Let me start off with an honest to God note: I am a bookworm. Not the trendy, reading-is-cool-now, lets-make-a-bookstagram-so-I-can-document-everything kind of bookworm but a true old school one who started reading because books spoke to me. They spoke to my creativity and made me feel like it’s okay to daydream once in a while (or the whole day).
But, I am not here to toot my own horn or talk about the bygone days when readers were held in high regard. Rather, I’m here to make a very controversial statement- “Classic novels are overrated.” There I said it! You can come after me all you want but hear me out first.
If you invest your soul into books and care a little bit about history, you would be well-versed with the plight of women writers in ancient times. If you’re not, allow me to explain.
Women writers in the ancient times were forced to use male aliases because if their books would bear their own names, nobody would want to read them simply because they were written by women. And that is exactly the problem I have with classics.
Classic novels generally have a protagonist who is male. Now, you may argue with me and say that “What about the women protagonists like in Moll Flanders?” But have you noticed one thing about strong female characters/protagonists? They are mostly women of questionable character.
Classic novels revolve around a particular male character whose callous actions affect all those around him, including women but do we talk about them in detail? No, rather they are given a fleeting mention and resurface at the very end when the story needs a conclusion.
A few examples of this male-oriented perspective would be novels like ‘Mayor of Casterbridge’ (because why should we let Elizabeth-Jane tell her own story?), ‘Hard Times’ (Mind you, Louisa is taught to suppress her feelings) and even Jane Eyre.
Yes, Jane Eyre even after having a female protagonist could not escape the clutches of patriarchy. Jane was the perfect daughter who forgave everyone after everything they did to her. She even proceeded to marry Rochester after he explicitly deceived her.
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The book underlined Bertha Mason as a doppelganger for Jane who defied norms like Jane wanted to, but of course, she was mad. Because that’s the only way classics could introduce strong women characters. (*Considers citing ‘Bell Jar’. Decides against it.*)
Now, I realise that I am being a little hard on classics. After all, they were the outcome of the society in those times, right? A time when men had the full right to a woman’s physical and mental space, and she was treated nothing short of an object. Hmm… a lot has changed since then for sure.
In case, you need a little more to go on, let me cite one more example. Sons and Lovers. The book in its essence, although revolves around the Oedipus complex yet, the women characters who are strong enough to stand their ground are portrayed as dysfunctional and needy.
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Classics are surely examples of great writing as they paint a realistic picture of the times they were written in. However, if you don’t read classics like me because watching a woman being a secondary creature does not agree with you, nobody should be telling you otherwise.
So, the next time someone ridicules you for not reading classics, you know what to do!