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Great classics


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#31 canbelto

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Posted 23 July 2004 - 06:38 AM

Any collection of Chekhov short stories.
Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
Cervantes - Don Quixote. Read it ALL. Reading some of it will make you think it's a joke/satire, which it certainly is not. It's not until you read all of it that you realize Cervantes' own intense identification with the Don.
Jane Austen - any book, but Emma is probably the book to begin with.
Dickens - Great Expectations
Edith Wharton - Age of Innocence, House of Mirth, Ethan Frome
Mark Twain - Huckleberry Finn
Henry James - Turn of the Screw
Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights

And this is a purely personal opinion, but Sylvia Plath poems are a must-read too.

#32 Lovebird

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Posted 01 August 2004 - 02:26 PM

The Complete works of Shakespeare
The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham
The Complete Poems of T.S Eliot
Brighton Rock by Grahame Greene
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Poems of John Donne
Up at the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
A Room with a View by E.M Forster
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
All of the novels by Dickens

#33 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 11 September 2007 - 08:24 PM

Oh,well...here's a rough amd truncated very first choices list:


Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment

Flaubert: Madame Bovary

Tolstoy: Anna Karenina

Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Hemingway: Farewell to arms

Cervantes: Don Quijote

Proust: In search of a Lost Time

Faulkner: Wild Palms

Zola: Therese Raquin

Balzac: Lost Illusions

Stendhal: The Red and The Black

#34 bart

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 08:00 AM

Thanks for reviving this thread, cubanmiamiboy. It's interesting to see what people have included in their lists.

I'd agree with all of yours except perhaps Threres Raquin. The setting is so claustrophoic. For those who want to test the waters of Zola in his darker, bleaker, social-critical mode, , I'd go with Germinal, which opens up the world to include the struggles between coal miners and owners/managers in northern France. (A good French film was made of this about 10 years ago. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107002/)

For those who want something with more glamourous subject matter, though with those hopeless situations and bleak conclusions so characteristic of Zola, how about Nana (rise and fall of a Parisian courtesan during the reign of Napoleon III) or Au bonheur des dames (translated as The Ladies' Paradise)? It takes place in the fascinating sub-culture of one of the first Parisian department stores.)

I noticed that a number of posters mentioned Moby Dick. Recently, on another thread, one of our members mentioned that he and his wife are now reading Moby Dick aloud to each other. I blush to confess that my own attempt to get through the entire novel long ago was rather like I imagine trying to chew my way through a large plate of asbestos shingles: s-l-o-w, difficult, and far from tasty.

Lastly, I agree with canbelto about Cervantes' Don Quijote:

Cervantes - Don Quixote. Read it ALL. Reading some of it will make you think it's a joke/satire, which it certainly is not. It's not until you read all of it that you realize Cervantes' own intense identification with the Don.

Whereas I actually came to dread the sight of Moby Dick on my desk, I quickly began to look forward to entering the world of Don Q each time I picked him up.

Itd helped that, as I read the book, I had just seen the classic Russian film -- http://www.imdb.com/...26/usercomments -- so I had eerie and beautiful images of late 16th-century Spain indelibly engraved in my head.

If you follow canbelto's advice, when you finally arrive at the conclusion, the Death of Don Quijote, you will feel like you're losing a great friend, one who has learned and grown from experience, and both regrets and accepts the self-delusions that are so much a part of life. As Sancho Panza says, "Oh, don't die, dear master. Take my advice and live many years."

#35 sidwich

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 12:51 PM

Plato, The Republic
Chaucer, Canterbury Tales
Milton, Paradise Lost
Marlowe, Faust
Shakespeare, Othello, King Lear, MacBeth, As You Like It, the "Henry" tetralogy, (Richard II, Henry IV, Part I, Henry IV, Part II, Henry V, ...
Machiavelli, The Prince
Austen, Emma
Twain, Huckleberry Finn
Wharton, The House of Mirth
Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman

And I have to say that I absolutely abhorred "Great Expectations" in high school to the point where I flat out told my English teacher that I refused to read the second half of it (I still got an "A" in the class). However, I think that if you are going to read it, by all means, do yourself the favor of reading "David Copperfield" first. "Great Expectations" makes much more sense read in light of the previously-written "David Copperfield." By the same token, reading (or watching) Shakespeare's "Henry" plays together greatly, greatly enrichens the total experience.

