Our Top 5 Classics to Get You Started
Whether it be for their innovation, unique exploration of the human condition or universal themes, there is no doubt that classic novels have a special, timeless place in the hearts of readers. However, the hype surrounding classics and the expectations of greatness attached to them can also be quite intimidating. If you’re someone who’s interested in reading the classics (but you don’t necessarily want to dive straight into a behemoth like War and Peace), here are some of the works we recommend to get you started.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s explores the curious life of eighteen-year-old socialite Holly Golightly. The book delves into New York’s criminal underworld in the midst of the Second World War. From the perspective of an unnamed narrator, this novella is both tender and mysterious, presenting Holly as a complicated, quietly criminal and beautiful woman in the pursuit of happiness.
The 1961 film adaptation means the book is often associated with a flawless Audrey Hepburn, who is all glamour and dainty cigarettes. However, there is much more to this work than aesthetics. It takes readers on a whirlwind adventure with a delightfully short and refreshingly blunt writing style.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot (a heroine for introverts everywhere) and her debt-ridden family. Pressured at nineteen to reject a proposal from Wentworth, a poor lieutenant she loved, Anne has a chance to grasp her independence when he reappears eight years later. He’s become rich and successful but is still angry at her refusal. Austen provides an unprecedented insight into her heroine’s thoughts, depicting the exquisite pain of yearning and love past the point of reasonable hope.
Persuasion is arguably the most romantic of Austen’s novels: it has all the usual brilliance of her style and social critique but is tempered by maturity and a lightness of touch that make it the perfect entry point to her work (and, by extension, many other classics).
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Emily Brontë’s seminal masterpiece will captivate your interest in classic literature. Set in 19th century Yorkshire, the novel is an imperfect, gothic tale of destructive and unconditional love that tackles prejudice, inheritance and passion.
The story predominantly follows Heathcliff, who was adopted into the Earnshaw household and later degraded to a servant. Through ignorance and hate, Heathcliff rises to become a self-made man fuelled by revenge. The tangle of love and hate surrounds the Earnshaw and Linton families. The poignant love of Heathcliff and Catherine resonates honestly, making Wuthering Heights one of the most unique classics to depict unlikeable yet compelling characters. The emotional prose and epic descriptions transport the reader and will certainly spark a love for classics.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
We’re all familiar with the pervasive image of Frankenstein’s monster, but Mary Shelley’s tale is much more than a simple horror story. Frankenstein tells the story of a scientist who tries to build a “superior” human being. However, when he sees how hideous his creation is, he casts it out and vows to forget its existence. His monster wants nothing more than companionship, but when Frankenstein denies him a partner, he seeks revenge…
Shelley masterfully weaves themes of identity, alienation and knowledge into a cautionary tale about the dangers of science and of wanting too much. Frankenstein is a tragic love story, and a powerful indictment of a society that excludes those who are different to the norm.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
For an engaging, readable entry to the classics, look no further than The Great Gatsby, a captivating critique of the American Dream set in hedonistic 1920s New York that boasts four film adaptations since its publication in 1925.
Through the eyes of introverted Nick, we follow the doomed love pentagon between his vain cousin Daisy, her bigoted husband Tom, his mistress Myrtle, her husband George and the eponymous Jay Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s beautiful yet unpretentious prose, coupled with romantic imagery of a bygone era, offers a delightful form of escapism. This exploration of the amorality of the prohibition-era elite is a perfect introduction to the reading of classics, as well as a timeless warning to the hollow nature of a materialistic life.