At the beginning of 2020, I set a goal to read more classics. In 2019, I read one or two classics, and that was fine with me. But for this year, I decided to try to fit in a couple more than usual, and I even made a list. Now, of course, I didn’t stick to said list, but I did manage to read six classics (19th century or earlier). With no further ado, let’s talk classics.
Classics I Read This Year
- Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
- Persuasion by Jane Austen
- The Iliad by Homer
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
While I enjoyed all six classics I read this year, a few stood out more than others. My enjoyment of the Little Women reading experience was definitely impacted by having watched the 2019 film adaptation (which is amazing!) first, and I’d say my enjoyment of The Iliad was likewise impacted by my having read Song of Achilles (which is also amazing!) prior. Persuasion, as with all the Austen books I’ve read, was wonderful, but it wasn’t my favorite read of hers thus far. So, that leaves three standouts! Here are my top three classics from this year with a few brief thoughts and summaries.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray was my first read of 2020 – started the year off well! More than just a spooky story of a man and a portrait, Dorian Gray is a scathing review society and the ways in which corruption breeds both from within and without. Highly quotable, I found the commentary on art and societal pressure to be thought-provoking and a little terrifying. This was my introduction to Wilde, and I plan on picking up more of his writing soon.
Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for astute social observation and sparkling prose to The Picture of Dorian Gray, his dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. This dandy, who remains forever unchanged; petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral; while a painting of him ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years, has been horrifying, enchanting, obsessing, even corrupting readers for more than a hundred years.
Taking the reader in and out of London drawing rooms, to the heights of aestheticism, and to the depths of decadence, The Picture of Dorian Gray is not only a melodrama about moral corruption. Laced with bon mots and vivid depictions of upper-class refinement, it is also a fascinating look at the milieu of Wilde’s fin-de-siècle world and a manifesto of the creed “Art for Art’s Sake.”
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
If you’re like me, you probably know about Frankenstein’s Monster, but if you’re also like me, you likely didn’t know the original story. Reading Frankenstein for the first time was a journey. Shelley’s emphasis on intellect, power, nature and nurture came to life in Victor Frankenstein and his monster, and readers are asked to think critically about what monstrosity means in a society that thrives on uniformity and shuns otherness. As with Wilde, this was my introduction to Shelley, and I’ll be seeking out more of her work, along with the pivotal A Vindication of the Writes of Woman by her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.
Mary Shelley’s seminal novel of the scientist whose creation becomes a monster. This edition is the original 1818 text, which preserves the hard-hitting and politically charged aspects of Shelley’s original writing, as well as her unflinching wit and strong female voice. This edition also includes a new introduction and suggestions for further reading by author and Shelley expert Charlotte Gordon, literary excerpts and reviews selected by Gordon and a chronology and essay by preeminent Shelley scholar Charles E. Robinson.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Reading A Tale of Two Cities, I had an experience I had never had – I cried reading a classic. Yes, this brutal but hopeful novel brought me to tears, something not even my beloved Wuthering Heights had achieved. Set against the French Revolution, Dickens’ novel chronicles the brutality, violence, love and hope in both the public revolution and private revelations of A Tale of Two Cities. I know this novel, my introduction to Dickens, will stay with me for a long while, and though it is a difficult choice, I’d have to say A Tale of Two Cities was my favorite classics of 2020. There are some issues that I have with this work, but overall, this was one of my favorite reading experiences of the past year.
After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.
Well, there you have it! Did you read any classics this year? What was your favorite? Let me know!