Classically Challenged… Part I

Over the last few weeks and months you may have noticed I have really been thinking about my reading and blogging and just sussing where I am at. I have pondered if I am literary enough, what kind of reader I am and also last week discussing if I read enough worldwide literature. All big questions. Well, if you listen to this week’s episode of The Readers you will hear me talking to my friend, and now blogger, AJ who came on as a guest co-host and who like me has been pondering the same things. Like me he too has been slightly bothered that he hasn’t read many of the ‘canon’ authors like Dickens, Austen, and Hardy etc and so we have decided to rectify this together with ‘Classically Challenged’ and we need your help.

We have decided we are going to read six novels by six authors who are deemed some of the best British novelists (*subject to perceptions) but as yet we have both never read. This will take place on our blogs over the next six months on the last Sunday from October 2012 to March 2013. These authors will be Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, Thomas Hardy, and George Eliot. We have both decided that we have to read Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’, aptly in March, as it is deemed as one of the greatest British novels of all time. However we have not chosen a novel by each of the other four yet…

So, we would love you to suggest, in the comments below, one novel by each author which you loved/think would be the best way into their work. AJ will be collecting votes on his blog too, and we are asking on Goodreads. The novels which receive the most votes from all of you over the next week will be the ones we will read.

I can’t wait to hear your suggestions, and of course if you are planning on joining in. We will announce the schedule and six novels next week. So get voting; an Austen, a Dickens, a Hardy, a Trollope and a Wharton…

Note: I have learnt Wharton is American this was my bad research due to over excitement! We might have to swap her… or maybe not!



Filed under Classically Challenged, Random Savidgeness

41 responses to “Classically Challenged… Part I

  1. The best Thomas Hardy (IMHO) is ‘Jude the Obscure’ – bleak, tragic and so controversial that after it’s publication Hardy never wrote another novel – he made the move to poetry for the rest of his life. Some serious stuff was going down: mass book burnings of Jude the Obscure; archbishops condemning the book in newspapers etc.. One guy even posted the ashes of his burnt copy to Hardy. Highly recommended – great book, very important and massively controversial, which, let’s face it, is always fun! 🙂

  2. Good for you! I suspect you may get lots of suggestions for Pride & Prejudice and why not – it is a classic and one of Austen’s best known. But I would suggest Persuasion as an alternative. When I first read it, I wasn’t convinced, but have grown to realise it ranks up there with P&P. Clever, subtle and as beautifully written as most of her work, but there is something about Persuasion that sets it apart. I’m afraid I’ve only read 1.5 Hardy’s but I really loved Far from the Madding Crowd. A Tale of Two Cities would get my vote for Dickens, very romantic for him and also quite short in comparison to his other novels. Can’t help with the others I’m afraid – don’t know enough of their works to recommend one. Good luck!

    • YES! Persuasion is the best Austen by miles! 🙂

      • Let’s stuff the ballot box for Persuasion. Rachel from Booksnob lurves it if that’s any help 😀

        As for Dickens I’ve only read two, but one was a cracker – David Copperfield. Don’t let anyone convince you Oliver might be fun, the TV versions are always better.

        I really wish you were reading Forster too. Not many books, but he’s a magician and well deserves to be called best of British.

  3. Tawny

    I was Dickens-challenged until I decided to listen to the audio version of Great Expectations. Somehow that makes the book come alive, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I’m American, so I be sure to select a recording with the proper British accent, of course. I plan to read all the classics on my list via audio-book. So much easier and more enjoyable. And I heartily recommend Great Expectations and David Copperfield.

  4. Annabel (gaskella)

    The ones I’d like to read (as opposed to those I have read) are:
    Persuasion, Jude the Obscure or Far from the Madding Crowd, Our Mutual Friend, The House of Mirth and a Trollope – don’t know which. I’ll happily watch my DVDs of the BBC’s Middlemarch again to get out of Eliot, but I may join in if persuaded…

  5. Jason Cooper

    Edith Wharton was an American. (Or is this what your asterisk was addressing?)

  6. This is a GREAT idea! I look forward to following the series. I recently finished Middlemarch and loved it.

    Jane Austen: another vote for Persuasion! Far and away her best.
    Edith Wharton: The Custom of the Country, my personal favorite with a heroine you love to hate. House of Mirth is also excellent.
    Anthony Trollope: The Warden because it’s the first in the Chronicles of Barsetshire, it’s relatively short (~250pp), and it’s the only one I’ve read. 🙂
    Charles Dickens & Thomas Hardy: I dunno, you tell me. Not a huge fan of either.