#36 Ray

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 02:26 PM

Plato, The Republic
Chaucer, Canterbury Tales
Milton, Paradise Lost
Marlowe, Faust
Shakespeare, Othello, King Lear, MacBeth, As You Like It, the "Henry" tetralogy, (Richard II, Henry IV, Part I, Henry IV, Part II, Henry V, ...
Machiavelli, The Prince
Austen, Emma
Twain, Huckleberry Finn
Wharton, The House of Mirth
Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman


Most lists, like this one, shy away from anything between Milton and Emma--i.e., Hobbes, Locke, Pope, Swift, Defoe, Sterne, Rousseau, Richardson, Fielding, Voltaire, Hume, etc. No "classics" there?

#37 artspatron07

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 02:47 PM

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

#38 bart

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 03:27 PM

Most lists, like this one, shy away from anything between Milton and Emma--i.e., Hobbes, Locke, Pope, Swift, Defoe, Sterne, Rousseau, Richardson, Fielding, Voltaire, Hume, etc. No "classics" there?

Good question. I notice that everyone on your list except Hobbes could be considered a writer of the 18th century. Readers nowadays do tend to flee from the 18th century, it seems. (Although we've recently had a brief discussion of Liaisons Dangereuse on another thread, and Rousseau remains a kind of best seller in the area of women's studies (Julie, etc.).

Our age is many things, but an "Age of Reason" it is not.

Also, the definition of "classics" does tend to change from decade to decade. The lists I was given in college in the 60s probably have very little in common with the lists that are handed out now in the same school.

Thinking about it, do people really even talk about "the classics" any more? I mean -- in the sense that there is an agreed upon body of work that every educated person should address at some point in his or her life? It seems like things are a lot more a matter of individual taste ("my own personal classics") nowadays.

Sticking works of fiction, I suppose some of the finest 18th-century writers are known to people today mostly through performance pieces based on their written work -- the Leonard Bernstein (et al.) Candide for Voltaire, the Tony Richardson 1960s film of Tom Jones for Fielding, the '90s film of Defoe's Moll Flanders (great Stockard Channing and Morgan Freeman), lots of versions of Gulliver's Travels for Swift. Not to mention the Mozart and Rossini operas based on Beaumarchais's Figaro plays.

#39 papeetepatrick

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 05:06 PM

Most lists, like this one, shy away from anything between Milton and Emma--i.e., Hobbes, Locke, Pope, Swift, Defoe, Sterne, Rousseau, Richardson, Fielding, Voltaire, Hume, etc. No "classics" there?

Good question. I notice that everyone on your list except Hobbes could be considered a writer of the 18th century. Readers nowadays do tend to flee from the 18th century, it seems. (Although we've recently had a brief discussion of Liaisons Dangereuse on another thread, and Rousseau remains a kind of best seller in the area of women's studies (Julie, etc.).

Our age is many things, but an "Age of Reason" it is not.


I've read lots of 18th century things, and if you read French, you should read some Crebillon fils, such as 'L'Ecumoire', a hilarious racy fairy tale. Also some Sade if you can stand it--if you really want to understand 18th century France; 'Eugenie Franval' if you can't take the filth. Tristram Shandy is definitely de rigueur, and I need to get to Sterne's Italian journeys essays. Love Defoe for 'Moll Flanders' and Fielding always for Tom Jones. Never have read 'Roxana', this will remind me. And more Pope, I need to take some time for that. Always loved 'Candide' and 'Zadig'.

I skimmed through the thread and all named were classics, I believe. It has to do with what we prefer after that's settled (as usual). I don't care for Edith Wharton's prose, it's sort of bitter-sounding in its execution, but do like some of the screen treatments. Consider Faulkner and Hemingway great, esp. 'Absalom! Absalom!' for the former and 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' for the latter. Proust, Joyce, definitely Homer, and the Iliad even more than the Odyssey, it's more muscular. Agree with cubanmiamiboy about 'The Wild Palms' of Faulkner, I've read most of his novels, they are all magnificent. Terrible gaps include Dante, Moby Dick, and Don Quixote. For those of you enamoured of Don Quixote, Martin Amis writes a most amusing essay on how hard it was for him to get through it. Made me not want to read it, and I did try once. Which reminds me: 'Lolita' of Nabokov--indispensable. Amis said 'Lolita is sometimes maybe too good for its own good', which I adored.

#40 sidwich

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 05:19 PM

Most lists, like this one, shy away from anything between Milton and Emma--i.e., Hobbes, Locke, Pope, Swift, Defoe, Sterne, Rousseau, Richardson, Fielding, Voltaire, Hume, etc. No "classics" there?


