In this personal essay titled “Why I Read Classics,” the author discusses the works of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Thomas Hardy and how they’ve influenced her.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
This is arguably one of the most popular opening lines from the greatest novels of our time and if that worked out, I wouldn’t doubt the introduction of classics in this essay with it. I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time in the second year of engineering college. All the ideas of love and romance for me always came from books first and then movies. Reading classics by Jane Austen made me feel like an old maid, wise and happy. I always felt like an old soul growing up and the ideas presented in this book broadened my mindset on love. It speaks of love between a man and a woman, for me, it conveyed how being single could be equally empowering. Elizabeth, the heroine of this book is strong-headed, intelligent and full of self-esteem, which I am always running low on. Society pressures her into getting married and all she focused was on herself, her family and dancing. How ballroom dancing was the old-school “let’s throw a party and socialise”! The dancing then led to meeting interesting people and sometimes that could also mean a really good date.
Mr Darcy who is the male protagonist is shown to be seeking and waiting for Elizabeth’s consent at all points in the trajectory of their relationship. It is a fact on the internet that Mr Darcy is based on Austen’s romantic interest and I want to totally buy this rumour-ish fact. Growing up, I never considered myself to be a romantic person, only after reading Pride & Prejudice did I realise that I was definitely romantic, just not cheesy and corny. After reading the book, I went on to watch the 2005 movie Pride & Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen. It was a delight watching the movie, such justice was done to the characters. I re-read the book after college because sometimes revisiting your favourites is as important as discovering new works.
I read a couple of other novels by Austen and so far, Mansfield Park is my second favourite. While her work was about family drama, romance and just strong heroines empowering us, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte introduced me to the whole “feelings about feelings” that as we all know is a big part of living, maybe even the whole point of being. I have to say Jane Eyre got me out of a major slump. This one time when I was heartbroken (read boy troubles) and generally unmotivated to read anything, I picked up Jane Eyre that I had purchased from a second-hand book shop. Firstly, caution: it is an addictive piece of literature. Classics tend to be slow in the beginning because of the immense detailing and premise setup. This story picked up pace from the first chapter and I remember staying up until 3 am to read. I am a person who will yawn at a party when the clock strikes 23.00 hrs. Imagine the high I felt after reading the first few chapters that I couldn’t stop myself and sleep, eventually taking a backseat. It is a heart-breaking and inspiring story of an independent, mature, young woman – Miss Jane. Charlotte Bronte has beautifully depicted the journey of self-discovery, standing up for what’s right and accepting loss in love. The entire book is a highlight and choosing one quote is difficult, but here’s a snippet from Jane Eyre for you –
“I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.”
Reading Jane Eyre was cathartic. I could not have had a better release of emotions. I also remember crying in the middle of the night and drawing parallels between J.E. and me.
Most classics in my experience are real tear-jerkers. In my definition, they are a piece of art designed to evoke emotions, broaden minds and provide fresh perspective every time there is a lack of it. After the #MeToo movement, we saw a wave of feminism and it has been on the rise ever since. But I think Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf and the many great writers, had already set the path for modernisation. Reading their books always made me feel that they were ahead of their times and acted as the source of this said “growth” in my early 20s. Most of them being fiction, threw light on concepts I never perceived to be complicated enough. Owing to my practical nature, I used to see things in just black and white but the understanding that not everything could be put in a box initially came via these epic writers. Last year, I read Jude the Obscure – just when I needed it, living in the late 20s as a single woman can be quite daunting. The first half of the book talks about education and class, while the second half revolves around the concept of marriage, divorce and love. Living in a society where women are pressured to be married in their mid-20s, the fact that Hardy’s last work of fiction was initially rejected by the conservative Victorian society is not shocking.
It is a story of Jude who comes from a poor family background trying to work his way up in society. Jude’s cousin Sue is a free-spirited young woman who lives alone and is able to financially support herself. The story is about their ups and downs, mostly downs which is Thomas Hardy’s speciality, I think. It was such an invigorating read and definitely unputdownable after the first few chapters. It is easy to find literature with female protagonists having heartbreaks, most of Hardy’s books have the male perspective too which always put my mind to attention.
The common themes in these books are feminism, society, relationships, education, love 一 everything that we live for today. I am grateful to have stumbled upon them when seeking answers from people seemed cumbersome. In my solitude, I found a partnership with classics which sometimes was an instant hit of dopamine and most of the time a ripple effect of words which to me is the grandest gesture of love and light.
Rushvi is a software engineer working with a bank on their digital initiatives and making lives easier through technology. She is an avid reader who tends to procrastinate work for reading and trust her to burn the midnight oil to meet deadlines. She lives in Mumbai and recommends everyone to experience the Mumbai locals and Flora Fountain book stalls once in their lifetime. Years of reading led her to pen down personal experiences and she is attempting to get them out, one story at a time.