  7. Russell

    Here is what I would recommend
    Jane Austen : Emma (all her books are good, and you will likely enjoy them all – but this one, to me, is the funniest)
    Anthony Trollope : I too have never read him.
    Charles Dickens : Tale of Two Cities is my 2nd favorite book of all time
    Edith Wharton : House of Mirth
    Thomas Hardy : Jude the Obscure – it is a Simon book
    George Eliot : Middlemarch is tough – I think there is something to say for the magic of the much smaller Silas Marner

  8. Oh how exciting! Such marveouis novelists.
    Austen then – Sense and sensibility – Dickens: Bleak House – Thomas Hardy : my favourite author – The Mayor of Castsrbridge or Far from the Madding Crowd – Trollope – (ooh hard one there are so many) The Warden is a good place to start though – Edith Wharton – The House of Mirth (I re-read it in January and just loved it so much.

  9. I’m sure Peter Stothard would be proud!

    I’ve read all the Austen (much easier to do than Dickens or Trollope!) and my vote would also be for Persuasion.

    As for the others, I’ve only dipped into them, so i won’t recommend anything, but I’m looking forward to reading Middlemarch with you–it was on my challenge list this year but I just couldn’t do it. Perhaps this is what I need to get me through it.

    p.s. I feel I must point out that Edith Wharton is very, very American.

  10. Caroline

    Another vote for Persuasion – my favourite Austen and I’m so glad that others agree.
    Our Mutual friend is my favourite Dickens and I would also recommend ‘Phineas Finn’ by Anthony Trollope.
    I have to own up to never reading any George Elliot, although I have a brand new (unopened) copy of Middlemarch in my TBR pile which has been sat there for far too long.
    If you want a flavour of Hardy, The Mayor Of Casterbridge is my recommendation- lots of doom ,gloom and fate.

  11. I’ve not read Trollope and no expert on Dickens. Middlemarch is remarkable but you should at least consider The Mill on the Floss (the only book to have ever made me cry.) Can I mention The Woodlanders for Hardy – its remarkable, and sometimes gets overshadowed. Seems very contemporary as well as its about changing communities and the loss of old certainties. The Age of Innocence is also substantive from Wharton. I’m surprised Henry James isn’t in the list? Maybe you’ve done him already?

  12. Hi folks, it’s AJ from AJ Reads here. I am loving all of your suggestions so far. ‘Classically Challenged’ is going to be great fun, and a great way to enjoy those winter months by the fire!

    I’ve just started a post on this challenge over at my blog, so if you want to add your suggestions there too, then feel free!

    We really look forward to seeing which titles win!! 🙂

  13. Laura Caldwell

    Austen: Persuasion (would gladly reread), 2nd choice: Sense & Sensibility (never read), NOT: P & P
    Dickens: I only have read David Copperfield in high school (meh!)
    Hardy: ? never read
    Trollope: I own The Warden and Barchester Towers, & would love to get going on this series so I vote: The Warden
    Wharton: Never read, but own several. would prefer House of Mirth
    I REALLY want to do this, I will have to put aside other things, but this will be lovely (and challenging).

  14. Austen: I also vote for Persuasion (saw an interesting take on all her books having recently watched the film The Jane Austen book club)
    Hardy: Jude the Obscure sounds interesting and if Tomcat recommends it, I’d definitely read it.
    Dickens: David Copperfield for being closest to biographical or Our Mutual Friend because I read an excellent review that put this on my list.
    Wharton: Yes, she’s American, but she came to live in France and was quite the matchmaker for putting together wealthy American heiresses and needy (needing cash injection) English noblemen in their grand estates (aka Downton Abbey style) – so very á la mode. Loved ‘Ethan Frome but you may want to go more for one of her society novels like House of Mirth.
    No knowledge of Trollope except that didn’t he write a novel that was deemed state of the nation?

    Look forward to the result!

    • On the subject of Wharton, I agree with Claire. Even though she writes about American society i.e.; “Old New York,” she’s not nearly as American as, say, Willa Cather or John Steinbeck. She’s much more like Henry James, and like him heavily influenced by a significant amount of time spent abroad.

  15. daisiejane

    Another vote for Persuasion. For the Dickens Bleak House, especially for the fog and the detective element which I think you will enjoy. Although you could kind of cheat and read The Magic Fishbone, it is a children’s fairy tale and very funny.For Hardy I would suggest The Return of the Native, which has such a strong sense of place – although all of his do this is the book where the place is the major character. yes Middlemarch is long but it just has to be done. Very bold and brave challenge you have set yourselves but think how you will feel when it is done! Enjoy!

