Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday Salon: Tackling the Classics

I hope that none of you are groaning--another Sunday Salon post--and I'm still talking on and on about classics...

I'm currently reading THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO by Ann Radcliffe and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexandre Dumas. I'm also *trying* to get into A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens. For those that can't remember that far back, I wrote a post about Dickens earlier in the year. And my thoughts haven't magically transformed since then.

First things first....

The Mysteries of Udolpho.

The cons: I'm reading the Penguin edition of this one. Even though I paid around $14 for this one (on Amazon) the print is still teeny tiny. I really *wish* someone at Penguin would have had an "aha" moment and said, "I think we should make the font bigger--big enough that the average reader--even if it means adding on another hundred pages." Seriously. I've had other Penguin classics novels in the past, and they all seemed to be nice. Nice paper. Nice font size. A generally nice edition to own. Like someone at the publishing company cared about their readers. This one, not so much.

The pros: EVEN though the print is teeny tiny--a real headache-causing squint--I soon found myself in love with this one. I'll admit that the first chapter didn't jump out and hook me. It wasn't love at first sight or anything. But by the second or third chapter, I was definitely hooked. I'm a little over 200 pages into it now, and I'm loving it. I'm having to pace myself. Remind myself that my duty is to read YA books--2008 books--not eighteenth century classics. So I'm limiting it to a chapter or two (or three) a day.

I think it says a great deal that a text--any text--can overcome the detriment of bad sizing. Also in this edition, at least in my copy, the book is in serious need of toner. You know how it is to read bad photocopies where the printing is so light you have to almost will it to be visible. It's like that. Still, after the third or so chapter, I'd gotten used to it.

My observations: The people at Amazon are kinder than the ones on Good Reads. I guess it all comes down to expectations, patience, and common sense. 

Part of me wonders why people get annoyed when characters in classics--books written three hundred years ago (or 200 or 100 or whatever)--don't act like modern-day people. Get annoyed with women characters that aren't in-your-face-feminists with an agenda of independence and stamina. Get annoyed with the situations. I mean it's perfectly fine if they don't feel the book, the author is relevant to their own lives, their own experiences, etc. But why place modern expectations onto old books, onto classics? The problem with a good many historical fiction novels published today is that they've got characters with modern sensibilities all dressed up in costumes but ultimately just playing make believe. They're not authentic.

The thing that irritates me about some of these Good Reads reviews is that they whine on and on and on about how HORRIBLE and AWFUL it is that the heroine cries. Excuse me, but think about it. Her mother dies. Her father dies. She's forced to live with a bitchy woman she's never met before. Forced to break up with her love, her betrothed. Forced to move cross country. Her witch of an aunt has married a crazy, cruel man with bad intentions--and folks think that the character is being too melodramatic by crying about it??? I know many people living in the here and now who'd be crying if life tossed so many things their way. Many people cry for much less of a reason.

The other thing that gets misinterpreted (in a way) is the descriptive writing. I think most people (almost all readers) will say they're bored or annoyed with all the descriptions of the scenery, of the locale. I think they fail to consider the original audience. A) Travel writing was big. B) Ordinary people didn't get around to see all these places. They couldn't just catch a bus, take plane, take a road trip. Some people travelled, yes, but extensively and routinely? Maybe the wealthy could afford to take long vacations and tour countries and whatnot...but ordinary folks...I'm guessing they didn't get out so much. And Radcliffe's descriptions might be their way of "seeing" outside their own world.

Now on to the Count of Monte Cristo. This one started slow. I should mention that I'm reading the unabridged edition of this one. I'd recommend the abridged version for most folks. And the movie for those that are really....well, lazy isn't quite the right word. If the option is watch the movie or never ever read the book and go through life without knowing the story of this one...I'd go with the movie. Yes, the book is better. But the story is one that is worth knowing...

So, it started out a bit boring. I was really envious of the abridged version. But eventually it began to improve. I'm still not finished with it yet. I'm not even halfway through yet. But I'm getting there slowly but surely.
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Anonymous said...

Read Count of Monte Cristo last year and LOVED it. I can't believe how quickly I flew through it.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the process of reading through several of the Dumas books I own, and I'm planning to wrap it up with The Count of Monte Cristo. I'm really looking forward to it. Good luck with it!

Anonymous said...

Becky: I have The Mysteries of Udolpho to read in one of the challenges in which I'm participating also. I look forward to hearing more about what you have to say later.

As for Dickens, I'm "working" my way through Great Expectations, and not sure how much I'm enjoying it either, although I understand why it's a classic. It's the same recently with Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. It didn't "grab" me, but I understood why it was an international bestseller; basically, it's an allegory, and I saw what he was trying to do, but it didn't completely work for me.

Amanda said...

I'll have to pick up The Mysteries of Udolpho...sounds like a book I'd enjoy. And The Count of Monte Cristo is my favorite book. I was so disappointed with the's not at ALL like the book. I think they just stole the title and character names...sigh. I hope you like it, but the unabridged can be quite cumbersome. I would recommend the abridged version as well.

Petunia said...

I totally agree with you about characters that reflect their time. I just finished a book set in Victorian Endland where all the female characters were strong feminists. Why bother to give it the setting if you're not going to make the characters fit the time period? It was disappointing.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I look forward to getting to Udolpho at some point. It seems odd that I haven't read it for all my professed love of gothic fiction.

I have to confess a love for Tale of Two Cities, but perhaps it is all about when and how it is presented. It was my first Dickens novel (outside of A Christmas Story) and I read it as a junior in high school for an English class. The teacher made it come alive and I've loved it ever since.