While I read some Jane Austen when I was a teenager, I only truly enjoyed reading her work as an adult. As a teenager I struggled to understand the different characters and their connections, the language, the complexity of social norms, etc. (And that went for many other classics, not just Austen.)
Everyone loves to say they love Pride and Prejudice, and whilst it was my ‘first’ Austen to read, it was more of a skim as I tried to recall the BBC series plot. The first Jane Austen novel that I got truly lost in was ‘Northanger Abbey’, which is one of my favourite books (and movies) of all time. From then I was able to read the others with understanding and enjoyment, and at a much quicker pace.
But I’ll talk about Northanger Abbey further on! Let’s look at four novels that got me into reading classics.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
This was one of the sweetest, heart-warming novels I’ve ever read. About the March household and the different circumstances they journey through, I didn’t want to put this book down.
Part of the appeal is the difference in sisters. We get a grasp on each one’s unique personality and their reactions to situations. There are four of them, and each lovable and flawed in her own way. They have realistic arguments, and moments that make you want to cry, but they also have a strong bond and many triumphs.
I’ve said before that I like stories of everyday life, and not shying away from the ordinary and daily routine. I found this classic easy to read because of this; none of the writing is dramatised, and their lives aren’t exaggerated in any way. The sisters are simply who they are, getting by with their father away at war. It’s relatable in this way because despite the time it’s set in, we see ourselves in the March family.
The language is also simple compared to some other classics, as it’s considered a children’s classic. I think. But this doesn’t diminish from the novel; no matter how old I am I’ll love this book and read it without feeling it’s too simple. To further reiterate this point, I read this for the first time as an adult, so I don’t like it purely for the sentimental factor.
My rating: 4/5 stars
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I won’t fully review this, as I wrote a review in a zine that a friend and I sell on Etsy, but it was one of the first classics I read and loved; it’s also my favourite book of all time.
The language of Jane Eyre isn’t ‘easy’ to read, and it’s a lengthy novel, but the character of Jane pulls you along and you don’t want to miss a thing. Jane is perhaps the strongest female protagonist I’ve ever come across; unapologetic for her beliefs and unchanging in her morals, she is a true heroine. She is courageous and resilient despite the tragedies she’s faced in the past, and offers intelligence to each situation.
The writing is very descriptive, but once you get past the language, the character of Jane gives you reason to keep going. She knows how to stand up for herself and gives the reader every reason to root for her.
My rating: 5/5 stars
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden is a children’s classic, but just like ‘Little Women’, it’s a full novel that doesn’t feel too young regardless of your age. Filled with mystery, growth of character, and plenty of compassion, this book has all the elements that make you want to know the ending.
Our recently orphaned protagonist, Mary Lennox, is sent to live with her uncle, who lives in a secretive and almost magical home. At the beginning of the novel she’s rude and stubborn, which gives us the most charming character development as she opens herself up to love and friendship.
While the plot may seem predictable, the writing is flawless and easy to follow. I had no trouble in learning each character and their connection. And while it is a children’s classic, the journey Mary goes on as she discovers the garden is the most beautiful representation of what goes in her own heart and the heart of the reader.
My rating: 4/5 stars
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey follows the young and naive Catherine Morland. Catherine loves to read and use her vivid imagination, which often gets her in trouble as her real life is no where near as dramatic. There is a sweetness to Catherine that is often taken advantage of by deceitful friends, as she sees the best in people, but this gives her room for great character development.
I was seventeen or eighteen when I read this, and found I related to this novel more than other Austen novels. It was also Austen’s first novel (though last to be published), which is perhaps why it isn’t as complex as the others. I found the story much easier to follow than her other novels, and the characters less entwined; it was easy to understand who everyone was and how they knew each other because there weren’t many connections between characters (‘Emma’, for instance, has quite a few).
Also Tilney. Yeah boi.
My rating: 5/5 stars
There are many, many classics that I love. Room with a View (E.M. Forster), Agnes Grey (Anne Bronte), Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier), The Harp in the South (Ruth Park), to name a few. And for me, these are relatively easy to read now. But they didn’t start my journey into classics, and if I had tried to read ‘Rebecca’ before any other classic, I probably would’ve given up.
My point is, don’t be discouraged by all classics. There are some that I’ve tried to read in recent times and just can’t. Maybe one day, maybe not. But I’ll keep my children’s classics and be happy.