The Classics Club question for August is:
Do you read forewords/notes that precede many classics? Does it help you or hurt you in your enjoyment/understanding of the work?
I might scan read the foreword/introduction before reading a book, but because these often give away the plot I certainly don’t read it all, if I read any of it. It just spoils a book. I’ve noticed that in some books (not usually classics, though) that the author has added an Afterword/ Historical Note (for historical fiction) which I prefer, and sometimes I’ll glance over it whilst I’m reading the book, reading it properly when I’ve finished the book.
I usually read the introduction after I’ve finished the book, because often it enhances my reading, giving insights into its themes that I may not have thought about, or explains references I missed. It does help too to know some details of an author’s life, what influenced their writing and how they were thought of by their contemporaries. An example of this is the Introduction to Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, which begins with an account of contemporary criticism of the novel – it was seen as a lewd book and was blamed for a couple of earthquakes in London the spring after it was published. But then it goes into too much detail about the plot and the characters, even though the editor describes it as ‘a brief summary’.
Actually the introductions are usually too long to read when I just want to get on with the book.