In tandem with my post two weeks prior about starting to read Classic novels, I have developed a list of four novels that, although I wrestled through them myself, I do not recommend as classics to get one into the genre. Despite being known and referenced and with companion movies, they made this list because they do not start out with action, some have a very showing rather than telling style, and some are completely disheartening. This does not mean necessarily that they are not good or worth an eventual read (see my reference to the Modern Mrs. Darcy post below).
In developing this list, a few books came to mind that I did not end up finishing (i.e. A Room With a View, which is sad because it is short). They are not included, because I do not feel that I can perform a fair assessment of the book without reading it in its’ entirety.
Classics often have a payoff at the end. Some books are here because they lack the payoff and were just depressing, and others because you have to do a significant amount of less engaging reading to get the payoff that makes the journey worth it.
I also think that this post from Modern Mrs. Darcy on the seven ways to hate a book is particularly relevant and worth a read:
I think that books that are slow in the beginning are particularly susceptible to needing to be read at a specific time in one’s life where they will be especially meaningful.
Here they are, listed in order of how much I liked them in the end:
1. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
Okay soooo…this book might have been thought to be better included in my last post. A quintessential Gothic novel with copious amounts of movies and popular references. Mr. Rochester, a popular literary crush (although not so much, I have noticed anyway, as Austen’s male heroes…anyway)!
This book is a depressing journey until about halfway through. I read this after Sense and Sensibility and had to make a friend promise me that if I hung in there, it would get good. A friend I trusted. There is payoff to this novel, but muddling through 100+ pages to get there might be tough for someone who is used to more contemporary works.
2. Dracula, Bram Stoker
Again, you might be surprised. Same as Jane with the quintessential Gothic novel, amazing popular references, blah blah, which made me itch to see what the original was really about.
Again, I had to be promised by another friend that it will eventually get good if I can just make it through the beginning. Different friend. Am I friends with nerds? I love them. It is not a depressing drag in the beginning, like Jane, however.
Then I thought that maybe all this (potentially depressing) opening is part of all Victorian/Gothic novels, as I wanted to put The Mysteries of Udolpho on here, but that one does not really meet the other criteria of being popular and well referenced. Mysteries owes part of its notoriety to Northanger Abbey, a less popular Jane Austen. If one has hung into classics long enough to read lesser known Janes AND want to read the works that she references, I feel one has become more tolerant of the copious backstory and a more telling than showing style typical to the genre. To test this theory I breezed through The Castle of Otranto, which surprised me by having much more immediate gratification and more exposition through dialogue, which I like. But that is for another post.
3. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
I have not even hunted down an acceptable movie companion to this novel in order to appreciate it more. That is a very bad sign. I do not remember how long it sat on my nightstand half finished before I gathered myself up at a time in my life where I did not have a lot of demands on my attention to muscle through. I did not even have a friend to cheer me on. In defense of this novel, the edition I own reveals the entire plot on the dust jacket, and I hate knowing what is going to happen. The book does get juicy as it progresses, but I knew the end, so I did not get the joy and drama of the journey to the reveal. The language needed getting used to as well as the novel being depressing. I liked Far From The Madding Crowd the best of the three between Tess and Jude the Obscure. Jude might not be a good starter either. Hardy made it up to me with Far From the Madding Crowd (which was completely his aim, right?) but also, another post.
4. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
My first inclination to learn about Emma Bovary came in a story I read by Woody Allen as a teenager, The Kugelmass Episode, in an anthology of love stories published in the New Yorker. The story’s main character finds his way into the novel and proceeds to have an affair with Emma. The actual book has a slow start and I could not connect enough with Mme. Bovary. I could not sympathize with her follies and wanted to throttle her, even though I would like to think that I have some sympathy for how mind-numbing being a woman could be not that long ago. Emma sets up her expectations for life based on fluffy popular novels of the day and she never, in my opinion, overcomes this.
I just want to be sure that readers understand that I am not saying these books are not good books or worth an eventual read or should not be called Classics.
Did I leave anything out or incite fierce disagreement with this list? Leave a comment below!