The Classics and why they are so classic

Posted on Apr 22 2015 - 5:59pm by Claire Herbaux
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“The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I requite so much!”

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

We recognise the words of Jane Austen and Aldous Huxley as soon as we see or hear them – but why? What makes those works, which are over 400 years old in the case of Shakespeare and over 50 in the case of the youngest such as A Clockwork Orange, classic?

Let’s take a look:

“Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt! May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine. May you never appeal to Heaven in prayers so hopeless and so agised as in that hour left my lips: for never may you, like me, dread to be the instrument of evil to what you wholly love.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

“My heart is set, as firmly as ever heart of man was set on woman. I have no thought, no view, no hope, in life beyond her; and if you oppose me in this great stake, you take my peace and happiness in your hands, and cast them to the wind.”
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist

“You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“The world wavered and quivered and threatened to burst into flames.”
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens, 1812-1870

They are simply beautiful. The sentences, the structures, the wording – look at Virginia Woolf’s words for one simple sentence.
Good books, today, last century, and four centuries ago, is about more than words. What are 40,000 nicely aligned words if there is no story?
These classics, are so widely-read for a reason: Their authors have written what we want to read. Surprisingly, we as readers haven’t changed that much. We like to read about heart break

“Our scars make us know that our past was for real.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“I have not broken your heart – you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.”
Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

“The broken heart. You think you will die, but you just keep living, day after day after terrible day.”
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

We like to read about love, of course – where else would the heart break be rooted in?

“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

“I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.”
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“I enjoy talking to you. Your mind appeals to me. It resembles my own mind except that you happen to be insane.”
George Orwell, 1984

“I come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and always will be yours.”
Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Virginia Woolf, 1882- 1941

Virginia Woolf, 1882- 1941

Nowadays, we discuss romantic marriage proposals, the surprise ones, the extravagant ones, the carefully planned ones… Can any of these beat the powerful proposal in Jane Eyre?

“I ask you to pass through life at my side – to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”

“I am excessively diverted.” As Jane Austen would say (Pride and Prejudice) but love and heart break isn’t all to life. We require more from books, we want to learn and be educated. The more famous the books, the more life lessons they usually contain. So here are 10 lessons to be learnt from classic literature:

“Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.”
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”
George Orwell, 1984

“I could never have done what I have done, without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one object at a time.”
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

“The greatest ideas are the simplest.”
William Golding, Lord of the Flies

“Ask no questions, and you’ll be told no lies.”
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

“Look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under it.”
William Shakespeare, Macbeth

“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“We need never be ashamed of our tears.”

Oscar Wilde Classic author

Oscar Wilde 1854- 1900

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Some go deeper, into philosophy for example, when Shakespeare discusses in Hamlet that

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

or George Orwell claims that

“Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.”

There are thought in books, that we don’t dare to say aloud.

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”
William Golding, Lord of the Flies

“Nobody can tell what I suffer! But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“I want to know what passion is. I want to feel something strongly.”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

“To define is to limit.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The classics are the source of some of our everyday sayings…

“Big Brother is Watching You.”

Jane Austen, classic author

Jane Austen 1775-1817

George Orwell, 1984

“What’s done cannot be undone.”
William Shakespeare, Macbeth

“To wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect.”
Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

“If one is different, one’s bound to be lonely.”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Do we always know who is the creator of those phrases? Probably not. Maybe it is one of the reasons why every pupil is required to read some of the classics, because of how deeply they are rooted in out culture, and or course, in our language.

“Life… is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”
William Shakespeare, Macbeth

The best way to enjoy our classics, is to READ!

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

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