  16. Yes, read Persuasion! And David Copperfield! And Middlemarch! I’ll also be reading Trollope for the first time soon so I can’t recommend anything by him yet. I own three different titles though so here’s hoping they’re some of the best!

  17. Persuasion by Austen and Bleak House for Dickens (the latter for the lawyer jokes).

  18. Amy C

    Hooray for Middlemarch! I love George Eliot and just finished reading Middlemarch for the second time. It’s long but I love it.
    Austen: Like a lot of commenters, I really love Persuasion too (or you can go with one of the more common like Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, I like all of these).
    Hardy: The only ones I’ve read are Tess of the D’urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd, but it’s been a few years. I found Tess to be pretty depressing at the time. I guess I’d vote for Madding Crowd but there’s several others of his that I’d like to try.
    Dickens: I hated Tale of Two Cities for some reason. But Great Expectations is always a good bet. Bleak House is good too, pretty long but aren’t they all.
    Trollope: I’ve read the first few of the Palliser Novels series, which are good but have a lot about British Victorian politics so some might not love that. (Can You Forgive Her? Is the first in that series and I really enjoyed it). Or you can try the stand-alone novel The Way We Live Now. I haven’t read any of the Barsetshire novels yet, which a lot of people prefer.
    Wharton: Good job sneaking an American onto your list! 🙂 I would vote for House of Mirth, but I think it’s because it’s the only one of hers I’ve read. Just don’t expect too much mirth!

  19. I would like to recommend The Mayor of Casterbridge by Hardy. This one I read as part of the school curriculum and loved it.

  20. Don’t ask me! I would certainly commend Middlemarch to you though. A very “traditional” set of authors, but perhaps you’ve already read many of those you seem to have passed over. For Dickens (and I’ve only read three of his) I would go for one I haven’t read “Bleak House”. Amused to see you thought Wharton was British and I’ll second Amy C’s suggestion of “House of Mirth”. But for another “true Brit” how about one from Huxley, Powell, Burgess or Golding?

  21. Alison P

    I completely agree with Tawny – audio books are a great way to bring the classics to life (especially when read by Juliet Stevenson!). I have worked my way through the unabridged versions of all of Austen, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, and am now on Hardy and Elliot – all whilst walking to work! I suggest a long walk in the country in the company of Emma.

  22. I’d definitely join in on this! My vote for Austen is also for Persuasion (although I do love P&P). Hardy – I’d go for Jude the Obscure but Tess of the D’Urbevilles would also be a good choice. My Dickens vote would go to Great Expectations – definitely my favourite.

    I haven’t read any Trollope or Wharton but would be up for giving them a try in a read-along. As for Elliott, Middlemarch is the only one I WOULDN’T consider re-reading – once was enough for me!! I thought it was great but I found it a bit of a slog. I enjoyed The Mill on the Floss and would re-read that, or would be happy to give any of her others a try.

  23. Lato Cook

    For Trollope, given that the Warden is fairly short, I’d strongly advocate doubling up and tackling The Warden followed by Barchester Towers – both fantastic reads and strongly connected.
    For Dickens – Little Dorrit is an absolute stand-out classic. Complex, dark and utterly compelling – there are some scarily twisted characters and themes and it resonates heavily in the post-crash Britain of 2012.

  24. Sounds like fun, and I’m looking forward to your takes on those authors!

    My recommendations
    Jane Austen – I’m going to be in the minority here, but I’d suggest Mansfield Park because it is her most tightly constructed.
    Charles Dickens – Bleak House, clearly the best among his many great novels
    Anthony Trollope – As I assume you won’t want to read all six Palliser novels (not yet, at least), I’d say The Way We Live Now.
    Thomas Hardy – All of his novels tend to be problematic in one way or another, but my own favourite is The Return of the Native, for it’s utterly, breathtakingly brilliant first third. It flags a bit after that, but is still a worthwhile read.
    Edith Wharton – I’m not a huge fan of her (much prefer the original, i.e. Henry James, over the copy) but I suppose Age of Innocence would be the book to read.

  25. Mimannee

    I love this idea! I have been meaning to do something similar myself and will be going travelling in December so figure that my time away from work and day to day life (as well as very long bus/ train journeys) will provide me with the perfect opportunity. I might do a read along with you if you don’t mind being hi-jacked!
    I agree with Tawny and have recently listened to a bit of Charles Dickens and he’s actually quite funny if you don’t have to go through the physical ast of reading all of those really long sentences, I think I’ll do the same with the others as long as the reader’s not too off putting.
    Good luck and happy reading!

