Are you an avid reader? You still might not know some these facts about some very famous books!
Shakespeare is hard to understand because he wrote Old English.
Old English (also known as Anglo-Saxon) was spoken in England until about 1150. It was followed by Middle English, which was followed by modern English around 1500. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote early modern English. You can easily tell the difference. This is the start of Beowulf, written in Old English:
Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
It makes Shakespeare look quite easy, doesn’t it? He may invert some of his sentences and use some unfamiliar words, but most of us can figure out his text with some practice. Learning Old English, however, is like learning a new language!
All classics are Victorian novels.
When people say they “hate” classics, they usually seem to be thinking of some large, dusty tome full of long sentences. In other words, they seem to thinking of the Victorian novel or, even more specifically, of Charles Dickens (who was, in his defense, paid by the word). However, classics span all time periods and genres. The Lord of the Rings, Anne of Green Gables, 1984, and Beloved are all considered classics. And they are all very different.
J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy.
The Lord of the Rings was actually written as a single novel. (This becomes more obvious once you consider that Boromir’s part in the Fellowship is concluded a few pages into The Two Towers–not at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, where Peter Jackson moved it for a more conclusive ending to the first part of the story). Tolkien’s publishers asked him to split the book up due to a paper shortage caused by World War II. He conceived of the work as a single volume, however.
The Shakespeare authorship “question” is a real debate.
In pop culture, it is somewhat fashionable to wonder whether William Shakespeare was William Shakespeare. Perhaps he was really Christopher Marlowe or the Earl of Oxford or even Elizabeth I! However, almost no serious scholar believes that Shakespeare was anyone other than himself. Aside from the fact that it’s fairly easy to debunk most Shakespeare contenders (Marlowe, for instance, died in 1593 and Shakespeare mysteriously continued to publish afterwards), the arguments against Shakespeare are typically located in his class. The idea is that a glove maker’s son could never be such a successful playwright. Obviously a rich person has to be England’s most famous author! Today, this argument looks increasingly prejudiced and silly.
Anne Brontë is not as interesting as her sisters.
When it comes to the Brontë sisters, Charlotte and Emily seem to get all the love. However, Anne wrote two novels before her death–Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall–and presumably would have gone on to cement a place for herself in the canon had she lived. However, she fell into obscurity shortly after her death, in part because Charlotte prevented the republication of Tenant. With its depiction of a woman who flees from an abusive husband, it was too realistic and too shocking for its day. Now, however, Anne’s work is being reevaluated by critics.