I put up a poll a few weeks ago on this site as I wanted to find out what our favourite literary classics are. I use ‘our’ in an inclusive sense to mean anyone who happens to stumble upon my blog. Just in case you were wondering… which you probably weren’t…
I compiled a list of 25 books which I had seen recur on a number of different ‘Ultimate Literature Lists’ and allowed visitors to vote for up to three classics. I apologise for having only 25 works available to choose from and only three votes allowed, as it made the choice for some-me included- quite difficult! But it also made people think about which ones to choose, which can’t be a bad thing right?
Top spot was taken by Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four! It took almost 16% of the entire vote. This is no surprise as it is perhaps the most influential in the dystopian genre and a novel that is still enjoyed by young and old readers alike over 60 years later. It is one of my favourites also so this result isn’t a big surprise to me.
Fun fact: Nineteen Eighty-Four is also the book that most people lie about having read… (See here for more facts like this: https://criticaldan4th.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/ten-interesting-literature-based-facts-that-i-have-learned-over-the-holidays/ ) so it is possible that the result was affected by people lying. But then, it was an anonymous poll, so you are literally only fooling yourself.
In second place was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, a more modern series of novels that seems from the outside as having something of a cult following. This took 11% of the vote overall which suggests that either there were many visitors who were part of this following or that rather it is a science fiction classic with a more lighthearted spin to it, which has led to its more widespread popularity. Particularly in recent years I would argue. The sci-fi genre is certainly ‘in’ at the moment.
And in third place was JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (10% of the vote). This also was not a surprise to me as I know that the series is very popular. However I did wonder if voters would really choose this as one of their three choices for it being classic literature that they enjoyed reading or rather, they had enjoyed the films and so chose it because of that. I’m not saying this is a poor reason to choose it, film adaptations are a brilliant way of bringing literature to life and it can be said that only great/popular literature get turned into films but I wonder how much the films affected the result.
At the other end of the scale was Middlemarch by George Eliot which gained no votes at all. It took a mighty 0% of the vote which I thought was a little surprising. I did not expect it to rank very highly but then I also didn’t expect it to get no votes at all. I think it is fair to say that this is one of the less well-known works on the list and so the low result was probably due to fewer people having read it, compared with something like The Great Gatsby.
I would like to thank the hundreds of people who voted on the poll; it made for some really interesting reading- at least I thought so! Thank you!
The full results can be found below:
Nineteen Eighty-Four- George Orwell 15.87%
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy- Douglas Adams 11.08%
The Lord of the Rings- JRR Tolkein 9.82%
To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee 8.31%
The Great Gatsby- F Scott Fitzgerald 7.05%
Lolita- Vladmir Nabokov 6.8%
The Catcher in the Rye- JD Salinger 6.55%
Hamlet- William Shakespeare 5.04%
Catch 22- Joseph Heller 4.79%
Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen 3.53%
The Grapes of Wrath- John Steinbeck 3.02%
Great Expectations- Charles Dickens 2.02%
Ulysses- James Joyce 2.02%
Jane Eyre- Charlotte Brontë 2.02%
War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy 2.02%
Gone With The Wind- Margaret Mitchell 1.76%
Anna Karenina- Leo Tolstoy 1.51%
Wuthering Heights- Emily Brontë 1.26%
Death of a Salesman- Arthur Miller 1.01%
The Tragedy of King Lear- William Shakespeare 1.01%
David Copperfield- Charles Dickens 1.01%
Mrs Dalloway- Virginia Woolf 0.76%
Tess of the D’Urbervilles- Thomas Hardy 0.76%
Emma- Jane Austen 0.5%
Middlemarch- George Eliot 0%
So I am one of these people who like to search things on the internet like: “Classics Everyone Should Read” and “100 Books You Must Read Before You Die” etc. This probably isn’t the best way to find out about books that I might like to read in future, as there are many books that will be missing from these lists that are very good in their own right.
But I still do it anyway. Can’t help it.
Having read a number of these lists however it always amazes me how much variation there is from one to the next. Of course there are books that are on literally every single one of these ‘ULTIMATE’ lists, for example Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. But there are sometimes very notable differences between lists.
This is undoubtedly because each list is, to a degree, affected by the bias of the people who are asked to choose what literary classics they prefer. What one person says is a ‘must-read’ might be the most hated book of another person.
However, because of the number of serial offenders so to speak, there must be some literary works that are generally perceived to be better than others. And as popularity is one of the factors that decides whether a literary work is a classic or not, this would make sense.
