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Topic: who were the classics written for?

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Subject: who were the classics written for?
Date Posted: 9/18/2008 2:19 PM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2006
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After reading several threads here and in Hidden Gems about how many of us dislike classics or at least did for a while because we were forced to read some in school that were beyond what we were ready for either emotionally or intellectually or whatever reason. now that I'm going back and trying to find some to read(have pretty good list thanks to all the recommendations!) I'm just wondering if teens were meant to read thesebooks at the time they were written? or if the audience was mainly educated philosophers, etc. also since I"m new to this genre and not sure when many were written though I could stop being lazy and look it up! I"m thinking some were written setting the story in teh same time period the author was currently living though I know' gone with teh wind' was written much later than the civil war but was wondering about jane austen's...I mean, if she wrote the books set in teh time she were living then seems like the people reading her stories would better relate to how relationships worked and fully  understand any controversy,e tc..

probably not making sense but I often wondered w hy the heck a 9th grader was expected to understand romeo and juliet or if the equivalent of a 7th grader back in shakepseare's time was treated to readin gthis because they'd  darn sure understand the speech better I' dt think!

Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 9/18/2008 3:31 PM ET
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Jane Austen lived from ~1775-1817 (going by memory). She wrote about her own time.

I don't think authors often think about "who am I writing this for?" unless they're genre writers (mystery, harlequin romance, western, etc.). I think writers of general fiction, especially historically, just tried to write the best story they could. It's understandable that in school you might think otherwise, because lit. teachers usually focus on themes and metaphor and deep meaning, often at the expense of focusing on if the author succeeded in telling a compelling story.

So no, nobody ever wrote a book thinking, "this will be a great book for teens to study in school." Except maybe Hawthorne. He was just that self-absorbed.

Date Posted: 9/18/2008 7:28 PM ET
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"It seems to me I've heard that song before . . . . .  It's from an old, familiar score . . . . ."

Okay, Shakespeare did NOT write for somebody to SIT and READ his words.   He was a playwright, and you were supposed to go to the Globe Theater and attend the theatrical production of one of his works.   And of course, at that time, the audience would understand the lines spoken by the actors because it was the English vernacular in use then.  (Well, a literary form of it, anyway.)

It really is too bad that immature children are expected to read "classics" in American high schools.  (But then, American kids didn't always have the prolonged 'childhoods' they have nowadays.   Maybe American teens should just be glad that they do not have to take Latin and Greek and Elocution, Logic, Eurhythmics, and so forth, nowadays, as they did three centuries ago?

I had a woman friend who was born and grew up in Africa, where her father was serving in the mission field.  She said that from the time she was a little girl, she would seize upon whatever books the Book of the Month Club sent her family.  For instance, she read Pearl Buck's Good Earth at a "tender age".  Not the kind of book one would place in a little girl's hands!  But by the time her family found out, the "damage" was done . . . . .hahahahaha.

The reason, I think, that classics endure, and continue to find readers, is that besides the time-and-place-locked nature of many of the stories, they have "universal themes"----for instance, a pair of young persons whose families are fierce enemies and would FORBID the young persons' love for each other.  Centuries later, Lenny Bernstein does a re-write of this story and "West Side Story" is a big audience-pleaser, once again.

Date Posted: 9/18/2008 7:46 PM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2006
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so Bonnie you're saying that when the 'classics' were written the high school age weren't 'studying' those but other stuff they considered'old'? :-) that makes sense I suppose. I was just curious. As I've gotten older the classics seem to click with me more..I mean, I understand them. in hight school I loved reading...I've loved books since I was old enough to grab hold of one and carry it around and look at the pics and pretend I was reading! But some of the issues in the books I 'had' to read were out of my reach.it was like fixing caviar for a toddler when all they're used to is peanut butter you know?!

I just wonder though about assigning some of these books I've seen on summer reading lists ..some of the titles I remember reading my first year of college so I'm sure high school would be fine with them(my name is asher lev by chaim potok for instance) but shakespeare was torture unless some was explained. I had to read Fahrenheit 451 and I'm no re-reading it for the first time since high school and getting so much more out of..maybe life experience has helped?

