The swing of things (or, handling the classics)

The November meme over at The Classics Club is this:

What classic piece of literature most intimidates you, and why? (Or, are you intimidated by the classics, and why? And has your view changed at all since you joined our club?)

And, here’s what I have to say:

Books, in general, rarely intimidate me.  I don’t fuss about length or worry that it might be “too smart” for me.  I am more concerned about two things:  is the writing style approachable? and is it a good story?

That first question is why I refuse to read more Melville.  Any time I approach his writing I wish someone would have slapped him upside the head with a wood plank.  He is pretentious and needlessly verbose.  I can’t make it past the language to even glimpse the story; it’s very annoying.

What can be intimidating for me are the reactions I have to what is happening in the story.  For example, I had to break from reading Clarissa because of the emotional turmoil.  The story is told in letters–most of them from Clarissa–about the situation occurring in her family and how they are trying to force her into a marriage she does not want.  What bothers me is the frustration and cruelty.  Now, in a modern novel, the stressful scenario would have been ameliorated by interactions with others and changing scenes/viewpoints, but in Clarissa there is no relief from the ongoing stress–it continually piles on.  I couldn’t hack it…particularly as she makes no attempt to do anything about it; damsel-in-distress rubs my modern sensiblities the wrong way, but so do the people who are cruel or ambivalent.

Not knowing how hard an author will slap my emotional buttons can be a bit of a gamble when reading.  However, severe reactions to something fall relatively few and far between.

Books on my potentially-emotionally-nervewracking list:

  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I guess there could be others and these could be not as bad as I think, so we shall have to wait and see!

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5 thoughts on “The swing of things (or, handling the classics)

  1. Mabel

    I so agree about Clarissa. I made it to page 500 and had to stop. I do intend to finish it. I don’t think any other book has made me so mad. TYou’re right: it’s because it’s so concentrated. (I love A Tale of Two Cities!)

  2. Les Misérables makes me very nervous, too! I’ve got it on my Classics Club list but have a feeling I may leave it to to the end. It doesn’t help that my (French) husband is insisting that I should read the original version.

    1. I’m still working on reading Stendhal’s The Red and the Black in French. I thought it would be a good way to stretch my language muscles again, but it is proving to be a challenge! I couldn’t imagine tackling something as epic as Les Miserables unless I was really at the top of my game.

  3. I hadn’t thought about that, but it’s a good point – books that hit emotional pet peeves are intimidating to me. I have to work my way up to reading something that’s depressing or filled with atrocities, for instance.

    My November Meme is here

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