What Periods of Classic Literature Get a Bit Overlooked? (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Is there a period of literature that you think gets overlooked when classics are discussed? Why or why not?

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My initial answer to this question is (predictably, if you know me) is:

Medieval literature!

Half the time when I mention medieval literature to people, they don’t even know what time period I am referring to. A lot of people are under the impression that Shakespeare counts as medieval literature and/or that his plays are written in Old English. I told a friend I’d written my thesis on a “medieval romance,” and she genuinely thought I meant something like a Julia Quinn novel. If someone does get the time period correct, they are likely to mention one of only three things: Chaucer, King Arthur, or Robin Hood. Suffice to say, I think medieval literature could grow a bit in popularity among people who aren’t actually medievalists.

And I’ve already written a couple posts about that:


So I’d like to offer a second time period I think is overlooked:

The 17th century!

Seriously, when is the last time you heard someone say they were reading something written in the 17th century. Or that they ever had? (As a full disclaimer, I don’t exactly go around reading texts from this period that frequently myself.)

However, this century offers us some great authors, including:

  • John Milton
  • Alexander Pope
  • Jonathan Swift
  • Moliere
  • John Dryden

And some Shakespeare.

What do you think? What are some books you’ve read from the Middle Ages or from the 17th century?

Briana

Recommend a Diverse Classic: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Recommend a Diverse Classic

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Zora Neale Hurston was both an author and a folklorist, whose research influenced many of her writings. Her best known novel is perhaps Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), which centers on Janie Crawford and her three marriages. Janie’s tale recounts how she initially was married off to an older man for protection, only to find that he doesn’t love her. She then runs off with another man, who only wants to use her. Finally, she marries for love, but again finds her relationship with her husband to be unstable. Through her three marriages, Janie (and Hurston) explore the gender roles and the expectations society places on women.

Though published in the 1930s, Their Eyes Were Watching God still feels incredibly relevant. The issues it grapples with, from domestic violence to the role of men and women in marriage are issues that society continues to grapple with. In many ways, the novel feels a bit ahead of its time, with Janie seeking love and self-fulfillment, while being open to her own sexuality, in the face of a disapproving society. The book, however, presents no easy answers. While Janie’s third marriage appears to be her happiest, because her husband Tea Cake sees her as more of an equal than her previous two husbands, the novel also suggests that Janie is not fully realized as an independent woman until after Tea Cake’s death. In this way, Their Eyes Were Watching God illustrates an intriguing tension that many readers may find relatable. Janie wants to find her identity in a happy marriage, but, if she cannot be seen as an equal to men, she may ultimately not be able to do so. She wants both love and respect, but can women truly have it all?

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a powerful novel by a talented author–one whose work was not always appreciated in her own time. If you have not read it yet, maybe now is the time to give it a try.

Why Shakespeare Remains Relevant Today (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

What relevance does Shakespeare have today?

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When I consider the sheer range of Shakespeare’s plays, the question for me becomes, “How could Shakespeare not continue to have relevance today?” His works deal with everything from relatable emotions such as unrequited love, social rejection, grief for the loss of a loved one, and the thrill of young love to deep questions about the nature of power, authority, and government. His plays contain meditations on topics such as gender and sexuality, and marriage and fidelity. They engage with religion, prejudice, politics, art, and history. Readers and playgoers looking for something in Shakespeare will very likely find it. And all these things continue to interest and influence people today.

Perhaps what continues to make Shakespeare extremely relevant, however, is precisely what kept him relevant in his own day. In his work A Year in the Life of Shakespeare, James Shapiro notes that Shakespeare’s plays tend to be extremely ambiguous. Interpretations of his works as both pro-government and anti-government both work. Interpretations of Shakespeare as Catholic, Protestant, and atheist all work. No matter what side of an argument one is on, one is likely to find evidence for that stance in the plays. Shapiro suggests that this helped Shakespeare navigate an extremely fraught political and historical moment because it meant he both avoided alienating playgoers with opposing views and because he avoided offending the government, who controlled and reacted to what was shown on stage. However, this extreme ambiguity is also what makes Shakespeare so topical today.

Other writers sometimes show their age by espousing views that modern audiences no longer agree with or accept. However, because Shakespeare never shows his hand, it is not entirely possible to label him as outdated. In his plays where the women cross dress and homoerotic relationships are hinted at, but the women ultimately reveal their identities as women, is Shakespeare endorsing same-sex love or not? In plays where kings are said to be the anointed ones of God, but are shown to be wicked, is Shakespeare endorsing monarchy or not? In plays where Shakespeare seems sympathetic to outsiders, but never fully brings them into the fold of society, is Shakespeare being progressive–or not? Shakespeare always walks a tight line, where audiences could convincingly argue either side, meaning that people from his own day to our own have continued to refer to him as an authority for their political stances.

