This month is the birth month of one of the greatest romance writers in all of history; Jane Austen. She has an impeccable ability to capture her audience, typically us gushing female romantics all looking for Mr Darcy, sending them back to an eighteenth century English countryside. Her books, from the well known Pride and Prejudice to the lesser known posthumous published novel Northanger Abbey, will forever be part of book club discussions, classroom critiques, and collector’s collections.
Recalling her work and her life have inspired my thoughts about all classic literature. The classics range from fiction and nonfiction to children’s stories. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Grimm brothers and Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and then more modern classics such as Eric Carle’s picture books. Seen as how what determines a story a classic isn’t necessarily fixed, what makes a story “classic” very well may be in the eye of the reader.
What makes a book a classic to you? Is it the timeless tale of love, the humor, or the triumph over evil? How about the moral lesson obscurely evoked upon our children? For me, a book becomes a classic when it enters my heart and holds fast to those heart strings. Such as Amelia Bedelia, a modern classic. I grew up reading all about her mixed up goofiness. I have since began adding her stories (the original ones written by Peggy Parish) to my own library and share this rare misfit with my children. Another modern classic I appreciate is Roald Dahl (see my article titled Choosing Favorites: Authors).
One way literature becomes classic and hits the mainstream is through Hollywood. I can’t even count how many different versions of Pride and Prejudice have been recreated into a moving picture. Children’s literature too is recreated into movie form, making a classic story come to visual life (such as C.S. Lewis’ the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe). I wonder though, is Hollywood tainting the purity of classic literature with the retelling through visual stimuli? Students may never read the book War and Peace because they can easily watch the 1956 version on their computers via Netflix. Why attempt to understand Shakespeare when his most well known works have all been reproduced by Hollywood?
What classic novel or story book have you wanted to read and haven’t? How about a favorite that you haven’t read in a while? Although I can get a quick Mr Darcy fix by watching A&E’s version of Pride and Prejudice in just under six hours, no director or actor can ever replace the purity of Austen’s words when she describes how Darcy looks upon Jane. Nothing will ever be able to replace a timeless tale. No copycats or mimicry will do; only the real deal.