Tag Archives: Classic Literature

Qualified to Criticise a Classic or Not?

Now that I have updated you on kittens and winners, let’s get back to the serious business (so serious there is no picture in this post) of talking about books. As you may have seen, my recent reading of Anthony Trollope’s ‘The Warden’ didn’t really go too well. What I found interesting was that having finished the book and not really having enjoyed it, I didn’t mind saying exactly how I felt (though hopefully backing the up my reasons rather than lazily saying ‘I really, really disliked it’) because the author was dead and the book is a ‘classic’. AJ however, and I hope he won’t mind me sharing this with you, had the complete opposite reaction to me. He felt that because the book has been read, taught and learnt by so many academics out there he felt that regardless of whether he liked it or not, people would judge him if he slated it or not deem his opinion of worth if it wasn’t written to an academic level. These two polar reactions made me wonder if, because as bloggers and not academics in this field, are we really entitled/qualified/at liberty to critique ‘canon classics’ or indeed books in general?

I think we are. Not in an arrogant way or ‘I read so I can say what I like’ way, though there is an element of truth to that with anyone who reads no matter how little or how much because of our tastes, and not in an anti academic way either. I just believe, and my mother is an English teacher and agrees with this, that what qualifies you to have an opinion (be it at a book group, a random chat about books over a coffee, blogs posts or reviews wherever) is if you read and can compare and contrast, and most importantly back up and validate, your reasons one way or the other. An opinion is an opinion after all, I think it’s an informed critique if it is fairly backed up – be it pro or con. No?

It made me think back to the recent post I did after the whole ‘bloggers versus professional reviewers’ (though shock and horror some people do both, gasp!) and the argument that because – sweeping statement alert – bloggers appear not to be academics and haven’t trained for years and years  they don’t really know what they are talking about. Here I want to interject a recent thought I had that a lot of best selling writers didn’t go on writing courses, does that mean they can’t write? Anyway, back to the point I was making. Just because I didn’t study English Literature past GCSE (where I got an A* thank you for asking) doesn’t mean that I can’t decide if I think that Anthony Trollope is, in my eyes, a good or bad writer. I know he has sold thousands and thousands of copies, but so have Dan Brown and Fifty Shades of Grey? But this isn’t about bloggers vs. reviewers or indeed academics vs. non academics, it is more about if people really need a qualification to critics a book and in particular a ‘classic’ novel, though really I think novels overall should be included in this post, so maybe I have gone off on a tangent as usual?!?

I think I am really having a small internal argument with myself here, but one I thought I should discuss/brainstorm/therapeutically write out of my system. After all, no one has come down on me like a tonne of bricks and berated me for not liking him, which I am quite shocked at to be honest, up until now (and actually I would be interested in an academics thoughts on my thoughts – if you know what I mean) but there is still time, ha. So, as I have often skirted around this question over the past five and a bit years on and off, I thought I would ask you this…

What, if any, qualifications do you think someone has to have to critique a book be it a classic or not? I will be intrigued to hear your thoughts.

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Spending Sundays With A Classic?

No, no you haven’t gone mad and neither have I. I am well aware that today is Saturday and not Sunday. However today seems a befitting day to launch a little something new, that gets me (and maybe some of you if you fancy) back into those classics. It’s also something I will need – oh how demanding of me – I mean I would love your recommendations and suggestions with. Right let me explain…

A few things have conspired with me in the last few weeks that have made me start to yearn for some classics. One factor has been that suddenly August has become really autumnal in the UK (I am hoping it is going to be better for the three day weekend we are all having here) and in London the main view from my windows has been rather like this:

A photo by my good friend Dom Agius (www.domagius.com)

Yes that’s right, rain ready, delightfully dramatic but also most certainly autumnal. The perfect sort of weather to curl up on your sofa or in bed and get curled up with some classics. It seemed most serendipitous then that I had decided that as I was reading so much modern fiction (for a certain something) for a change of scene I would join in with reading ‘I Capture The Castle’ by Dodie Smith for Cornflower’s Book Group which will be being discussed today. (I am supposedly on an internet ban by The Converted One this weekend as I have been overdoing it with work and everything and we have very few free weekends before we head for Brazil, if not I will catch up after.) I will be spilling my full thoughts on ‘I Capture The Castle’ very soon, but getting back to something older, not that it felt dated, had a certain something about it – especially seeing as it was a book I bought ages ago and have been meaning to read anyway. I wondered, have been getting swept up in the modern a little too much?

I had mulled over doing another ‘Sensation Season’ a month or two ago and then again a few weeks ago but I thought maybe it was time for something a bit different. So instead what I am going to do is be ‘Spending Sundays With A Classic’. Not every Sunday mind you just a few here there and everywhere but I will let you know which ones are coming up and when (should I simply give you a few weeks notice or have a sort of schedule, what do you think?) and maybe if you would like to you can join in.

Now before I ask you lots of questions about classics I thought I would share my initial six possible contenders (don’t judge me on not having read them sooner, ha) which are…

  
  

  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  • Emma – Jane Austen
  • Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

Is there anyone out there left who hasn’t read those already? I bet I am one of the last people ever to the party of these books, but maybe some people will want a re-read, or I am happy to read alone. This isn’t the definite list of six, just the initial one that called to me from my TBR pile. Now what I want is for you to answer some classic questions and they are these;

  1. What do you define as a classic?
  2. What is your favourite classic of all time so far that everyone on earth should be made to read?
  3. Which classic have you just never really managed to get on with?
  4. Which classic books have you yet to read but really must get around to?

Right… over to you then…

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