We all have to read classic literature at one point in our lives, usually in school, and if you’re lucky also at university. Those endless discussions about why the author chose that particular comma or the symbolism behind the protagonist’s green socks can scar people for life. So, it is no wonder that some people think that classics are rubbish. Why should you care about something that someone wrote a few hundred years ago?
Well, unless nothing has meaning to you anymore (which honestly is okay, life can be like that sometimes), classic literature offers so much. The language is simply beautiful even if you don’t get the meaning on the first read through. Some classic texts are a bit like a catchy K-pop song; you have no idea what it means but you like the sound of it. This is a completely valid approach. But a deeper look can also open up an amazing understanding of life.
Classics are often still relevant today because their themes transcend their historical setting. The struggle for power and importance, the joy and pain of love, the annoyance of well-meaning parents, or making a deal with the devil and sealing sickness and old age in a painting that you hide in your attic: all these still work today as some modern adaptations prove. If you are a true 90s kid like me, you might remember masterpieces like the Romeo and Juliet movie (yes, the one with young Leo DiCaprio), 10 Things I Hate about You, or Clueless. All of these are based on classic pieces by Shakespeare or Austen, yet they resonated with teenagers.
If you want to go even more current, you can find The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a web show that combines Pride and Prejudice with vlogging. Or you have the Hogarth Shakespeare collection that has current popular authors like Margaret Atwood or Jo Nesbø reimagine Shakespeare’s plays in new settings – and it works.
Of course, you don’t have to love every classic; there are way too many straight white men in that domain and some of these are as dull as it gets. Maybe you can tell that Dickens was paid by the word – hello, lengthy descriptions – or Dumas by the line – dialogues, lots and lots of dialogues. But since there are so many books out there, you can pick and choose. Surely, you will find something that speaks to you.
I personally feel a close connection to the wit and sarcasm in Jane Austen’s novels. As an introvert who is very awkward around people I don’t know, I can absolutely relate to Mr Darcy when he says, ‘I certainly have not the talent which some people possess […] of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.’ If you are looking for something more profound, you might prefer the wisdom of the Little Prince: ‘The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.’
For slightly less pretentious musings, you may always turn to Shakespeare. Nobody is better at penis metaphors and insults. What could be more fun than demonstrating your vast literary knowledge while simultaneously slighting someone? From the more elaborate ‘Thine face is not worth sunburning’, to the rather simple ‘I have done thy mother’ or ‘you egg’, the Bard of Avon offers much variety for every occasion. Apart from these fun lines, he has obviously also written gorgeous poetry and plays with profound themes and relationships. But if political scheming and tragic love stories sound too dry for you, you might enjoy spending some time with the online Shakespeare insult generator.
As you can see, classic literature touches on many themes and is still relevant today. It is full of relatable characters, timeless struggles, and silly humour. Not everybody will like the same things and it is definitely valid to be critical about your classics, but there is definitely enough variety for almost everyone. It is never too late or too early to explore the vast collection of works, just waiting for a new generation to fall in love with them. What are you waiting for? The world (of classics) is your oyster!
[Image credit: Janyn Berame/flickr.com]