James Shapiro’s book Shakespeare in a Divided America chronicles some of the fascinating ways in which artists and politicians have used Shakespeare throughout the years to further their own political agendas, to respond their historical moment, or to try to make sense of their culture. Through a few case studies, he reveals how Shakespeare has revealed everything from Americans’ discomfort with race to their views on matrimony to their understanding of government and authority figures. His book ends with an exploration of the infamous 2017 production of Julius Caesar by Shakespeare in the Park, which depicted a Trump-like Julius Caesar. Audiences were divided over the play was endorsing assassination or condemning it–an ambiguity the play also had when it was first staged in 1599. The outcry over the production illustrates just how much Shakespeare continues to speak to us, because the topics he deals with are ones that continue to engage and trouble us today. In the words of Ben Jonson, Shakespeare was “not of an age, but for all time.”

A Classic Book I Love for The Prose: Anne of Green Gables (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE AUSTEN HEROINE? OR HERO?

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Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

L. M. Montgomery is one of my favorite authors for many reasons, from her vision to her characters to her keen social observations, but I have also always been in love with her prose. When readers complain about overblown descriptions in novels, I always think about Montgomery’s writing and how she can describe anything and catch my interest– and also convince me she’s seen exactly what it is is she’s describing.

If I were to describe a tree or a flower, for instance, I’d probably end up rather hand-wavy and say it was tall or vibrant and maybe bother to specifically say it was a poplar or a daffodil. It turns out I don’t really know all that much about trees or flowers besides I think they’re nice. L. M. Montgomery, however, makes me believe she knows all about nature and truly loves it, and she makes me wish I were the same.

Here, for instance, is the beginning of a simple description of a garden. The prose is beautiful — I have always loved the phrase “old-fashioned flowers ran riot” — and I come away thinking Montgomery has seen a garden like this and truly enjoys it, not that she’s writing some throwaway description of some plants because she feels she has to:

The Barry garden was a bowery wilderness of flowers which would have delighted Anne’s heart at any time less fraught with destiny. It was encircled by huge old willows and tall firs, beneath which flourished flowers that loved the shade. Prim, right-angled paths neatly bordered with clamshells, intersected it like moist red ribbons and in the beds between old-fashioned flowers ran riot.

And here is another example, where Montgomery beautifully describes Anne, nature, and the effect that nature has on Anne:

Its beauty seemed to strike the child dumb. She leaned back in the buggy, her thin hands clasped before her, her face lifted rapturously to the white splendor above. Even when they had passed out and were driving down the long slope to Newbridge she never moved or spoke. Still with rapt face she gazed afar into the sunset west, with eyes that saw visions trooping splendidly across that glowing background. Through Newbridge, a bustling little village where dogs barked at them and small boys hooted and curious faces peered from the windows, they drove, still in silence. When three more miles had dropped away behind them the child had not spoken. She could keep silence, it was evident, as energetically as she could talk.

However, Montgomery’s prose is not all flowers and beauty and making me want to fall in love with the world as she sees it. Montgomery also has a remarkable talent for capturing different voices for each of her characters. For instance, here is the no-nonsense Mrs. Rachel Lynde:

“Well, of all things that ever were or will be!” ejaculated Mrs. Rachel when she was safely out in the lane. “It does really seem as if I must be dreaming. Well, I’m sorry for that poor young one and no mistake. Matthew and Marilla don’t know anything about children and they’ll expect him to be wiser and steadier that his own grandfather, if so be’s he ever had a grandfather, which is doubtful. It seems uncanny to think of a child at Green Gables somehow; there’s never been one there, for Matthew and Marilla were grown up when the new house was built—if they ever were children, which is hard to believe when one looks at them. I wouldn’t be in that orphan’s shoes for anything. My, but I pity him, that’s what.”

Compared to Anne gushing over her new dress with puffed sleeves:

“I don’t see how I’m going to eat breakfast,” said Anne rapturously. “Breakfast seems so commonplace at such an exciting moment. I’d rather feast my eyes on that dress. I’m so glad that puffed sleeves are still fashionable. It did seem to me that I’d never get over it if they went out before I had a dress with them. I’d never have felt quite satisfied, you see. It was lovely of Mrs. Lynde to give me the ribbon too. I feel that I ought to be a very good girl indeed. It’s at times like this I’m sorry I’m not a model little girl; and I always resolve that I will be in future. But somehow it’s hard to carry out your resolutions when irresistible temptations come. Still, I really will make an extra effort after this.”

