Well, even though I’m unlikely to finish reading Anna Karenina this year, I’ve managed to fulfill my quota of ‘a classic a year’ by reading this.
Every time I pick up a ‘classic’ I’m slightly apprehensive. ‘Classic’ suggests that many learned people have picked this book before and rated it worthy of this broad, but slightly vague accolade. Great Expectations for instance. Many reading friends I know and trust Love this book, rave about its remarkable characterisation and insist that I will surely adore it too. No such luck. I got half way through this Dickens classic three times and was not too surprised to realize recently that I’d discarded of my copy in a previous scour of my bookshelves! (Perhaps my expectations were too great?!)
So, when I had to do a university presentation in English, based on a ‘subject knowledge gap’, I clocked that the ‘Victorian Novel’ was probably a good place to start. I considered Dickens; bought Bleak House. Realised it is a tome and I only had a week to read it. Discarded Bleak House. Started reading a Dickens biography, found it interesting, but realised at this point that I was procrastinating and part of the presentation had to be connected to a novel.
The guy I was partnered with had recently read ‘Jane Eyre’, so I decided that it was probably a topic worth grappling with together…at least I could text him in despair, I thought, when the rambling prose got too much. But no! To my surprise and delight, I loved Jane Eyre! I had had a rather narrow vision of what ‘Victorian Literature’ was. I don’t like Dickens, so assumed that I would have an equal dislike for anything written in the era.
I particularly enjoyed how three-dimensional Jane seemed. First person narration can be limiting in this respect, however I trusted this voice. It is self aware and although necessarily one sided, reliable as much as it can be.
The scenery is vivid. The houses, schools and countrysides are compared and contrasted with ease and provide a splendid back-drop for Jane’s adventure, while also giving a real richness to the story.
We are given a great spread of characters for Jane to interact with, each highlighting a different aspect of her personality. And Rochester! The ‘hero’ of the novel, famous way beyond the pages of the book. Your classic flawed, romantic Byronic Hero: mad, bad and dangerous to know and oh, so attractive because of it!
A book I know I will read again and lend to friends who are yet to have the pleasure.
(I’ve not included The Count of Monte Cristo here published in 1844 as European literature has a different feel altogether!)