Sometimes it feels like a chore to sit down and tear into one of the “classics.” They’re daunting and intimidating. It’s a lot more fun to delve into something less challenging. But these classics are important, and I’m here to tell you about a few books that I bet you’ve never read!
1. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
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Published in 1855, North and South tells the story of young Margaret Hale who returns to her rural English hometown after spending ten years in London. Due to problems between her father and the Church of England, however, the family is forced to relocate to a far more industrial town. There, Margaret meets a man named John Thornton, and the two find themselves at serious odds with one another. As with many relationships that begin with impassioned hatred, the two eventually fall in love, and Margaret learns to love and appreciate the town and its community of hard-working people.
2. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Before it was an award-winning film starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, Gone With the Wind was a novel published in 1936. The novel tells the tale of the American Civil War, but from the perspective of the South. The main character, Scarlett O’Hara, is beautiful, haughty, selfish, and has a fiery temper. She fails to appreciate her life and the privilege that goes along with it, and this gets her into trouble countless times. She believes herself to be in love with a man named Ashley who does not love her back. As the years pass, her obsession remains. She does, however, marry several times (each marriage ends in death), and is relentlessly pursued throughout the course of her life by a man named Rhett Butler. Blinded by her obsession with Ashley, she fails to recognize her intense love for him as well until it is far too late.
3. Ulysses by James Joyce
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We have all heard of what is often called “the greatest novel ever written,” but how many of us have actually read Ulysses? Published in 1922, Ulysses takes place over the course of a single day (June 16th, known as “Bloomsday”) in Dublin. The novel is essentially a modern retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey, each chapter reflecting specific moments encountered in the Greek epic. Our main character, Leopold Bloom, spends the entire day wandering around Dublin, knowing and waiting for his wife to sleep with another man. Along his odyssey across the city, he encounters Stephen Dedalus who becomes like a surrogate son to him (in Homer’s The Odyssey Odysseus travels a lengthy journey home to Ithaca to be reunited with his son, Telemachus). The novel is a difficult read, and almost impossible to complete without accompanying academic analysis, but the satisfaction one feels after completing the novel is like none other you can feel. And on June 16th you too can celebrate Bloomsday with a nice tall Guinness!
4. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
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Poor Anne Brontë hardly ever gets as much credit as her sisters Charlotte and Emily (authors of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, respectively), but Anne was an author just the same as them. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published in 1848, is narrated by a man named Gilbert Markham who encounters new neighbors in his village, the supposed widow Helen Graham and her son, Arthur. Gilbert falls in love with Helen, but she refuses him. Unbeknownst to Gilbert, Helen’s history is not quite what it seems to be. The book is considered to be one of the first feminist novels, and if you decide to dig into it you’ll soon understand why!
5. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
On the theme of feminist literature, and even novels that take place over the course of a single day, here is Mrs. Dalloway. It was published in 1925, and tells the story of the title character’s plan and execution of a party to be held at her estate. The novel deals heavily with topics like depression and suicide, largely due to the effects of World War I. In 2002 a movie called The Hours was released, and this movie was very much an interesting retelling and re-imagination of the original novel, and of Virginia Woolf’s life.
6. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
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No doubt you are familiar with this popular and world-renowned story, whether it’s due to the blockbuster musical or one of the many film adaptations. But all of those famous adaptations are actually based on a book! In 1911, The Phantom of the Opera was published by a French writer whose novel can’t seem to decide exactly what it wants to be. Is it a horror novel? A detective novel? A romance? Or is it a little bit of all of those things? We learn about Erik, the deformed musical genius who lives below the Paris Opera House and trains the young, beautiful, and talented Christine Daae. He falls into a deep and obsessive love with her, and the stakes are only raised higher when her childhood sweetheart enters her life once again! It’s worth a read, especially if you enjoy the musical as much as I know I do!
7. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
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The French novel Les Miserables was published in 1862, and deals with injustice and the extreme poverty/destitution of the French people following the French Revolution. The main character, Jean Valjean, is thrown into prison for nineteen years after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. Upon release, he breaks his parole to begin a new life, and takes in a dying woman’s daughter, whom he raises as his own. The rest of his life is spent running and hiding from Inspector Javert. The cast of characters inhabiting the 1,000+ pages of the book are vast, and each one is as important as the one you encounter prior.
So go on and check out some of these books that you may not have given a try otherwise! Scout’s honor, you won’t be disappointed!
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