They may be dusty, obscure and somewhat out of time, but for some reason, classic literature is still considered one of the highest art forms. There may be a tendency to brand all of it as worthless, because it has been written by “dead white men”, yet these books have endured, and many of their themes remain as relevant today as in the past. Need more incentive before you dive into Dickens? Here are 5 reasons we should still read classic novels today.
- They make you smarter
No, really. Reading classical literature strengthens your vocabulary, and research has shown that the linguistic complexity of Shakespeare acts as a mental workout. Reading character focused novels like “Jane Eyre” or “Emma” also makes you more emotionally intelligent. Time to finally peruse Persuasion?
- You’ll feel less guilty
Like the shame of not having finished Breaking Bad, your failed attempts to understand Moby-Dick will haunt you forever. You can nervously sit through the tutorial, and half-heartedly agree with the well-read opinions of people in your class, but you can’t lie to yourself. Immerse yourself in the world of Captain Ahab and we promise, you’ll have a whale of a time.
- They’re actually good
Italo Calvino once defined a classic as a book as one which is never quite finished what it has to say. A classic is a classic for a reason, and often these reasons can be fascinating in their own right. History buffs might enjoy George Orwell’s Animal Farm. If language and experimental style is more your thing, Ernest Hemingway pioneered a sparse modernist style which spoke to the people of the past more than those in our own image world.
- Your favourite authors were probably influenced by them
As writers and readers are so intertwined, many notable authors today have been deeply influenced by writers of the past. Having read the classics in their youth most writers now pass on their themes through allusions in their own work. Your favourite modern authors probably have varied insights and opinions on the classics. Sophie Hannah, the famous crime writer described Wuthering Heights as “Fifty Shades meets Location, Location”. Aside from individual classical authors, there are movements which spurred each one.
- Their reputation precedes them
This is both a positive and a negative. While you’re unlikely to be surprised by the climax of Jane Eyre, or the ending of Anna Karenina, the recognition that comes with the classics allows you to judge what you’re most likely to enjoy. Fans of the Great Gatsby might like Madame Bovary, while purveyors of Jane Austen may prefer A Room With A View by E.M Forster.
It’s easy to critique the classics, or be daunted by the snobbery surrounding them. Yet many authors who are now classic writers, such as Dickens or Tolstoy wrote for the common man. Their wish was the one of every writer, to communicate and to be understood. Today these classics are adapted into films, plays, and audiobooks. The best way to find out why? Read the original.