Date Posted: 9/19/2008 12:28 AM ET
Member Since: 4/16/2008
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I think that it really depends on the author and his purpose for writing the book in the first place. Like Upton Sinclar was trying to make a comment on the conditions in the meat packing industry so his audience was probably different than the audience of, say Jane Austen. There were also writers like Wordsworth and Coleridge who were writing for "everyone" and that was the purpose of their poetry; to reach the common man and to bring the everyday man into the subject matter and the work itself. Others wrote for themselves and their audience wasn't considered. I really think that you have to delve more into who the author was, the time period he was in, and what was going on in the world when he wrote the book. Also, we have to consider that the teenagers of today are not the same as teenagers of the time when the classics were written. people of 18 were considered full fledged adults long ago so a lot of these books could have been accessable and realistic for younger people.
Date Posted: 9/19/2008 1:39 AM ET
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that makes sense!

Date Posted: 9/19/2008 10:07 AM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
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It depends on the author.  Dickens was one of the most popular writers of his day, but a lot of the intellectual elite didn't consider him a great writer, just an entertainer.  Teens who were educated in the 19th century studied Classics as in Greek & Latin classics, some of which are still studied today, although not usually in the original languages.   Shakespeare put a lot of funny & bawdy stuff in his plays to appeal to the average play-goer.  I guess its just different when you're reading something to study it as opposed to just reading it because its new and exciting.  Maybe in 100 years kids will complain about reading Harry Potter?  Now thats a scary thought.

ETA: as for reading classics now, I think its an acquired taste.  I've been hooked on classics since my mom & I read Jane Eyre together when I was in 5th grade, but if I go months without reading one it takes me a while to get back into digesting the older styles of writing.  Its the same with a lot of things though, old movies, classical music, food etc.  It takes some getting used to before you can really enjoy it.



Last Edited on: 9/19/08 10:10 AM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 9/19/2008 10:14 AM ET
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Sorry to butt in again, I also thought about some of the classics that were rejected by their audience at the time.  Like Thomas Hardy (who I can't stand personally but a lot of people love), his books were considered immoral and disgusting by readers of the time but later they were considered classics.  Also Poe didn't get much recognition during his life, most of his stories weren't even published until after his death.

Date Posted: 9/19/2008 1:01 PM ET
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well I've been trying to read more classics and the newer classics I'd guess you call them (gone with the wind, rebecca) and some I'm just afraid I'm missing something, like hidden meanings ..stuff like that I guess and I'm way too busy and way too many books to read(I read mostly romance though like a mystery here and there along with something more in-depth from time to time to make me think) to read the Cliff Notes though a few I had to read  in high school or college I've gone back and re-read (or read all the way through hee hee) or read them as an adult then re-read a few years later and I'm really surprised what I pick up the 2nd or even 3rd time through!

For instance - My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. I had to read this one for college English..think my 2nd semester. I liked it the first time through but what stood out to me was the art, his father hating his art, his mother being torn between them, and an unyielding religion and how he still clung to what I thought was a 'stupid' religion(no offense to anyone)..reading it 10 yrs later I understood more of WHY  his father disliked his studying art, how his father was risking his life tryiing to save jews in Russia,.then again how the entire jewish community around Asher suffered becasue there was no room for compromise with his art after a point..just an awesome book and one I didn't have to fully understand the first time through to enjoy as a story..but now the book and it's sequel are 2 favorites I'd recommend to anyone.

The same with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The first time reading it I was fresh out of college just starting a new job and loved books so I related more to her reading on the fire escape and going to the library more than anything else!  I disliked the father intensely and didn't like the mother favoring the brother. Another reading I related more to the mother and understood her background and why she felt the way she felt and did some of the things she did. of course this is another book I'd recommend to anyone LOL!

I just finished Fahrenheit 451 last night. quick read but one I was supposed to read in high school though I think it went over my head then. This time I remembered some of the things from the book but I didn't remember the ending. At times I thought the main character was crazy or had gone crazy..the thoughts kept racing around and doing what he did I kept thinking 'how stupid'! but I'm glad I re-read it and can move on to something else now! :-) and parts were really nice, esp the very end with the Bible verse.

poetry is something I wish I could understand too but I've never been able to follow it..guess my mind wanders too much. there have been a handful of poems that I've liked or at least liked/understood parts of.

