Very intimidating classics

9:23 AM

The Classics Club asked: "What classic piece of literature most intimidates you, and why? Are you intimidated by the classics, and why?"

I love the classics and consider them to be the most rewarding books. So, in general, I don't find the category "the classics" very intimidating.

But there are some titles and authors that are very intimidating to me. I divide them in these three categories:
  • Epic poems

It doesn't matter when or where they were written. The length, the language, the historical background, the fact that they are written in verse... All these things combined make epic poems very tough to read. I forced myself to include The Illiad, The Odissey and The Divine Comedy in my reading list but I didn't have enough courage to include The Faerie Queene.

Maybe this stems from a minor college trauma when I had to present a seminar about Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon. Reading the books and researching about them was the hardest thing ever. Beowulf is also an epic poem, which makes it doubly intimidating. In my reading list, I wasn't so harsh with myself and put The Canterbury Tales, written in Middle English.
  • Modern madness

Don't get me wrong, the title of this category is not meant as an insult. But, just between you and me, the works of T. S. Eliot and James Joyce are impossible to read. To tell you the truth, I read and read and read Eliot's famous poem The Waste Land. In the end I only managed to quote parts of it like "Oh, oh, oh, those Shakespearean rags!" and "April is the cruelest month" in conversations. Mostly in conversations with myself, but still. 

What are the books that intimidate you? Do you make an effort to read them nevertheless?

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  1. I think I've mentioned my feelings about Dickens before, though I'm not sure if it's "intimidation" at this stage or just weariness. I keep telling myself I should try him again...

    I hear you about the classics such as Homer. I always feel like I should get more acquainted with them - I know barely enough about the classics to get by when they're referenced in other literature.

    The Waste Land - what can I say? It is tough. You have to read it many times over many years and partly unpack all the references, partly let it wash over you... I admit it took me some time to get to a stage where I had a lot of enjoyment in it, but now I enjoy it immensely. If you haven't read his Practical Cats poems, those are lovely and accessible.

    Sadly I think I had more patience for enormous classics when I was younger. With some of them I may have left it too late. Because of my name, I get asked if I've read the great 18th century novel Clarissa...and I haven't. The 18th century was never my thing, to be honest...

  2. Hi Clarissa, I actually never read anything from Dickens... But I've heard that his books are quite difficult to read.

    It's interesting what you said about having more patience for classics at a younger age. In my case, I remember having classes about Homer that were incredibly interesting. I really don't want to read him by myself!

    While writing this post I heard a recording of T. S. Eliot reading The Waste Land and I quite enjoy it. I guess it just baffles me so much, I prefer to leave it aside. Thanks for the recommendation on Practical Cats, I'll definitely look it up.

    And how funny that people ask you if you've read Clarissa... I never did, but I read parts of Richardson's Pamela and it seems very dense. Apart from Robinson Crusoe, I'm not that big fan of 18th century novels either. xx

  3. War and Peace, simply because of the length. I could read five other life-changing books in the time it would take me to read that thing! Plus, Tolstoy's not really my bag, philosophically. More of a Dostoevsky type. But I still may yet give in and read it.

    1. I remember when my sister was reading War and Peace she was also a little impatient with the size and the plot. I actually never even tried reading that, though I read some of Tolstoy's shorter works like The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I liked it, but I also prefer Dostoevsky - which can be quite intimidating himself! xx

  4. Yeah, old english is intimidating. I mean, I tried to read ''a christmas carol'' and failed badly! I don't even want to think about Beowulf..

    1. It was a bit frustrating to me to read Beowulf, actually. Old English and other types of archaic language (hello Camoes!) are so difficult! xx


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