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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

The End of “Classics”


I’m done reading “classic” books. They’re just too old; in language, sentence structure, and narrative flow. Frankly, they bore me.

Recently I was able to get through Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbevilles” by virtue of perseverance, even while finishing it in under seven days. The language was stilted, but at least Hardy can tell a good tale. What has sent me over the edge, though, is Stendhal’s “The Red and The Black” … the story of Julien Sorel’s rise to riches in post-Napoleonic France, via common deceit and hypocrisy (of 57 pages read, I counted 20x this word was used …. Oi!!)

I think this summary is about all one needs to know, as Stendhal wasn’t exactly exacting in his descriptions of Sorel’s inner being, nor the other characters. Very cartoonish, at least through those early pages. And frankly, I don’t have the time to waste if a book doesn’t grab me after 50 pages. Now more 150pp and “I’ll see how it goes.” Fuck that. No. Over. Done.

The real problem is me, likely, but then, the archaism of both subject and its literary rendering makes these classics a tough read. I want to scream, “Get on with it!” or “Where’s the character here?” and even, “What the hell is happening?” … Okay, maybe my attention span is sufficiently modern to need a bit of the old goose that 20th century narrative fiction gives a reader. I’m willing to live with that.

I don’t mind the old-fashioned mores that so many of these books deal with as a central issue. Piety is not a bad thing; and I don’t need liberal sprinkling of sex scenes, either. However, the way classical authors portray these moral questions make them, the questions, out to be life-or-death situations; heaven or hell endings!! And, as you’re all aware, as you should be, I’ll take hell every time. Satan’s a righteous dude compared to that fickle man from the O.T.

Now … that still leaves Dickens. I thinks there’s room to wiggle here, in my oath (I did just give Mephistopheles a nod, don’t forget). Dickens has some great characters. And, while he can be long winded, his plots and themes have some cache yet with modern culture. For example, look at the economic situation around the world, and especially in the USA and Europe. Soon they’ll need to relax the child-labor laws just so people can put food on the table.

Go Dickens!

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