So I have created my own poll so as to see what people genuinely like as I am genuinely interested in collecting some data first hand! I have made a list of 25 books written in the English Language that have all been top serial offenders on a number of lists out there and the poll is open NOW. You can choose up to 3 books on the list. Please take a minute to vote on it and I look forward to seeing what results come up! The link is here: https://criticaldan4th.wordpress.com/poll-what-are-your-favourite-literary-classics/
Please comment if you feel there has been a major injustice in terms of me not putting on a literary classic which you think you should blatantly be on there or indeed the opposite.
Having read To The Lighthouse just before embarking upon another Virginia Woolf classic, I was expecting a novel that was similarly philosophy-driven rather than plot-driven. This was my main issue with To The Lighthouse (hereafter referred to as TTL), the stream of consciousness was great in its own right, but it lacked a plot that satisfied me.
Mrs Dalloway on the other hand, I found, was pleasingly different. The same writing style was used but the plot came through a lot stronger and the characters were presented in a more direct way- in a way that I found easier going.
There are three points of comparison which cry out to me having read both texts so I will concentrate on them in this post. They may not be the comparisons which are the most noticeable for others or the most significant, so feel free to argue your case in the comments!
Mrs Clarissa Dalloway vs Mrs (?) Ramsay
In many ways the characters of Mrs Dalloway and Mrs Ramsay are similar. They are both the main characters in their respective novel and more than that they have a great influence over the people around them. From the outset in TTL, Mrs Ramsay’s effect on her son James is substantial. It says: “to her son, these words conveyed an extraordinary joy” and that to him she spoke with “heavenly bliss”.
Similarly it says that Clarissa (Mrs D) fills Peter Walsh with “terror”, “ecstasy” and “extraordinary excitement”.
However, a notable difference between the two characters is that Mrs Dalloway is given a first name but Mrs Ramsay isn’t. Clarissa is Dalloway’s first name and she is called that at nearly every occasion in the novel however in TTL, Mrs Ramsay remains just that throughout.
This might seem like a minor difference but I think it can be explained by the central theme of marriage and identity in each novel. Mrs Ramsay is always seen in light of her husband and outwardly she is very submissive to his blunt, negative attitude. She therefore can be seen to have been swallowed entirely by her identity as his wife and her traditional role of women in the family, thus her first name is irrelevant.
Clarissa on the other hand is not totally dominated by her husband and in many respects quite the contrary as she is the one that organises the large party which is the centre of the novel’s focus and she is still draws the attention of a number of other men and women. In a sense she is freer than Mrs Ramsay and so it would seem more likely that she would have a first name given to her, she has more of an independent identity.
Time is infinite
Or it is said to be in a stream of consciousness style of writing and so it is no surprise that time plays an important role in both texts, in the way that it is used to represent a new beginning or a new unfolding of events. However it is used differently in each case. Time in TTL is very significant structurally as the novel itself is split up into three sections with the second section being called “Time Passes” and the two other sections being a number of years apart. Therefore the narrative can be seen to span over a lifetime of events and indeed the middle section covers a lot of events in little detail so as to bridge the gap in time.
Time in Mrs Dalloway is also important but as the narrative is based on one party being held on one evening, the time span is a lot smaller than in TTL. Also unlike in TTL where each section is dictated by a particular time period, Mrs Dalloway is broken up into chapters largely irrespective of time. Instead within chapters, the reader is reminded that time is passing because of the references to Big Ben chiming in the background: “For having lived in Westminster – how many years now? over twenty, – one feels even in the midst of the traffic, a suspense before Big Ben strikes”. Time in Mrs Dalloway therefore seems more fixed and rapid than in TTL where the pace is a lot slower because of the larger time span.
Men and their knives
In both novels, I was struck by the perhaps unusual association between male characters and knives. In Mrs Dalloway a knife is associated with two of the main male characters and in different circumstances. It is firstly the one thing that Peter Walsh is playing with inside of his pocket (all the time, he doesn’t stop!): “He opened the big blade of his pocketknife” when entering Clarissa’s party and it is also mentioned again when Septimus Warren Smith is deciding what to use to kill himself.
In TTL the association between men and knives does not recur so much however notably Mr Ramsay is said to be “lean as a knife… as narrow as one” and James cuts out a paper knife with some scissors near the start. In this case again knives have the connotation of danger but also of
The knife can be seen to represent danger in both texts but also a means of defence. Septimus is looking for a way to kill himself to protect himself from his doctor and James can be seen to want to use it to protect his mother from his father. It can also be seen to be phallic imagery too, particularly in the case of Peter Walsh.
Both of these Woolf novels are worth a read in my opinion but if I had the choice again, I would read Mrs Dalloway first so that I could be eased into Woolf’s style of writing before reading the ‘heavier’ To The Lighthouse.
“I prefer men to cauliflowers” – Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
Photo taken from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Double_face.jpg Author: Pierre EmD Date: 03/07/13