Hello my fellow wordsmiths and page turners,

I don’t believe there is a more poignant quote to sum up the subject of Classics, that that of Mark Twain.

“A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”

Mark Twain

Classics are considered difficult to read as they have a habit of making the reader feel uncomfortable. I feel that this is because they force the reader into an unfamiliar place and time by using outdated language, themes and often contain extreme views on taboo subjects such as slavery, racism and murder. 

Most of us today will never experience slavery, mental illness, starvation, rape, horrendous prison conditions or concentration camps. Some of us will never even know, first-hand, what it means to be hindered or outright oppressed by factors we have no control over such as skin colour, gender or sexual orientation but for those around in the time of the classics these were rife and often feature in the literature of the period, which can be unsettling to the reader.

Classics can really take you out of your element, but in return make you thankful for the things we have in modern society.  Such as modes of modern transport, cellular technology, dole/financial relief, and the NHS. All of these were not present during the time of classics, a person couldn’t get a message of crucial importance to the army quickly, they had to send a runner often across enemy lines or under pursuit of the enemy. The little old lady could not freely see a doctor, as they were few and far between and mainly based in large towns and cities, and if she was a person of colour she couldn’t see most doctors period. 

The difficulty modern readers encounter in reading a classic all boils down to context. Or, rather, lack the context to understand and appreciate classics. We tend to lack context for many classics in several respects.

  • Prose and Style of writing
  • Historical Settings and Culture of the period
  • Plot & Point of view
  • Symbolism

Context is key, as without it most classics are mind-boggling. But should you have the context and be willing to do a little side research along the way, reading a classic could be a very gratifying experience.

Classics are a mirror that shows us not just as we really are, but also our true background and the rest of the world around us. They challenge us to unite across time and distance, and that is what in my opinion make the classics so vital to our culture as a whole.

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