Montgomery’s writing is so versatile. Often flowing and gorgeous, but sharp and biting when it needs to be. I can only aspire to one day write like her!

Briana

My Favorite Austen Heroine (Classic Remarks, Guest Post by Michael @ My Comic Relief)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE AUSTEN HEROINE? OR HERO?

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Why Lizzy Bennet is my favorite Austen heroine

It’s always exciting to write a guest post for one of my favorite blogs and today – as I take over hosting duties on a Classic Remarks post (!) – I get to write about something truly iconic. Jane Austen is an author with legions of fans through the ages. She has her own category at the PCA/ACA conference on popular culture every year. There’s so much to her and to her work. Getting to chat about my favorite Austen heroine then is stepping into vast and sacred literary waters. I’m excited! Are you excited?! I KNOW. Let’s just jump right into it.

Who’s my favorite Austen heroine? Lizzy Bennet. She’s in Pride and Prejudice. Have you heard of that? I read the book. I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, too. And I’ve seen the Keira Knightly film a lot, but I’ve never watched the Colin Firth one because it’s a miniseries and that feels like too much of a commitment.

Now, you may be rolling your eyes because I’ve picked arguably the most widely known of all Jane Austen characters from the most widely known of all Jane Austen novels. You may even be wondering if I wrote this piece the day it was due – with ideas flowing from my mind immediately onto the typed page before being emailed to Briana and Krysta. Both of those presumptions would be true. But Lizzy’s still my favorite and I’m ok with that. And here’s why.

It’s a pretty iconic story. Plucky young heroine has to chose between security and following her heart. She makes the bold choice, throwing aside societal convention, and love finds a way! Happily ever afters all around! It’s so good it’s the inspiration for like seven different Hallmark Christmas movies (one involves pets (and I think a pet hotel (but, full disclosure, I only see the parts that are on when I visit my parents (or brother (or aunt (or cousin (or Grandma when she was alive (or anyone/everyone else in my family who watches Hallmark Christmas movies nonstop from October through the New Year (so while I’ve not seen any from start to finish I’m kind of a tangential expert on Hallmark Christmas movies (and nested parenthesis (not to brag))))))))). Pride and Prejudice is a classic for a reason. Lizzy Bennet is a classic for a reason. And I dig the story and I dig her character.

I think though, as the internet has allowed us to find large pockets of fans who share our obsession about the things we love, making the minutiae we adore seem more mainstream, sometimes we feel bad about liking the main character (or maybe I’m projecting). It can feel like loving the most minor of side characters with a passion that yields an encyclopedic knowledge of them somehow proves you’re “a real fan,” or at least a better one. And that’s simply not true. Don’t get me wrong – I love the deep dive. I can still name more He-Man characters than I can algebraic functions (Mech-a-Neck! Stinkor! Teela!). I absolutely respect (and am kinda in awe) of the knowledge how the kid at Little Caesar’s puts me to shame with his knowledge of Doctor Who, both Classic and Nu. And I MAY’ve bought collections containing dozens (and dozens :8) of Harley Quinn comics once I watched her animated show on HBO Max and decided I wanted – nay, needed – to know more about her. So I love all that! But encyclopedic knowledge of side characters and minute plot points doesn’t prove my love of something. It just shows I’ve read a lot of it…or that my brain remembers cartoons more than math…or both.

All this is to say, in a room of diehard Austen fans and seasoned Austen scholars, I could feel a bit intimidated to say Lizzy Bennet is my favorite Austen heroine. Or, I could feel a bit intimidated to say Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen novel – and that it’s the only one I’ve ever read. But I shouldn’t be! I’m not claiming encyclopedic knowledge. I’m just saying I read a Jane Austen novel and Lizzy was my favorite character.

Plus, I’d argue this is how it should work or at the very least Jane Austen would be stoked to hear this. To say I love the main character best is another way of saying the author did their job really well. I’ve identified with the main character! I relate to them! I’m inspired by their journey!

