The impact of the COVID-19 can be felt in all areas of our lives, with many staying at home for the next few weeks. Perhaps this is an opportunity to finally start your copy of War & Peace that’s been on the to-be-read pile for years or you find yourself revisiting old friends in Jane Austen’s world. Classics can provide comfort and escape in these uncertain times and we’ve compiled a short list of some of our favourites.
- Middlemarch George Eliot
George Eliot follows the fortunes of the town’s central characters as they find, lose, and rediscover ideals and vocations in the world. Through its psychologically rich portraits, the novel contains some of the great characters of literature, including the idealistic but naïve Dorothea Brooke, beautiful and egotistical Rosamund Vincy, the dry scholar Edward Casaubon, the wise and grounded Mary Garth, and the brilliant but proud Dr Lydgate. In its whole view of a society, Middlemarch offers enduring insight into the pains and pleasures of life with others, and explores nearly every subject of concern to modern life: art, religion, science, politics, self, society, and, above all, human relationships.
- Little Women Louisa May Alcott
Little Women has remained enduringly popular since its publication in 1868, becoming the inspiration for a whole genre of family stories. Set in a small New England community, it tells of the March family: Marmee looks after daughters in the absence of her husband, who is serving as an army chaplain in the Civil War, and Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy experience domestic trials and triumphs as they attempt to supplement the family’s small income. In the second part of the novel (sometimes known as Good Wives) the girls grow up and fall in love.
- David Copperfield Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens wrote the book after the completion of a fragment of autobiography recalling his employment as a child in a London warehouse, and in the first-person narrative, a new departure for him, realized marvellously the workings of memory. The embodiment of his boyhood experience in the novel involved a “complicated interweaving of truth and fiction,” at its most subtle in the portrait of his father as Mr. Micawber, one of Dickens’s greatest comic creations. Enjoying a humour that never becomes caricature, the reader shares David’s affection for the eccentric Betsey Trotwood and her protégé Mr. Dick, and smiles with the narrator at the trials he endures in his love for the delightfully silly Dora.
- Orlando Virginia Woolf
Orlando tells the tale of an extraordinary individual who lives through centuries of English history, first as a man, then as a woman; of his/her encounters with queens, kings, novelists, playwrights, and poets, and of his/her struggle to find fame and immortality not through actions, but through the written word. At its heart are the life and works of Virginia Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West, and Knole, the historic country house of the Sackvilles. But as well as being a love letter to Vita, Orlando mocks the conventions of biography and history, teases the pretensions of contemporary men of letters, and wryly examines sexual double standards.
- Sherlock Holmes (Selected Stories) Arthur Conan Doyle
For more than a century the Sherlock Holmes stories have held a strange, almost inexplicable grip on the popular imagination. They are intimately associated with late Victorian and Edwardian society, yet curiously timeless in their appeal. The characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, together with their housekeeper Mrs. Hudson and their address at 221B Baker Street are as familiar today as when they made their first appearance in the late 1880s. The stories have been endlessly interpreted, adapted, and modernized, but still it is to Arthur Conan Doyle’s originals that we return.
- Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson
When a mysterious seafarer puts up at the Admiral Benbow, young Jim Hawkins is haunted by his frightening tales; the sailor’s sudden death is the beginning of one of the most exciting adventure stories in literature. The discovery of a treasure map sets Jim and his companions in search of buried gold, and they are soon on board the Hispaniola with a crew of buccaneers recruited by the one-legged sea cook known as Long John Silver. As they near their destination, and the lure of Captain Flint’s treasure grows ever stronger, Jim’s courage and wits are tested to the full.
- Collected Ghost Stories M. R. James
Considered by many to be the most terrifying writer in English, M. R. James was an eminent scholar who spent his entire adult life in the academic surroundings of Eton and Cambridge. His classic supernatural tales draw on the terrors of the everyday, in which documents and objects unleash terrible forces, often in closed rooms and night-time settings where imagination runs riot. Lonely country houses, remote inns, ancient churches or the manuscript collections of great libraries provide settings for unbearable menace, from creatures seeking retribution and harm. These stories have lost none of their power to unsettle and disturb.
These books showcase some of our favourite classic titles that we will be reading over the next few weeks. Do you have a favourite classic tale that you want to reread?
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