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The importance of classic novels, and which ones should be held highly in your esteem

A piece by Elizabeth-Rose Sandhu

Trigger warning: mentions of suicide within the context of discussing novels.

Since the first act of pen to paper , literature has carried a heavy weight on how the world has been shaped and therefore viewed, individually and as a society. It’s impossible to say how many books, short stories and poems have been written throughout our own lifetimes, let alone the whole of history, so I shall be focusing on my personal favourite novels in this article, and giving advice on which classic novels I think you should read.

So yes, this article may be very much biased, but fear not, I’m sure you will find at least one novel here that you will be rushing out to read!

Given by the title, it won’t come as a surprise to you, reader, that my all-time favourite novels are classics. You might wonder why that is; why would I prefer complex language, complicated plot lines (which were written for a completely different audience), to more modern and relatable works? Reader, allow me to show you exactly why I adore classic novels…

Firstly, we are diving into the wonderful world of Jane Austen! Jane Austen wrote 6 completed novels, including her most popular novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ which is about a family of five sisters, whose mother is trying to marry them off to wealthy men.

The novel mainly focuses on our heroine Elizabeth Bennet, who meets a mysterious man called Mr Darcy at a ball, and from then on, often, has unwanted run-ins with him. As you read this novel, the themes of Pride and Prejudice become poignant - such Elizabeth's prejudice against Mr Darcy’s pride. Austen interweaves dramatic irony and social satire throughout, making it a very enjoyable read.

I first came to read this book after a teacher told me that I’d enjoy it, and she wasn’t wrong! A year later we began studying it, and being able to read and analyse closely the way in which Austen uses language and irony to shape the novel was a wpowerful experience. It gives us a real insight to what the regency era was like with the social rules and standards. With so little freedom for women, it is interesting to see what they had to do to get by (i.e. marry a wealthy man), especially when comparing it with today's world, in which we have so much more choice and freedom to do as we please. This novel shows us the importance of setting aside our pride and pursuing what will really make us happy, and I think that is beautiful. I’d recommend this book to anyone, as it really has its own spot in my heart, and it certainly a personal favourite.

Although ‘The Bell Jar’ was only published fifty-eight years ago, it is now talked about as a classic. Anyone who reads it can understand exactly why that is; Plath's writing style is incredible and timeless. She describes things in such a hauntingly beautiful way, that it leaves one thinking about it for a long-time after, making her quite an unforgettable writer. Alongside her poetry, her creative writing leaves one pondering afterwards how someone could write something so bewitching, and even relatable.

‘The Bell Jar’ is about a young woman called Esther Greenwood who goes down a tough path with her mental health, and tragically suicide. ‘The Bell Jar’ is a metaphor for the feeling of being confined to dark feelings, something that Plath had sadly dealt with herself throughout her life, up until the untimely end of it. I believe that ‘The Bell Jar’ gives a voice to women who are told that their emotions are too much, or told that they’re crazy. The first-person perspective of the novel gives us an understanding of the mind of someone suffering from mental illness, giving the novel a semi-autobiographicaland unique tone.

Without mentioning the first classic novel that got me into reading, I’d be doing you a disservice, reader (and yes, I have been referring to you as ‘reader’ thanks to this very novel).

‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte is a gothic novel written during the Victorian era, and much like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ it tackles themes such as love, independance, social standards, gender roles, feelings and religion. If I hadn’t read this book in class when I was fourteen, I really do wonder what I would have turned out like. So, if you gain nothing else from reading this article, at least remember to pick up a copy of ‘Jane Eyre’, because it truly is worth it.

We are introduced to our protagonist, Jane Eyre, when she is ten years old, and the novel finishes when she is around thirty and married to Mr Rochester (“Reader, I married him.” is a quote which has been permanently etched into my mind).

We follow through Jane’s solitary childhood from her aunt's house to Lowood School. Later we go with her to Thornfield Hall, where she becomes a governess for Mr Rochester's daughter. We sit through balls with Jane, and unravel the dark mystery of Mr Rochester and Thornfield Hall with her; experiencing fear, surprise and heartbreak on the moors along with her.

Though it may be a long book, it’s nothing short of a very gratifying read, giving a voice to women through Jane who is seen as a strong feminist symbol. Without this book, I genuinely do not know who I would be, and therefore, reader, I strongly encourage you to peel open those first few pages. I assure you; you won’t be able to put it down.

Reader, I implore you to set aside some time, and give classic novels a go. If you don’t feel like reading any of the three I’ve recommended, perhaps try a Russian novel, such as ‘Crime and Punishment’, or maybe try American literature like ‘The Great Gatsby’ and take an adventure with Nick to find out who the mysterious Jay Gatsby really is (Note: don’t read and drive). Despite not having written any novels, I recommend reading anything by William Shakespeare as he is a very notable figure in literature.

I truly hope that you now understand the importance of classical literature, and why the joy it brings to us many years later is something that should be continued for many years to come.

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