And Lizzy Bennet is fantastic. And she’s inspiring. And I love her for it. I think many of us stay in relationships we shouldn’t because they’re safe. As a result, we sort of coast by. We settle. We’re happy…but never as happy as we could be. Things could be better. Our needs could be met with greater attention. Yet, looking for all that can be scary. Why walk away from something that is good enough? Why walk away from something stable? Why give up the dream of the married-with-kids-in-a-nice-house that culture tells us is the real goal? Why risk all of that just to follow something as mysterious and potentially ephemeral as our heart?

Lizzy shows us why in an example that has echoed down through the centuries. Why give up something safe and stable to seek the mysterious desires of the heart? Because we’re worth it.

The fact that Pride and Prejudice is such an enduring classic, seeing so many revisions and retellings and sequels and prequels says something. It says the story speaks to us. I’d argue part of the reason it speaks to us is because, deep down, we know we’re worth it. Lizzy’s a heroine who gives us permission to follow our hearts and offers a model as to how we do it. And for that, she has my heart and respect and I’m proud to admit it…no matter how mainstream an answer that may be ;D.

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Michael J. Miller writes and rambles about comic books and comic book movies (not to mention Doctor Who and Star Wars and whatever else randomly pops into his head) on his blog My Comic Relief. He teaches theology at Mercyhurst Preparatory School in Erie, PA – including classes on Star Wars as modern mythology and the intersection of comic books and social justice. Should it be your thing, you can also find him on Twitter @My_ComicRelief but he tweets sporadically at best because social media can be exhausting.

A Few Favorite Poems (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

What are some poems you enjoy from classic authors?

Although Stephen Crane (1871-1900), author of The Red Badge of Courage, may be best known as a novelist in the naturalist tradition, he also released two volumes of poetry: The Black Riders and Other Lines and War Is Kind and Other Lines.  His poems run the gamut from reflecting on life, the relationship of God and man, the nature of war, love, and more. They often strike questioning or contradictory notes with Crane seeming to teeter between belief and doubt, hope and despair, idealism and realism. They also have a tendency to focus on unexpected moments or to depict a keen sense of irony, such as in “Fast rode the knight,” where at first Crane seems to depict a romantic vision of war, only to end by illustrating war’s brutal effects on the innocent:

Fast rode the knight
With spurs, hot and reeking,
Ever waving an eager sword,
“To save my lady!”
Fast rode the knIght,
And leaped from saddle to war.
Men of steel flickered and gleamed
Like riot of silver lights,
And the gold of the knight’s good banner
Still waved on a castle wall.

. . . . .
A horse,
Blowing, staggering, bloody thing,
Forgotten at foot of castle wall.
A horse
Dead at foot of castle wall.

The cruelty of war is a theme Crane returns to again and again, as in his longer poem “Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.” This poem expertly juxtaposes all the words of empty comfort and propaganda that depicts war as a shining, splendid thing with the effects of the people left behind. This excerpt shows a certain kinship with the work of Wilfred Owen, the WWI poet whose works revealed the horror of war, in contrast to some of his more patriotic contemporaries:

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

      Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
      Little souls who thirst for fight,
      These men were born to drill and die.
      The unexplained glory flies above them,
      Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom—
      A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

      Swift, blazing flag of the regiment,
      Eagle with crest of red and gold,
      These men were born to drill and die.
      Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
      Make plain to them the excellence of killing
      And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

Still other poems from Crane grapple with questions about justice, mercy, death, God, and romance. But one of my personal favorites is one on the nature of writing:

Many red devils ran from my heart
And out upon the page,
They were so tiny
The pen could mash them.
And many struggled in the ink.
It was strange
To write in this red muck
Of things from my heart.

Here he depicts writing as a violent, horrifying act, one that probes his innermost heart and finds terrible things there. It is an interesting contrast to depictions of writing as peaceful, illuminating endeavors where one finds one’s inner self, passes on a vision, or creates something beautiful. Crane’s poem acknowledges the darkness inside people as well, and suggests that the act of creation can simultaneously have a destructive quality. Or perhaps that writing actually exorcises the demons? As with so many of his poems, what exactly he means to say, what stance he is taking, remains unclear, and completely opposing interpretations of his lines seem equally valid.

Crane’s poems are in the public domain so, if you want to read more, they’re just a search away.

5 Classics from the Middle Ages I Recommend (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Recommend a classic from the Middle Ages.

