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Issue 100: Our Favourite Classics

By Megan Powell, Magali Prel, Natasha Smith and Monique Smith 


To celebrate our 100th issue, we are revisiting our very first issue, which epitomised the spirit of “Firsts and Favourites” as we explored the team's favourite classics. Over the course of one hundred issues, we have been privileged to work with many talented writers. In this revisitation, we will introduce new team members by discussing their favourite classics. 


Natasha’s Favourite: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy


Anna Karenina remains one of the most well-known classics on our shelves. Often regarded as a mighty novel and too lengthy, Anna Karenina remains my favourite classic and was truthfully not long enough!

 

The novel explores the Russian aristocracy’s encounters with love, scandal and politics, while the titular figure spirals downwards into despair and depression following her scandalous affair with Vronsky. Anna’s dull marriage led her to seek passion elsewhere, but as the spark dwindled over the years, her mental wellbeing was thrown into turmoil. Anna symbolises beauty and vanity, as she desires to remain young and beautiful forever. Yet, as Tolstoy argues, this is only a route for disaster, as she isolates herself from society and fails to accept that satisfaction can be found in the ordinary. Tolstoy shows how difficult and futile it is to try to break free from society’s expectations, highlighting challenges that even the aristocracy face. Tolstoy’s incredible characterisation and emotional depictions allow the reader to follow the characters’ personal journeys, through which they can learn about the struggles of human nature, both historical and contemporary.


Magali’s Favourite: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was first published in 1818. The novel tells the story of a young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who, in his mad pursuit of knowledge, creates a creature as the result of a science experiment. Frankenstein combines elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic movement, which attempt to appeal to the reader’s emotions, and favour passion over rationality. Frankenstein is Mary Shelley’s most successful novel, and its themes are still relevant today. 


The novel explores themes of justice vs revenge, science and the pursuit of knowledge, as well prejudice based on appearance. People unfairly judge the Creature because of his monster-like appearance and, as a consequence, the Creature is alienated from society. However, Frankenstein attempts to discuss the question ‘who is the real monster?’, as Victor’s neglect of the Creature following his creation was cruel and selfish. The frame structure of the text allows the reader to witness both Victor’s and the Creature’s points of view and experiences of events. 


Megan’s Favourite: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier


In the very first classics feature, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë was noted as being my favourite. As much as this is still the case, and I will always have an unwavering love for the novel, a new favourite climbing to my personal top spot is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. 


From the perspective of Mrs de Winter, the reader follows her experience after her first meeting with Maxim in Monte-Carlo while working as an employed companion for socialite Mrs Van Hopper. Following a bout of illness, the narrator is able to slip away and embark on her relationship with Maxim, leading to a proposal. She leaves Mrs Van Hopper behind and starts life as the new mistress of Manderley. Haunted by Maxim’s past in the literal and figurative sense, our protagonist uncovers more about his previous wife, Rebecca, who was adored by all who were graced with her presence. As the antithesis of Rebecca, the current Mrs de Winter battles her identity in Manderley under the watchful eye of housekeeper Mrs Danvers, while gradually uncovering the truth about Maxim’s past.


Monique’s Favourite: Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin


First published in 1968, the Earthsea series by Ursula K Le Guin is one of the most prominent fantasy series of the 20th century, offering a new and almost utopian perspective not often seen in the epic fantasy genre.


Earthsea follows a wizard named Ged through key moments of his life in the Archipelago he calls home. Le Guin’s world boasts a refreshing contrast to many 20th-century epic fantasies, where what is Western and white is considered good. Instead, all nations but one are described in shades of copper-brown and dark skin tones, and the nation of savages is “white-skinned, yellow-haired, and fierce.”


Earthsea holds back on grandness. There is no sense of urgency or panicked desperation to raise armies and fight bloody battles, even when the world is threatened. Instead, Ged goes off quietly to meet the darkness, understand it, and maintain the balance. Earthsea is less about controlling and doing, and more about simply being and understanding.

Earthsea reads like the retelling of a tale first told centuries ago, handed down through generations of storytellers. It is timeless. 


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