I feel like I have the same revelation every couple of years or so: Hey, there are a burst of books being published right now that credit their source material/inspiration/plot/characters – whatever – to a quote-unquote, capital-C Classic work of literature.
It’s not a new trend, and it happens now fairly frequently. But there are a number of books that are either recently released or coming down the publishing pike that derive their inspiration* from books I haven’t read or haven’t read in a long time and remember very little of.
from Riffing on the Classics: Books That Pay Homage by Rachel Manwill
A Favourite Sentence, Part 1
The editors of Penguin Classics share their favourite sentences from the classics list. Some couldn’t limit themselves to one.
‘So many talismans for happiness fettered her arms! She could hardly move but the jingling of some crystal ball, or the swaying of some malachite pig, reminded her of the fact that she was unhappy.’
— Ronald Firbank, Vainglory
'Well, then, however the old sea-captains may order me about – however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way – either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content.'
— Herman Melville, Moby Dick
'His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.'
— James Joyce, The Dead, Dubliners
‘“Partridges, sir”, he replied, “I make them fat in little houses.”’
— Robert Byron, The Road to Oxiana
"You — poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are — I entreat to accept me as a husband."
— Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
And two variants on a favourite joke:
‘“Show us over the drink,” says I. Which is which?
"That’s mine – as the devil said to the dead policeman."’
— Joe Hynes in Ulysses
"Vich I call addin’ insult to injury, as the parrot said ven they not only took him from his native land, but made him talk the English langwidge arterwards."
— Sam Weller in The Pickwick Papers
Reading the classics has made me a better writer, a better conversationalist, has given me a greater understanding of humanity…but most importantly I really believe it’s made me a better friend, husband, and person.I’m a firm believer that the best books are the ones that teach us something about ourselves and the people around us. And that’s what truly makes a classic, in my opinion. When I look at Top 100 lists, while I certainly won’t agree with everything, I can pretty easily say that I can learn something from every one of them. And that’s the best gift that reading can give — the ability to open our eyes, expand our minds, and help us grow in understanding.
I don’t know how many times I’ve come across a historical novel where the author makes the assumption that women of the past were of course less “liberated” than contemporary women and therefore always followed the rules and never did anything on their own. Yeah, those women who fought for and eventually won the right to vote—such shrinking violets.
There’s plenty of evidence (not to mention common sense) to dispute those assumptions; but possibly the most effective refutation can be found in classic novels from centuries past, wherein female characters ARE independent and get shit done.
What if L.M. Montgomery had to run a Kickstarter to publish ANNE OF GREEN GABLES? Kickstart the Classics with us!
What if the writers of our most treasured stories had had to crowdfund their work?
I mean, one can’t help but recognize the irony in BRITAIN claiming that it is important for objects of cultural significance to stay in their homelands. Have you been to the British Museum? Its tagline should be, “Stuff We Stole: Colonization’s Greatest Hits.” On the other hand, of course, Jane Austen is so ubiquitously English, and with the whole ten-pound-note business in the offing her cultural currency is higher than ever.