I think these lists are inevitably based on personal preferences, and mine is definitely away from 18th Century literature. You'll notice, mine is also very, very light on American literature as well, which is something that my advisor in college used to deplore. All those authors you listed are well worth reading (as well as Jefferson's "Declaration of Independence"), but not particularly what I personally would casually recommend to someone to get started on because they're not particularly works that I enjoy just to pick up and read.

#41 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 05:46 PM

Love Defoe for 'Moll Flanders' .

Yes! :clapping: I loved Moll Flanders too!, God, was she outreagous!

definitely Homer, and the Iliad even more than the Odyssey, it's more muscular.

Those were mandatory when i was in high school, but back then i was just devouring all the XIX russian and french literature that i could get...it wasn't 'till college that i got into Homer...for good.

Agree with cubanmiamiboy about 'The Wild Palms' of Faulkner, I've read most of his novels, they are all magnificent.

I know! Every time i reread some pages of the Harry and Charlotte’s doomed love affair, i just get amazed at its long, hypnotic phrases and brilliant tone.

For those of you enamoured of Don Quixote, Martin Amis writes a most amusing essay on how hard it was for him to get through it. Made me not want to read it, and I did try once.

I would like to add that I was able to read this amazing tale in an excelent adition in its original language,spanish, which is also my first language, so i guess that that's a plus when trying to get into it...

#42 Ray

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 06:27 PM

I think these lists are inevitably based on personal preferences, and mine is definitely away from 18th Century literature. You'll notice, mine is also very, very light on American literature as well, which is something that my advisor in college used to deplore. All those authors you listed are well worth reading (as well as Jefferson's "Declaration of Independence"), but not particularly what I personally would casually recommend to someone to get started on because they're not particularly works that I enjoy just to pick up and read.


Fielding's Joseph Andrews is one of the funniest books I ever read--not to mention Tom Jones.

#43 Farrell Fan

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 06:52 PM

Speaking of 18th Century literature makes me think of Tristram Shandy, written by Lauremce Sterne between 1759 and 1767. Has anyone here read it? Or even attempted it? It will demolish forever whatever ideas you may have about what an 18th Century novel is. It remains perpetually avant garde. Unfortunately, as is the case with more recent avant garde novels, I've never been able to finish it.

#44 papeetepatrick

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 07:05 PM

Speaking of 18th Century literature makes me think of Tristram Shandy, written by Lauremce Sterne between 1759 and 1767. Has anyone here read it? Or even attempted it? It will demolish forever whatever ideas you may have about what an 18th Century novel is. It remains perpetually avant garde. Unfortunately, as is the case with more recent avant garde novels, I've never been able to finish it.


Yes, Farrell Fan, I mentioned it in a clump of others above, and I agree with you, it is the most difficult, thorny novel I have ever read. I read all of Proust's Recherches in 2 months, but it took me 3 1/2 years to get through Tristram Shandy, but you feel like you deserved an Honorary Knighthood when it was finally done. NOW--I must make plans to reread it, which should be a great and well-earned pleasure. I cared little for that movie from 2006, the Cock and Bull Story about a film company trying to make the impossible film of Tristram Shandy, but it's always spoken of as being very cinematic.

I left out all my favourite female fiction writers, most of whom are American and 20th century: all of Flannery O'Connor's incredible stories, Carson McCullers--all of it, but esp. Reflections in a Golden Eye and Ballad of the Sad Cafe, and Joan Didion--all of it, but The White Album and The Last Thing He Wanted by far the most.

Also like Robbe-Grillet quite a lot, and with things moving as they are, these 'nouveaux romans' can probably be called classics by now, even if Saul Bellow denounced them.

#45 canbelto

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Posted 13 September 2007 - 07:03 AM

If you follow canbelto's advice, when you finally arrive at the conclusion, the Death of Don Quijote, you will feel like you're losing a great friend, one who has learned and grown from experience, and both regrets and accepts the self-delusions that are so much a part of life. As Sancho Panza says, "Oh, don't die, dear master. Take my advice and live many years."


Also, by the end of the novel, I think you kind of start to realize that the Don's dreamy, idealistic nature is at times laughable, but overall it's a balm and respite from the cynicism and ugliness of the "real world." That's an idea that still resonates today, as does the idea that everyone can learn from each other. The Dons of the world can learn from the Sanchos, and vice versa. The plea for people not to be judgmental of each other is also a very modern idea.


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