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5 Classics from the Middle Ages

The Obvious

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. If you know very little about medieval literature, you’re probably familiar with The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, King Arthur, and Robin Hood. All of these I do, in fact, recommend, although I admit it took me a while personally to warm up to The Canterbury Tales and appreciate them, and I literally studied medieval literature in grad school. So they’re worth reading, but you don’t have to start there, and I wouldn’t sweat it if they’re not your thing. Also, there is the small problem that there isn’t really an original/definitive King Arthur OR Robin Hood tale. There are just a lot of stories from different authors and years during the Middle Ages, so if you’re interested in these things, you have a lot to choose from. Have at it. (The more obscure the stories are, however, the less likely there will be a modern English translation of it.)

For King Arthur (and his knights) stories, check out:

For Robin Hood stories, check out:

The Less Obvious

1

Silence

Silence French Romance

Silence is the story of a girl who is secretly raised as a boy because the king has decreed that women can no longer inherit, and her parents want her to have their estate after they die.  Silence wrestles with her identity throughout the story, knowing she has the body of a woman but recognizing that she acts like a man and enjoys playing a male role in society.  Nature and Nurture get into some heated arguments over what makes someone’s gender.

Read my full post: 5 Reasons to Read the French Romance Silence.

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2

The Lais of Marie de France by Marie de France

A collection of twelve short stories recorded by Marie de France and translated into prose.  The stories are classic lais Marie heard told during her lifetime, often featuring brave knights, lovely ladies, and a bit of magic.

Read my full review here.

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The Song of Roland

An 11th century epic poem that takes place during the reign of Charlemagne. It tells the story of Roland, who is guarding Charlemagne’s rear as the army departs Spain, how his stepfather betrays Charlemagne and the Franks, and how he pridefully refuses to call for aid as he and his party become overwhelmed by enemy forces.

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Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer

A classic love story that has been told and retold (Shakespeare wrote a play, too), featuring star-crossed lovers during the Siege of Troy. If you thought Chaucer only wrote The Canterbury Tales, you’ll be pleased and surprised by the nuance with which he tells the story of Troilus and Cressida and how they fall in love and experience tragedy.

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Amis and Amiloun

Amis and Amiloun cover

In this medieval romance, two knights (unrelated but very similar in appearance) swear a troth plight to be true to each other in wrong or right. The ethicalness of this oath comes into question when Amiloun agrees to fight as Amis in a trial by combat—where Amis is clearly in the wrong and deserves to lose. As a result of his decision, Amiloun is struck with leprosy, but is this a punishment from God or simply a trial he is willing to endure for his love of Amis? And is there anything Amis can do to repay him?

Read my full review of “Amis and Amiloun”.

Read the full text of “Amis and Amiloun” online (in Middle English).

Briana

A Classic I Just “Didn’t Get”: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Is there a classic book you just “didn’t get?”

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Madame Bovary A Classic I Didn't Get

Despite my love of classics, there are a number didn’t really “get” (at least until I went to a class discussion about them and could begin to see what other readers were getting out of the book!), but my mind really blanked at coming up with specific titles when I saw the prompt for this week.

In a stroke of genius, I decided to go to my Goodreads shelves and see what classics I had given low star ratings to. The only problem: many of these I read ten years ago or more, and I don’t think I remember enough about them to say why I didn’t like them or what I didn’t get about them! (Though I did actually write a review of The Turn of the Screw for the blog, and I think I “get” Brave New World; I just don’t like it.)

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With all that in mind, I’m officially going with:

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Unfortunately I don’t seem to have written a review of Madame Bovary, which would be helpful in refreshing my thoughts because I read it in 2013. However, personally I’m just not a fan of that genre of novel that (perhaps reductively) could be called: wealthy woman becomes unhappy in her marriage and starts taking lovers and…readers are supposed to be sympathetic to that? I’m not a big fan of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence or The Awakening by Kate Chopin for similar reasons.

I suppose there’s an argument that, in the past, women were stuck in unhappy marriages, if divorce was not an option, and that makes infidelity more forgivable than if they could leave their husbands and pursue new prospects that way. Even with that in mind, I’ve never been on board with books about adultery, especially in instances where the woman isn’t really being treated badly but has just never been truly in love with or excited by her husband.

Madame Bovary really focuses on that point, that Madame Bovary is experiencing ennui. This means 1) it’s hard to feel that she’s doing the “right” thing or “doesn’t have other options” when she cheats because she’s just bored! and 2) the book is kind of boring because it focuses on how boring the life of the protagonist is. I felt as if I were listlessly drifting through the whole book, not as if I were reading anything interesting.

Even if one argues we’re not supposed to sympathize with Madame Bovary, I don’t get the appeal of the book. So Flaubert is just portraying a bored immoral woman and asking us to ponder how bored and immoral she is? I’ll pass, thanks.

