Choosing a Classic

It’s time I began reading another classic for the Classics Challenge. I thought I’d look at the openings of some to see which takes my fancy.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell:

To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there was a house, and in that house there was a room, and in that room there was a bed, and in that bed there lay a little girl; wide awake and longing to get up, but not daring to do so for fear of the unseen power in the next room – a certain Betty, whose slumbers must not be disturbed until six o’clock struck, when she awakened herself ‘as sure as clockwork’, and left the household very little peace afterwards.

It reminds me of the children’s song Old MacDonald had a Farm with its repetitions. The little girl is Molly Gibson and Betty with the unseen powers is the family’s servant. It promises a story of a family and Molly’s place within it and this opening interests me. I don’t know anything about the book and have not seen any of the TV adaptations, so I’m coming to it with a completely open mind – no other interpretations to influence my reading of Elizabeth Gaskell’s words.

Silas Marner by George Eliot:

In the days when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the farmhouses – and even great ladies, clothed in silk and thread-lace, had their toy spinning-wheels of polished oak – there might be seen, in districts far away from the lanes, or deep in the bosom of the hills, certain pallid undersized men, who, by the side of brawny country-folk, looked like the remnants of a disinherited race.

This one looks good too about village/rural life at the beginning of the 19th century. The only book by George Eliot that I’ve read is Middlemarch, which I loved. You have to have time and patience to read her books. Silas Marner, however, is a much shorter book with less characters than Middlemarch.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome:

There were four of us – George and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were – bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.

We were all feeling seedy, and we were getting quite nervous about it.

Yet another author I know nothing about and as for the book I only know it’s reckoned to be a comedy. Again I have very few preconceptions about this book and have no ideas about the characters or what happens. I think Montmorency may be a dog as the book’s full title is Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog).

Now I just have to decide which one to read.

11 thoughts on “Choosing a Classic”

  1. I’ve read all three books. Jerome K Jerome isn’t really for me and I find Silas Marner a little sentimental. I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Gaskell (I think it’s the Manchester connection) so I woudl recommend starting with her!

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  2. I thought Three Men in a Boat was fun but perhaps the humour wears a bit thin after a while. I’ve not read any George Eliot, I’m ashamed to say, and feel I must sometime soon. Wives and Daughters sounds rather good from its first few lines.

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  3. I read along with my daughter when her university english lit. class studied Silas Marner and really enjoyed it. If you choose another title this time keep it in mind for down the road!

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  4. Three Men in a Boat is a hoot and a half if you are looking for some fun. I just started reading Silas Marner the other day by coincidence and am enjoying it very much. Its slow and measured writing is rather formal but packs a lot of punch. Haven’t read Wives & Daughters but I hope to sometime. Good luck choosing!

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  5. Highly recommend Elizabeth Gaskell, although perhaps “Cranford” might be more fun…? Very accessible and wonderful characters. Plus free copies all over the net. 🙂

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  6. I’ve read all three. Three Men in a Boat is funny, but lightweight, and the humour can wear a bit thin – I always enjoy it,and I know and love the Thames and lots of the places he writes about, but I have to be in the mood for it. Silas Marner is excellent, but slow to get into. Personally I think Wives and Daughters is by far and away Gaskell’s best novel. She’s very good at quietly satirising the social pretensions of the day; it’s a wonderful story, and characters are really believable – especially Molly.

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