By Megan Powell, Magali Prel, Natasha Smith and Mia Walby
From 9-17 September, we celebrate European Heritage Days. They are some of the most widely celebrated days in Europe, with monuments and heritage sites opening their doors – some of which are not usually open to the public. In honour of European Heritage Days, we wanted to share some of our favourite classics written by authors who were born in European countries. Europe has given birth to many great minds, and European Heritage Days are the perfect occasion to celebrate the many influential works born in Europe.
Stung with Love by Sappho
Stung with Love is a collection of poems by Ancient Greek poet Sappho. While the exact content and arrangement of her works has been lost over time, this collection of poems centres around themes of love, desire and the emotions associated with them.
Sappho’s poetry focuses on the complexities and nuances of emotions such as love and attachment, as well as the joys and pains of longing and attraction. Her writing is known for its vivid imagery and its recollection of personal experiences. While the poems we still have are mere fragments of her writing, the remains of her work provide a valuable insight into the emotional landscape of Ancient Greece and human nature. Her poetry also offers a glimpse into the outlook of women on love and desire, an alternative perspective from the male-dominated literary landscape of her era.
Sappho’s poems contribute to the rich tapestry of European heritage by providing a glimpse into life in Ancient Greece, especially for women at the time. Her work transcends time, connecting us to the shared human experiences and emotions that have connected humans throughout centuries.
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Written in 1844 by Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers is a French classic that has stood the test of time, and remains highly influential in popular culture. This historical adventure novel follows D’Artagnan in his quest to become a musketeer. Pursuing his dream, the protagonist arrives in Paris where he meets three musketeers. D’Artagnan finds himself entangled in politics and adventure from the onset as he befriends Athos, Aramis and Porthos.
Dumas weaves the excitement of an adventure with romance and mystery, a formula that establishes The Three Musketeers as a “swashbuckling novel.” Aptly defined, the story contains numerous sub-plots, is politically inclined and develops a romantic connection. Dumas' novel not only sets him apart as being the lead writer in this field, but is also a definitive French classic to enjoy this European Heritage month.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities is a historical novel, unlike some of Dickens’ more humorous and light-hearted works. It depicts the conditions prior to and during 18th century revolutionary France (a time of violence and terror), but also examines the idea and possibility of transformation, in which the sacrifices made by the characters reflect those of the revolutionaries – all hoping for a better life.
The novel explores the story of a French doctor, Manette, who is released from prison to live with his daughter, Lucie, in London, as well as following the fates of Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat, and an English lawyer, Sydney Carton, who both love Lucie. Dickens exposes the suffering that the aristocrats imposed on the poor and the resentment that occurs through such anguish. Amidst the political tensions and violence, Dickens returns to many of his common themes – injustice, sacrifice and resurrection, and highlights that, no matter your age, it is never too late to change your fate for the better. The heroic acts of Carton signify such transformation and show a completely unselfish, heroic persona.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
First published in 1915, The Metamorphosis – surreal and existential – is quintessential Kafka. Offering an exploration of human identity and social alienation that is as bizarre as it is poignant, the novella follows the inexplicable transformation of Gregor Samsa from travelling salesman to huge, monstrous insect after he wakes one morning to find himself abruptly, irrevocably altered.
Pre-metamorphosis, Gregor is mired in a job he detests as the household’s sole breadwinner. While the transformation frees him in some ways, liberating him from his job, it more so confines and isolates, his abhorrent form meaning that he is relegated to his room by his family. When Gregor interrupts his sister’s violin-playing for their new lodgers, repulsing them, he threatens the family’s new income and severs the last ties to humanity they believed him to possess. He is no longer family, but vermin.
Kafka provides a timeless meditation on social obligation and the dehumanisation that can arise when we cease to be ostensibly useful in a capitalist society. Ultimately, he raises the question of what it means to be human in such a society.