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April 2012 Feature of the Month: Classic Fiction

A monthly discussion on varying themes guided by our members. (Book of the Month discussions through December 2011 can be found in this section too.)
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Matt Phillips
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Post by Matt Phillips » Thu April 5th, 2012, 8:40 pm

Are we talking classic historical fiction, or just classic fiction?

If the former, for America, I agree with the Hawthorne and Twain works mentioned. I would add:

* Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper and his other novels of the 18th century frontier. I know a lot of people can't stand reading Cooper, and Twain famously eviscerated everything he wrote. But if you take it for what it is, knowing the tastes and style of the time, Last of the Mohicans can be an enjoyable adventure story. The plot is actually relatively fast-paced, although it's hard to read quickly because of his verbose, sometimes convoluted sentences. You can definitely trace his influence down to the Westerns of the 20th century and even the modern thriller and adventure genres.

* Gone With the Wind is an obvious one, although I'm ashamed to say I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. :o

* Esther Forbes's Johnny Tremain is a children's classic of historical fiction. She does a great job of capturing the themes and aura of the revolutionary period in Boston, neither excessively lionizing the patriots nor demonizing the redcoats, and also shows realistic character growth and development as Johnny matures and experiences the horrors of war.

Depending on how much time has to have passed between the events in the story and its publication, there are two that might also qualify:

* To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, set in the 1930s but published, I believe, in the early '60s. Probably my favorite novel of all time, along with millions of other people!

* Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, published about 30 years after the Civil War. I recently re-read this to get a feel for a young man's state of mind going into his first battle and found it vivid and compelling.

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Ludmilla
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Post by Ludmilla » Fri April 6th, 2012, 1:33 pm

I think this is a pretty good list of what is considered canon for Western Literature Classics. If you scroll down, you'll find them organized by century, which is helpful.

I wonder if it's worth discussing what we consider a classic today that was probably only considered popular literature in its own time? I would guess Dumas was probably treated that way. Victor Hugo springs to mind as an author whose work was considered classic in his own time.

Some other authors by country:

Selma Lagerlof for Sweden
Sigrid Undset for Norway
Would add Flaubert and Stendahl for France as well

For what it's worth, Wikipedia has a nice list of authors by nationality.

SGM
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Post by SGM » Fri April 6th, 2012, 5:07 pm

Zola and Maupassant for France.

Hardy also for the UK.

Turgenev and Tolstoy for Russia

Herman Hesse for Germany
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Fri April 6th, 2012, 6:31 pm

What of the books themselves? What is everybody's FAVORITE classical book, and why?

I would have said Gone With the Wind, except that when I read it, (1966) it wasn't considered 'classical', just popular fiction. At that time, my favorite Classical novel would have been The Count of Monte Cristo. I was completely hooked emotionally by the injustice of the system, and the old man who invested what was left of his life into mentoring the protagonist so that he could get out. Also the fun of Dantes having all that money and his clever setup for letting his enemies either redeem or damn themselves.

Come to think of it, I should give it a re-read. It's been at least three decades. Misfit, what translation do you recommend? I have no idea which one I first read.
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Fri April 6th, 2012, 6:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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wendy
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Post by wendy » Sat April 7th, 2012, 1:41 pm

Willa Cather gets my American classic vote.
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Justin Swanton
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Post by Justin Swanton » Sat April 7th, 2012, 5:02 pm

South Africa - Cry the Beloved Country. A classic in that it goes beyond the racial issue of South Africa in the 1940's. It is not a political novel though it can be seen as such. It puts me in mind of that famous quote from Solzhenitsyn: 'If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?'

Zimbabwe - Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. A fascinating study of middle class blacks in Rhodesia in the 1960's.
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sat April 7th, 2012, 8:19 pm

I loved Cry the Beloved Country. And as long as we are on Russia, I also liked Solzhenitzen's Cancer Ward and Sholokov's And quiet Flows the Don.

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donroc
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Post by donroc » Sun April 8th, 2012, 1:12 am

Remember "The Hundred greatest Books" and Random House Classics?
Image

Bodo the Apostate, a novel set during the reign of Louis the Pious and end of the Carolingian Empire.

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SGM
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Post by SGM » Sun April 8th, 2012, 8:14 am

[quote=""MLE""]I loved Cry the Beloved Country. And as long as we are on Russia, I also liked Solzhenitzen's Cancer Ward and Sholokov's And quiet Flows the Don.[/quote]

And Bulgakov's Master and Marguerits
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Ash
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Post by Ash » Sun April 8th, 2012, 8:01 pm

My favorite classics tend to be linked to genre: children's (Heide, Little Women) Fantasy (Dune) Science Fiction (Time Machine, Fahrenheit 451) , Historic Fiction (The Physician by Noah Gordon, The Good Earth by Pearl Buck)

BTW I do think of classics as books that speak of the human condition across generations and cultures. They are books that I can read at different times of my life and not only enjoy, but find something new in them.

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