Overrated Classics?

Mark Twain described classics as, “something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” How many have truly read Don Quixote? See what I mean? Okay some of you have. I’m jealous. Anyway, I came across this list of classics that was listed in a book called Fifty works of English and American Literature We Could Do Without by Brigid Brophy. The following list of books have been described as overrated:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn–Mark Twain

The Alchemist–Ben Johnson

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland–Lewis Carroll

Aurora Leigh– Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table–Oliver Wendell Holmes

Beowulf–Anonymous

Das Kapital–Karl Marx

Don Quixote–Miguel de Cervantes

“Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”–Thomas Gray

The Faerie Queene–Edmund Spenser

A Farewell to Arms–Ernest Hemingway

Faust–Christopher Marlowe

The Forsythe Saga–John Galsworthy

Hamlet–William Shakespeare

The History of Mr.Polly–H.G. Wells

Ivanhoe–Sir Walter Scott

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”–William Wordsworth

Jane Eyre–Charlotte Bronte

Lady Chatterley’s Lover–D.H. Lawrence

Leaves of Grass–Walt Whitman

The Life of Samuel Johnson—James Boswell

Lorna Doone–Richard D. Blackmore

The Mill on the Floss–George Elliot

Moby-Dick–Herman Melville

Moll Flanders–Daniel Defoe

The Moon and Sixpence–John Steinbeck

Pamela–Samuel Richardson

Paradise Lost–John Milton

Peter Pan– J.M. Barrie

The Pickwick Papers–Charles Dickens

Pilgrim’s Progress–John Bunyan

Poems–Gerard Manley Hopkins

Point Counter Point–Aldous Huxley

Remembrance of Things Past–Marcel Proust

The Scarlet Letter–Nathaniel Hawthorne

The School for Scandal–William Brinsley Sheridan

She Stoops to Conquer–Oliver Goldsmith

Silas Marner–George Eliot

The Sound and the Fury–William Faulkner

Tess of the D’Urbervilles–Thomas Hardy

Tom Brown’s Schooldays–Thomas Hughes

Tom Jones–Henry Fielding

Vanity Fair–William Makepeace Thackeray

War and Peace–Leo Tolstoy

Wuthering Heights–Emily Bronte

I don’t really know what the criteria was for grading them, but if it’s because they were dense or boring that’s not really fair. Something can be dense without being boring, right? And if it was boring does that discount it? I always tell myself if something is boring it could be above my area of interest or intellect. Ouch, I know.

Also, I think a lot of readers are used to the fast food mentality and want immediate gratification. I’m guilty of this. Thatโ€™s why I skip to the end to see if I’m going to like the ending and if not I’ll toss the book. I have to watch myself, because I’ll miss the journey. I want the destination without the steps. And if I didn’t like the book that doesn’t really discount it. Tess of the Dโ€™Urbervilles made me so sad but I learned something (sometimes it lasts in love and sometimes it hurts instead…wait that was Adele.) I hate Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but my friend loves it. I hate Wuthering Heights, but Kate Bush wrote a song about it (a song I can’t stand.)

But a good book will not lose its flavor throughout the ages. It’s like feasting on a banquet between covers (book covers, folks. Lol.) Lines get memorized into your heart. Who can forget Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be..?” It even applies today.

I have to remind myself that dense isn’t necessarily bad. Itโ€™s takes longer to get through a steak than a biscuit, but the steak will sustain you.

And really, did they just list The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? I freakin’ love that book.

What do you guys think? Overrated? What makes a book overrated anyway?

24 comments

  1. haha..interesting selection. I’m guilty of owning copies of some of those books, of which most I haven’t read. I think they say overated in a sense that everyone says these books are “must reads” or part of some “great books of the blah blah century..” list.

    I have read some of the books on this list and I loved them, but there are also books on that list which I’ve tried to read but couldn’t get past the first few pages. Ultimately I think it depends on the person’s taste.

    I’m surprised Ulysses by James Joyce isn’t on there.

    1. Lol, I own like five copies of Don Quixote including some fancy shmancy one my cousin got me from Spain. I have tried and tried to read it. One day I’ll make it through. I haven’t read Ulysses but I think it was on the list. I should have mentioned this isn’t the list in it’s entirety. I’ll post the full list when I get home. I saw the Back to Classics Reading Challenge on your blog, perhaps I should join because I haven’t read nearly enough of the classics.

      1. Yeah, the Back to Classics…Challenge is pretty interesting and it covers a wide range of genres and time periods.

        I also have a copy of Don Quixote. I’m nowhere near finished with it, but it’s interesting that the story we all know from the musical (the fight with the windmills, the fight to uphold Dulcinea’s honor, returning sick to his home…) all took place in the first few chapters of the novel. Which leads you to question…what’s written in the next million pages after!?! lol.

      2. I haven’t even gone that far into the book, that really does make you wonder. Lol. I updated the list, but it doesn’t look like Ulysses was on there after all. I’ve never read that one either.

      3. Thanks for that ๐Ÿ™‚ Yeah, I’m surprised Ulysses wasn’t listed. I tried reading that a long time ago…got as far as the second page LOL. It’s probably gonna be the book I read when I’m on my deathbed with nothing else to do.

  2. I loved Huck Finn, I love Wuthering Heights, I love the madness of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, quite liked Jane Eyre after being compelled to read it for exams BUT Hamlet… yeah, overrated and too long to be performed in it’s entirety.

