Classic books reading challenge for 2018
Looking for a new year’s resolution? Take our classics reading challenge and tick off those books you always meant to read, month by month
In this tale of hedonism and Victorian morality a young man, Dorian Gray, is painted by artist Basil Hallward. As Dorian learns his looks won’t last for ever, he makes a wish that the painting age in his place while he remains perfectly youthful. The wish is granted and the picture becomes a telling reflection of Dorian’s life and lifestyle. Last year may have passed in the blink of an eye but Oscar Wilde’s only novel is a welcome new-year reminder that we ought to embrace the onward march of time…
We all know Jane Austen as an accomplished writer on love, coming-of-age and the trials and tribulations of romance and friendship, all of which are still very relevant today. What sets Persuasion apart, though, is that as Austen’s last completed novel, it shows how her writing and even her characters have matured – at the ripe old age of twenty-seven, Anne Elliot is given a second chance at marrying for love when she’s reintroduced to an old flame. This a hopeful, comforting, grown-up love story for Valentine’s Day.
The month of International Women’s Day seems like just the time to discuss the restrictions – practical and social – that prevented (and for many, still prevent) women from creating good art independently. Virginia Woolf wrote this piece using, among others, the example of a fictional sister of Shakespeare with exactly his talents, outlining the obstacles she’d have faced to reach her brother’s level of success. In order to gain financial autonomy, and eventually equality, Woolf says a woman must have her own space.
If you love a good April fool, you could learn a lot from Alice’s antics down the rabbit hole. From anthropomorphic animals to gibberish and gobbledygook, this fantastical tale is well known around the world as a story of eccentricity and adventure. But if you haven’t read the book, you might be surprised by the real deal – complete with authentic illustrations and all the nasty details...
May is the month of International Workers’ Day, or Labour Day as many know it, as well as the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx. Advocating the fight to end class tyranny and material inequality in all nations, Marx and Engels suggest there should be no oppressive minority ruling over poor majority. Whatever your political inclination, it can’t be denied that the contents of this small volume are fascinating, enlightening and have made an indelible mark on the twentieth century and the world we live in.
Shakespeare’s comedy of fairies, conspiracy and lovers lost in the woods is definitely one for the woozy, dreamy days around the summer solstice. When four Athenian adolescents find themselves facing forced marriages, they elope, escape and chase their way into a moonlit forest when a band of mischievous fairies plays our their own strife using the humans as weapons. Throw in a donkey, a talking wall and a few love potions, and the scene is set for some midsummer madness.
2018 marks 200 years since Emily Brontë’s birth and what better time to read her masterpiece of passion, romance and vengeance. Wuthering Heights is one of those stories better known in popular culture and hearsay than in real depth but it won’t take you long to feel immersed in the remote and creepy Yorkshire Moors in this dark and romantic classic. In the company of Heathcliff – an orphan turned spurned lover turned gentleman turned villain – revenge, control and, allegedly, affection are the order of the day.
Nothing captures the oppressive temperatures of high summer like Tennessee Williams’ prize-winning, classic play set in the deep south. Blanche falls on hard times and goes to stay with her sister and brother-in-law, a man she finds coarse, rude and unfriendly. Though Blanche’s sister is hospitable, her husband continues to drink, shout and generally upset the women in the house. His anger erupts and he attacks Blanche, leading to her ultimate breakdown and her sister’s estrangement, in this story of tension, claustrophobia and suffocating heat.
As you prepare for the return to school, spare a thought for Anne, the orphan adopted by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, who, by the way, definitely hadn’t asked for a girl… Outspoken, strong-willed and just a little too clever, Anne takes a while to settle in and persuade Marilla that she ought to stay in Avonlea but after excelling at school and endearing all in the village to her, it’s hard for the Cuthberts to change their mind.
As the nights draw in and winter looms closer, why not take a moment to overturn your preconceived ideas about Frankenstein, the kindly scientist whose only true passion was to understand the magic of life. Unfortunately for him, and for several innocent villagers, his beastly creation, a monster made of miscellaneous body parts, had very different ideas. Shelley devised this story sitting with famous literary friends engaged in a horror-story-telling competition – very apt for our Halloween selection.
November marks the centenary of the end of World War One. In this classic tale of an American soldier serving in the Italian campaign, Frederic and Catherine’s relationship is blighted by far-flung postings, illness and prejudice. We see them struggling to make sense of their romance as well as the other fleeting relationships they form and the purpose of their struggles. Heavily inspired by Hemingway’s own time in Italy during the war, this poignant tale of love in the midst of war is immediate and moving.
Prepare yourself for the party season with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s glitzy novel of excess, booze and the roaring twenties. Reluctant socialite and millionaire Jay Gatsby throws the parties to end all parties, with his mysterious business connections, society it-girls and local busybodies ever-present. But gossip and drama are never far away. If the champagne, sequins and glamour don’t get you in the mood, instead wallow in the remorse of the morning-after-the-night-before and console yourself that at least you didn’t accidentally, err, kill anyone.
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