"There is no demand for great people," he said. "I can't say why, but this fact is simply obvious to me. Famous, notable, popular — yes. But not great, in the fullest sense of the word."
This is a related to some of Nietzsche's ubermensch obsession with 'Zarathustra', an extraordinary text (and not nearly so difficult IMO as some people I know have perceived it), as well as his expressed belief that the Greeks were interesting because conditions allowed them to produce great individuals, and they're not making them like they used to. That's a different meaning from the above quote--which refers to something more humane, but still, there have been Nelson Mandela and Jimmy
Carter, among many others-- but either seem sometimes true, sometimes not. Flattening out of society and individuals is often discussed in intellectual circles, and it's impossible not to notice a lot of it. I don't believe it in either case, although there is a lot of trash and mediocrity.
Never read any Zola, Dumas or Hugo, and probably won't get to it, but read 'Pere Goriot' around the same time as cygneblanc, and
thought it was gripping, as is
'Cousine Bette' . The stories and discussions and popularizations and extravaganzas of Dumas and Hugo, etc., or so all-pervasive that I don't feel the need to read them through
(same with 'Don Quixote', most likely, which Martin Amis found the most maddening to ever get through of the old Big "God Books") gven that there are so many other things that seem more crucial, but I do feel the need to get to Stendahl, The Red and the Black
, which Cristian mentioned.
I've read a fair amount of Dickens, but don't really love any of it but 'Oliver Twist'. Have
read most of Faulkner, but 'A Fable' is especially demanding, I may or may not get to it. He's always profound and trenchant, and I think 'Absalom! Absalom!' is the best to see Faulkner at his most magnificently powerful, without some of the difficulties you encounter with novels like 'The Sound and the Fury', although that's worth it too, and 'Light in August' is close to perfect.
Doubt if I will care to struggle with 'Finnegan's Wake', but 'Ulysses' is definitely worth tje effort (especially 'Sirens' and 'Circe' and that amazing writing he does for the lame girl romanticizing,
'Nausicaa'), and I recommend Edna O'Brien's excellent book on it in order to get through it..
May want to read Willa Cather at some point, have not done so. Of Dreiser, I have very much liked 'The Bulwark'.
Most things I haven't read haven't been because they were ultimately too difficult, but because of lack of time for reading everything. Of difficult things completed, I'd definitely say 'Tristram Shandy' was the most maddening, and took me 3 1/2 years. I read the Recherches of Proust in 2 months, admittedly all of it first in English. But that's several thousand pages; I thought Sterne was much more forbidding, because there is almost no sensuosity to this kind of writing.