Revisiting the Classics
As a student in my high school and college English classes, I often wondered why so much value was placed on classic literature. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I came to appreciate the timeless novels and beautifully written words as meaningful stories that can touch anyone at any time. Adding classics to my reading list has added a wonderful balance to contemporary literature. Here are a few of my favorites.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – Set in Puritan Boston, tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an adulterous affair with an unnamed man. Branded with a scarlet letter A and isolated in a strict conformist community intent on pushing her to the fringes of this wild and emerging country, Hester struggles to forge a new, dignified existence with her daughter. Then a mysterious individual arrives, intent on unmasking her companion. The Scarlet Letter‘s themes of hypocrisy, women’s role in society and the destructive power of guilt are as relevant as ever, making Hester Prynne a classic heroine with a great deal to say to the twenty-first-century reader.
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane – The novel is told through the eyes of Henry Fleming, a young soldier caught up in an unnamed Civil War battle who is motivated not by the unselfish heroism of conventional war stories, but by fear, cowardice, and finally, egotism. However, in his struggle to find reality amid the nightmarish chaos of war, the young soldier also discovers courage, humility, and perhaps, wisdom. Although Crane had never been in battle before writing The Red Badge of Courage, the book was widely praised by experienced soldiers for its uncanny re-creation of the sights, sounds, and sense of actual combat.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – In this story, Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. Combining elements of the Gothic horror novel and decadent French fiction, the book centers on a striking premise: As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde’s most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this a unique novel.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding – William Golding’s compelling story about a group of very ordinary small boys marooned on a coral island has become a modern classic. At first, it seems as though it’s all going to be great fun; but the fun before long becomes furious & life on the island turns into a nightmare of panic & death. As ordinary standards of behavior collapse, the whole world the boys know collapses with them—the world of cricket & homework & adventure stories—& another world is revealed beneath, primitive & terrible. Lord of the Flies remains as provocative today as when it was 1st published in 1954.
Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in the Reference Department.