Date Posted: 9/19/2008 6:33 PM ET
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When you are reading a book and want to get something out of it I think you have to approach it differently than another book you are just reading for pleasure or for the story. I read classics differently than I would read chick lit or a mystery. I pay more attention to the actual words that the author is using to describe things and sometimes I write notes of passages that appear to be interesting so I can go back to them later. Another think that I do is if an author is spending a lot of time describing something or keeps repeating something I think that I'm supposed to pay more attention to that and I try not to forget it as I'm reading the rest of the novel. For example; I just finished a book where early on the author spent several pages pointing out that there were two different ethnicites of people working in a factory. They also spent a lot of time going over what the differences were. Well, later in the end this difference was something that was critical to one of the characters and a subplot of the story. I would note down that the author is going to a lot of pains to make sure I was aware of this divide early on so I figured it would come up again and it did. You also start to look at the seemingly unrelated things that happen and start to find where it actually is related. However, when I do this I've noticed that switching back to more light reading the writing starts to feel very predictable because you are more intune with the clues...sometimes it's hard to "turn off" the analytical switch lol :)
Date Posted: 9/19/2008 6:35 PM ET
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Oh, I also meant to comment about poetry too! If you are reading poems I recommend reading them outloud to yourself and make sure you that you are reading them as you would anything else. sentences usually are longer than each line so if you are pausing at the end of each line it wont make any sense because you are pausing where there shouldn't be a pause. Try reading Keat's The Eve of St. Agnes. It's a beautiful narrative poem with a lot of imagery and a great story. but definitely read it outloud and try and follow the normal grammatical reading that you would in a paragraph or book. Poetry looks scary but it's really not!
Date Posted: 9/19/2008 7:30 PM ET
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I love poetry.  We only did a smattering of poetry study in HS & in college, and apparently there's a lot of technical stuff about meter that I don't know the first thing about, but I love it.  My favorites are Robert Browning, William Blake and W.B. Yeats

Date Posted: 9/19/2008 11:00 PM ET
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I think the only poems that snagged my attention at all were one by Emily Dickinson and The Road Not Taken I think by Frost...for some reason something in those snagged my attention.

I really ought to find a class/course/local reading group for classics and such..I tried a creative writing class but the instructor was something else.. Ilearned nothing about writing from her but really what I'd prefer is to just read what others have written and have a decent converation!

Date Posted: 9/20/2008 12:12 AM ET
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yes you should totally take a class! it's a lot of fun hearing how people interpret things! I'm a literature major at CSUN in Northridge and I'm having a ball! I'm just now getting into poetry. I have a decent teacher for once who is making it fun and easy to understand :) There's a few of us on here that are reading Madame Bovary together and I think we'll prolly do another after that. if you want I can PM you or watch the boards and always feel free to join in!! I like Emily Dickinson too by the way :)
Date Posted: 9/20/2008 7:48 PM ET
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Dear Vanessa:  Your remark about not knowing anything about 'technical stuff' like meter, etc. reminded me of a snippet from an old movie in which a sophisticate derides a local musician for not being able to read music.   The musician is a marvelous bouzouki player, and all his fellow townsfolk love his music-making.  One of them sees the shamed look on the musician's face, and turns to the snob and tells him that the birds don't read music either and they, too, make glorious music . . . .

You ain' gotta know an anapest from a hole in the ground, Hon, just dip into a big ol' anthology like a smorgasbord, and pick and choose the ones you like!

Date Posted: 9/21/2008 9:52 AM ET
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Thanks Bonnie, one of my HS english teachers had us do something with figuring out the meter or the stressed vs. unstressed syllables in one of Shakespeare's sonnets, which is fine I guess if you get something meaningful out of it... but I sure didn't.  Interpretation & analysis of poems is really fun & helpful sometimes, but that stuff just went way over my head!

Date Posted: 9/21/2008 8:06 PM ET
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I never got much out of the meter stresses either :-( got to where every poem I read had to rhyme or have a beat to it and not all of them are that way! I just wanted to know what it meant or how to 'feel' what it was saying.