I’m bringing back sexy…classics

I’m sure when people are reading my posts about classic books most of them are looking for something to help them with an assignment, but I like to think that my reviews of these books are encouraging people to give them another chance. Or, they’re learning which ones are going to stay stuck in the past.

From The Prisoner of Zenda

Within the last two weeks, I’ve read examples of both. I read Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) because I’d heard so much about it and because I was in the mood to have some swashes buckled. I read Vicente Blasco Ibáñez’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1916) because I read an interesting review of it over at Kahn’s Corner. (My review is forthcoming.) Both of these books have been forgotten. In the case of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, I fear that the conflict that inspired it is becoming forgotten, too.

I can understand why The Prisoner of Zenda was left behind. It’s a tale of adventure, not very deep, and shows its age when it comes to Hope’s portrayal of women. But it’s still a ripping yarn, and I think it ought to be mentioned among A List adventure tales like Treasure Island or The Three Musketeers.

From The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921 film)

I’m not sure why The Four Horsemen isn’t more talked about and written about. But then, very little literature from World War I seems to be discussed anymore. It’s not the easiest book to read, but it’s an amazing portrayal of the cultural and psychological shock people experienced when World War I broke out and turned into the brutal, soul-killing conflict that it became. But I suspect that because this is such a tough read, I don’t think very many people are going to jump at the chance to read this.

Earlier this year, I read Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey. In the case of this book (and Brontë’s other book The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), I think there were two things working against them. First, I think they were so brutally honest that people at the time couldn’t handle them. They uncovered very unpleasant truths about Regency life. And, second, I think she’s been overshadowed by her sisters’ work. How does one compete with Jane Eyre, after all?

When I was an English major (and yes, you can make the argument that once a person is an English major, they’ll always been an English major), I never liked critical methods that asked the scholar to look at the text without its context. I never believed that writers could create anything in a vacuum. To my way of thinking, these books tells us as much about the author’s time and setting as much as they do about the characters and the story of the novel. Reading what people liked (Zenda) and reading commentary about a generation (Horsemen) and the books that people couldn’t handle at the time (Agnes Grey) creates links to the past–even if it’s via fiction.


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