Friday, September 20, 2013

British Literature That Doesn’t Suck

Remember that Brit Lit class you took in college?  If yours was anything like mine, you spent a lot of time staring blankly at your professor and reading Sparknotes chapter summaries.  Then, all of the books you read that semester blurred in to one long, boring dinner party scene the second you got the final exam in your hand.  When it was all over, you never wanted to read anything classified as “Brit Lit” again.

Even though my Brit Lit classes generally sucked, I think that reading classics—even the British ones—is good for you.  If you’re looking to get back in to reading Brit Lit, here are a few books that don’t suck to get you started.

Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë – First published in 1847.
Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine's father. After Mr. Earnshaw's death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine's brother, Hindley, and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

Why I don’t think it sucks: memorable characters and violence.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass – Lewis Carroll – First published in 1865.

Weary of her storybook, one "without pictures or conversations," the young and imaginative Alice follows a hasty hare underground--to come face-to-face with some of the strangest adventures and most fantastic characters in all of literature.

The Ugly Duchess, the Mad Hatter, the weeping Mock Turtle, the diabolical Queen of Hearts, the Cheshire Cat--each more eccentric than the last--could only have come from that master of sublime nonsense, Lewis Carroll.

Why I don’t think it sucks: clever, funny, still relevant in modern time, and the book is much better than the movies.

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde – First published in 1890.

Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting influence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment. Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.”

Why I don’t think it sucks: creepy and easier than many classics to understand.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy – First published in 1891.

The chance discovery by a young peasant woman that she is a descendant of the noble family of d'Urbervilles is to change the course of her life. Tess Durbeyfield leaves home on the first of her fateful journeys, and meets the ruthless Alec d'Urberville. Thomas Hardy's impassioned story tells of hope and disappointment, rejection and enduring love.

Why I don’t think it sucks: you’ll never forget how this one ends.
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley – First published in 1932.
Far in the future, the World Controllers have finally created the ideal society. In laboratories worldwide, genetic science has brought the human race to perfection. From the Alpha-Plus mandarin class to the Epsilon-Minus Semi-Morons, designed to perform menial tasks, man is bred and educated to be blissfully content with his pre-destined role.

But, in the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, Bernard Marx is unhappy. Harbouring an unnatural desire for solitude, feeling only distaste for the endless pleasures of compulsory promiscuity, Bernard has an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress. . .

A fantasy of the future that sheds a blazing critical light on the present--considered to be Aldous Huxley's most enduring masterpiece.

Why I don’t think it sucks: still relevant in modern time and a memorable plot.

Please note that this is not a complete list of British Literature that doesn’t suck.  These are just a few of my favorites.  Also, please note that I stole the book summaries from GoodReads because I’m at a writing conference and didn’t have time to write my own.



No comments:

Post a Comment