which I suspect only Hardy fans like me really enjoy).

    With me, the more depressing the better, so Tess remains at the top of my list, but I can totally see why others wouldn’t like it. Mayor of Casterbridge is good too–it was my first Hardy book. I was also thinking of Return of the Native–there’s a stronger heroine (really an anti-heroine), but it still had Hardy’s usual tragic ending.

    If you’re looking to read more Eliot, Mill on the Floss is excellent! (Another one I haven’t read since college.)

  11. Jenny says:

    Juxtabook — I just read Cranford and loved it, and had several recommendations for Ruth at the time. That’s a great suggestion.

    And Teresa — I don’t mind unhappy or tragic or depressing endings at all. Tess wasn’t too depressing for me. It was that I couldn’t muster any sympathy with any of the characters. Again, it may have been my mood or stress level at the time. I’ll try it again one day. And I certainly am looking to read more Eliot! Middlemarch is one of the very best I’ve recently read. I went on a trip to France last summer where I had plenty of time to read (i.e. kids did not accompany) and brought Middlemarch, Of Human Bondage, and Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales. It was the best reading trip of my entire life! (France was nice too.)

  12. Sanjeev says:

    Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Other Stories

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