    1. I didn’t know that Hamlet was Shakespeare’s longest play. I guess the ones that always felt long to me were the history ones like Henry VIII. I got to see that one at the Globe and was really glad I wasn’t a “groundling” that day. I really liked Henry IV, Part 1 though, and wished I could have seen it performed. Wuthering Heights was so…destructive? Lol.

  3. The classics have their place. Most are books I want to read in my free time. There is literary value in these books, but contemporary novels should be sought out too. Of course I could have lived without the horrible “I am Heathcliff!” line from Wuthering Heights, a book I personally hate but not as much as Kirkland’s A New Home, Who’ll Follow…

  4. I love Huck Finn too. Actually, there are quite a few on that list that I enjoyed and more I want to read. I think this is a very interesting topic but I don’t feel very qualified to argue a point. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But since English was my major, I have been in quite a few literature classes and have studied many classics. I read them because I like them. I like the pace, the diversity, the depth to them. I like that they have been tested by time. But one of the things that changed my view on the classics was finding out that so many pieces of old fiction actually tell history instead of just a story. Alice in Wonderland was weird to me too until someone made mention that Lewis Carrol actually wrote it as a satire of the British government. Things like that make studying the classics fascinating to me because, well, I like to study history too.

    1. I feel like I read a lot of pioneer and medieval literature in college. I wish I had read some of these, but mostly the ones I have read were required in high school. I read Moby-Dick in middle school cause I was dared to. So even though it was boring, I was just so happy I finished it. Lol. Yeah, but actually knowing the story behind them would make them easier to read. Like you said, the history is pretty interesting.

  5. Ha ha, Skye, I actually have some of these colorful books. I like art and had to start collecting these when I found out this lady was designing artsy covers to old Penguin Classics. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      1. I have *cough* Alice in Wonderland, The Odyssey, and that bright green one in the middle that I can’t remember. I want Treasure Island and maybe I’ll read that when Neil and I live out our dream one day of sailing the Keys and Caribbean. I have actually seen the “real” Treasure Island that the book was based on, but haven’t read it.

        Of course, there are other lovely spines in the series as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Okay, last comment. I read War and Peace and it took me maybe a year to get through it. I thought, “Why is this a classic?” at times but never intended to actually challenge the book. I mean, it’s War and Peace. And who am I to be a critic of Tolstoy? That’s when I thought that perhaps, since it is actually a Russian novel, we lose a lot by being of a different culture and time period. Maybe some of the material gets lost in translation, no matter how good the translator is. Perhaps that, and the fact that I couldn’t pronounce or keep up with half the names, was why some of it was over my head.

    1. Some of Pablo Neruda’s books have different translators and yeah some are better than others. It can change the whole tone of the poem depending on the translator. About the name thing, I understand. I had to read Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and the names were like Lubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya,Pyotr Sergeyevitch Trofimov, and Simeon Panteleyevitch Yepihodov…It was hard to keep track.

      1. Ha, yeah that sounds about right! I need a class on how to pronounce Russian names. Oh, Sarah who is now 17, is picking up Don Quixote. She laughed when the librarian gave it to her and she saw how big it was. So maybe I’ll let her tell me what that experience is like!

        Also on what you wrote earlier about peeking at the end of a book, I must be more nerdy than I thought. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I can’t let myself do that, though I guess I’m not always tempted. Even if I looked, most books I read wouldn’t give away anything in the end that I would understand unless I read the whole thing.

        I also can’t just toss a book once I’ve started it. I probably should make myself at times because even if I don’t care for it or it’s boring, I make myself finish what I started. Only once or twice have I actually not finished a book on purpose. Maybe I’m too thorough.

    2. Lol, I am a critic of Tolstoy. I read about half of War and Peace and finished Anna Karenina, but what made me hate Tolstoy was his short story “Family Happiness.” He tried to write from a woman’s perspective and pretty much revealed himself to be a chauvinistic prick. After reading that story, I just couldn’t take him seriously anymore. Dostoevsky’s far better as far as Russian lit goes.

      If you wanna know how the names work… (^was a Russian major)

      Russians have three names, kinda like we do. The first name is self-explanatory. The middle name is called an otchestvo, or patronymic. It’s derived from the father’s last name. With a girl, it ends in -ovna and with a guy it ends with -ovich. Then there’s the last name which isn’t used that often. Formal address is the first name and patronymic. There are also a bunch of nicknames, eg., Ivan might be Vanya. Knowing that makes Russian novels a lot more readable.

      1. Thanks, Grace! I never knew that about Russian names and I find that very interesting. I’m sure that will be helpful in the future; now if only I can learn the nicknames. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Dostoevsky has definitely been on my to-read list.

  7. I believe that an overrated book is one that was once relevant and is no longer. For example: Paradise Lost-completely irrelevant in this day and age. No one wants to read an epic poem in blank verse about the many layers of Hell; especially considering that (as of 2005) 1.1 Billion people on Earth claim to be Atheist. However, The Scarlet Letter-still rings true with lessons that affect even today’s youth (unfortunately). There was even a recent movie based on Hawthorne’s book called Easy-A. Granted, the movie takes liberties with plot, but the relevance is still there.

    1. That makes a lot of sense. I guess that’s what it means when a book is described as timeless. Lol on the Atheist comment. Especially since last months TIME magazine had an article saying there was no Hell.

    2. Interesting point. But I’m the nerdy one who likes to read a book because it was once relevant and then try to understand why it was relevant back then. Or why it isn’t now. Then I realize I’m getting deep. ๐Ÿ™‚ But that all interests me so much. There is then the question, will a book be relevant again in the future? Would it then be put back on the “classics” list? Just thoughts…I’m not challenging anyone here.

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