Have you read Madame Bovary? What did you think?

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Summary of the Dover version of Madame Bovary:

Bored and unhappy in a lifeless marriage, Emma Bovary yearns to escape from the dull circumstances of provincial life. Married to a simple-minded but indulgent country doctor, she takes one lover, then another, hastens her husband’s financial ruin with her extravagance…

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1888) was brought to trial by the French government on the grounds of the novel’s alleged immorality, but unlike his less fortunate contemporary, Baudelaire, he narrowly escaped conviction.

Falubert’s powerful and deeply moving examination of the moral degeneration of a middle-class Frenchwoman is universally regarded as one of the landmarks of 19th-century fiction. It is reproduced here, complete and unabridged, in the classic translation by Eleanor Marx-Aveling, daughter of Karl Marx.

Briana

Classic Books That Should Get Graphic Novel Adaptations (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

What classic book(s) should get a graphic novel adaptation?

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Middle grade graphic novels have seen an amazing renaissance in the past decade or so. Thus, when I think of books that I would love to see adapted, a number of beloved children’s classics come to mind. Many are coming-of-age stories that fit in perfectly with the current market, which has published many stories about navigating middle school friendships and finding one’s place in the community–books that seem to follow the success of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile. But, of course, coming-of-age stories and books about navigating the perils of growing up are nothing new. So why not adapt some of these gems for new audiences?

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Seven-year-old Sara Crewe arrives at Miss Minchin’s London boarding school for girls as if she is a little princess. Her doting father denies her nothing and she enjoys a lavish wardrobe, an expensive doll, and a room all to herself. Then disaster strikes and Sara finds herself alone and penniless. This classic tale follows Sara as she determines to be kind to all, despite the poor treatment she receives at the hands of others. Years later, it continues to inspire with its lesson that cruelty can never be defeated by more cruelty.

Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery

With her father dead, Emily Byrd Starr has been taken in by her mother’s people, Aunts Elizabeth and Laura, and Cousin Jimmy, whom she’s never met before. Aunt Elizabeth, however, seems very harsh. But as the days go by, Emily learns to love her home at New Moon and to make friends from the artistic Teddy Kent to the wild Ilse Burnley. And all the while she’s perfecting her craft of poetry as she prepares to be a writer. L. M. Montgomery is best known for writing Anne Shirley, but in Emily she gives readers another lost orphan to take into their hearts.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil were sent home as babies by their guardian’s Great-Uncle Matthew, but they have not heard from him since and now money is getting tight. The girls make a pact to help earn money for the household by training at the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, but though Pauline has a talent for acting and Posy is a dancing genius, poor Petrova would rather fly an aeroplane than appear on the stage. Still, all three have vowed to make their name appear in the history books and, with hard work, they just might. A feel-good tale, one of those stories you want to read to remind yourself that the world is bright and beautiful and full of hope and good people.

What classic books would you like to see adapted into graphic novels?

The Best Sherlock Holmes Mystery for Beginners (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Which Sherlock Holmes work should someone start with if they have never read a Holmes mystery before?

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What Sherlock Holmes Story Should Beginners Start With?

Because Sherlock Holmes stories do not need to be read in order (Watson, as narrator, might vaguely mention some previous case having occurred, but the reader needs no knowledge of it), I believe the best place for a reader new to Holmes mysteries is a story that will capture their attention and make them eager to read more. For this, I propose The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The Hound of the Baskervilles has the benefit of being a full-length novel, rather than a short story. Personally, I tend to find longer mysteries more engaging and more suspenseful than short stories, as the length gives the author time to really develop a complex narrative, introduce multiple suspects with multiple motives, etc. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did write some excellent short stories featuring Holmes, of course, but a reader can happily delve into them after becoming familiar with Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. I believe Hound is also generally one of the most beloved and recommended Holmes stories, so popular opinion also recommends it as a good place to start.

And not all Holmes stories are created equal. In 2020, I read The Sign of the Four, the second of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories, and I found it 1) disappointing and 2) racist. Doyle is a product of his time, of course, but I think this as an introduction to Holmes would be extremely off-putting to many readers. If one were to read the Holmes stories in order, one might start off with A Study in Scarlet, think it fine, and then be quite surprised (negatively surprised) by The Sign of the Four. So while I am generally an advocate of reading books in order, I think it unnecessary and possibly a bad idea in the case of Holmes.

What are some of your favorite Holmes stories?

Briana