Reclaiming the Classics
by Debra Conley
Readers of Classics,
The purpose of this on-line column is to encourage and enable readers who want to reclaim or to gain a knowledge of classic literature they may have missed. As a veteran teacher of this literature, I will suggest reading, make brief expository comments, offer subjects for discussion or contemplation, and gladly communicate with you via e-mail should you have questions. Beyond that, this is simply offered as a tool to facilitate your grasp of classic literature.
A few clarifications are necessary: Classic literature is by definition that which contains standard elements, universal themes, and plausible characters. Because I believe that a true classic must contain the standard elements of literature and develop plausible themes and viable characters, much written material of the last century will not qualify. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t works I may suggest worth your time to read. I just won’t classify them with the classic works necessary to a well-rounded reader.
You will also find that really enjoying and understanding some of these works of literature requires that you have readily available a good Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, a World Atlas, and a Bible Atlas or one of the “Old World” Atlases. I have found some of the best Atlases at used book stores and flea markets. I recommend the Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary because it gives the etymology of words that many do not. In understanding the nuance of an author’s word, the origin is often necessary as is the archaic meaning, also given by Webster.
Until the dawn of the Enlightenment and the atheism of Darwin, the Bible was the primary textbook of most every student and author. Many, many allusions to the Bible exist in classic literature (unless you buy new abridged versions [such as Robinson Crusoe] where all biblical references are removed). If one really studies Shakespeare, he can observe nearly every precept of the Bible somewhere in one of the Bard’s works. A good concordance and reference Bible will therefore be handy.
One of the most disappointing discoveries I have had in the last decade is the revelation of the uselessness of the “information super highway” or the internet. While there is some accurate and helpful information there, the majority of text on the internet is highly inaccurate, mundanely written, and sifted to the lowest common denominator in its educational content. Much agenda exists as does subtle advertising guised as educational information. Keep in mind that it must aim to the reading majority which mandates a national reading average of about a fourth grade level. I say this to encourage you not to make it your primary source for exposition of literature you will be reading. Get a library card and become friends with the reference desk personnel.
Note: I have listed the reading in the chronological study order I suggest so that any one at any time may begin the reading schedule by simply following the order. This order will also help reveal to you the transitions occurring in history and society’s shifts in philosophy that brings us to the current age.