  26. jennifer

    There must be something in the air for reading classics. Realising I only have 4 years left until 40 and since 40 is the end of my life ! lol! I had the same sort of thought as yourself and have decided to read 40 classics before 40. So far my choices are Jane Austen – Northanger Abbey (apparently more gothic than the rest), The Way we live now – Anthony Trollope, David Copperfield – Dickens, no Wharton sorry but Far from the madding crowd for Hardy and Middlemarch for Eliot. I’ve also included Anna Karenina, Les Miserables and Portrtait of a Lady (American). Best of luck and I look forward to joining in.

  27. Rhian

    Great idea.
    I’d recommend:
    Dickens – Bleak House (my favourite) or Dombey and Son, which I have just read and really enjoyed.
    Austen – Another vote for Persuasion. Although I have enjoyed all of hers (Northanger Abbey being my least favourite).
    Trollope – difficult as I have loved everything that I have read. Maybe The Warden is a good place to start.
    Wharton – the only one I have read is Age of Innocence.
    Hardy – Do we have to? I have tried – honest I have – but I really don’t like Hardy. The only two I have finished are Tess and Far From the Madding Crowd.
    Look forward to hearing what you choose and reading along (although not the Hardy!)

  28. I never, never thought there would be such a lot of ‘Persuasion’ fans among your readers: it’s always been my favourite Austen, so glad that there are others who feel like that.
    Dickens: I liked most of them when I was a teenager, but ‘Great Expectations’ is the one I can go back and reread.
    ‘Middlemarch’ is a classic and very grown-up, but I do have a secret fondness for ‘Mill on the Floss’ for George Eliot.
    Wharton: is not quite my cup of tea, but ‘House of Mirth’ and ‘Ethan Frome’ are the most poignant.
    Hardy: yes, it is depressing and melodramatic and all that, but ‘Tess’ would be my recommendation – it best conveys Hardy’s feeling for place, for nature, for humans caught up in tragedy
    Trollope: I’ve been meaning to read him for such a long time, but have avoided it so far. So I look forward to trying something of his together with you…

  29. Zandra

    Completely unrelated, I was just wondering if you have read any of David Almond’s books. Some are aimed at teens or young adults, but I still love them. I have never spoken to anyone but my brother who has read any of these books. They are so intense, it’s truly an experience.
    Of the classic authors mentioned above, I have only read some Emman by Jane Austen, and I loved it.

  30. Zandra

    hahaha, I don’t know what ‘some Emman’ is, but I read Emma by Jane Austen

  31. Looks like Persuasion is winning the Austen book-of-choice and to be honest, I love everything by Austen, although I have to say my favourites are Emma and Mansfield Park. As for the others, I’ve read one book by Dickens and nothing by the others. Shocking, I know. I’m ashamed of myself. Might have to read-along with you! Oh and if you decide to switch Edith Wharton for another Brit, can I suggest Henry James – Portrait of a Lady’s a good ‘un.

  32. Alison P

    Another thought, perhaps you could break yourself into Elliot with Silas Marner, a great book and significantly shorter than Middlemarch?

  33. An excellent idea! I will always vote Persuasion by Austin, her last novel written it is far more mature than her previous works. I’ve not actually read any by the others (unless A Christmas Carol counts for Dickens).

  34. Ooo, fun! I do love classics… this will give me a good excuse to try some old and new ones. My votes would be:
    Austen – I think Persuasion is her most beautiful/accomplished work, but I have to say, P&P and Emma make me laugh out loud, so it just depends what you’re looking for. You can’t really miss with ol’ Jane
    Dickens- Great Expectations. Full stop. It’s amazing.
    Hardy – Bums me out… I’ve only read Tess, but I’d like to try Far from the Madding Crowd
    Wharton- House of Mirth is just wonderful, been meaning to reread
    Trollope- Always wanted to read The Way We Live Now
    Eliot- Slowly making my way through Middlemarch and it’s really as great as everyone says

    Let the games begin!

  35. Stephanie

    I think you will enjoy ‘The Eustace Diamonds’ by Anthony Trollope. It’s part of the Palliser series but can be read as a standalone novel. This is a 600 plus page novel, which our Book Club started as a long term read. I finished it in less than a week; it was so absorbing.

  36. Pingback: Classically Challenged… Part II | Savidge Reads

  37. Pingback: Are you Classically Challenged? « TheBrontëSister

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