William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Mary Shelley.
These are just some of many classical writers who wrote some of the best and most iconic pieces of literature.
Or is that what we are instructed to believe?
To this day, they are celebrated, read for pleasure, and the source of classroom curriculum. English courses, from high school to college, never stray too far from these writers.
As these novelists are explored, along with their work, a basis is made known that the classics must be studied and thoroughly enjoyed before we interact with modern writings.
It is important for the classics to be read, but is there an unwritten rule that creates an obligation for English students to like all the classics?
Have you ever sat in the midst of a literature class, the book of last night’s assignment placed on the desk in front of you?
As an English major at college, I know this scene all too well.
I have been in the situation where instructor and classmates are raving about a book or poem written by a literature pioneer. The consensus of the review is opposite of mine, where I didn’t find it to be that remarkable.
At times, this scenario has been flipped, where I have nothing but great things to share, but everyone else hardly found the piece spectacular.
Is it bad to not enjoy the writers who helped to develop popular forms of storytelling?
Here is my stance.
As humans, opinions of our likes and dislikes is innate. We are constantly forming opinions, ones that we stick with for eternity or discard when something makes us realize another factor.
No matter our relationship to the written word and the writers that fill our shelves, opinions do not stop forming as English students.
In fact, opinions toward books may be a good thing. By having opinions, we are able to create our own queue of work that we can refer to when our own work needs direction.
Classic literature is continuously popular because of its ability to be innovative. These stories pushed boundaries and came with their own set of important messages.
These special messages do not necessarily relate to the theme, but rather what can be learned about writing. We can think to ourselves, “What did this author do that another didn’t?” Or “What did the writing style of this book uniquely offer?”
Classic literature is ground breaking because many of the “firsts” are pressed between the aged pages.
I believe, as a reader, writer, word enthusiast, and English student, that there isn’t an obligation or requirement that classic literature needs to be loved and admired. It, at the very least, can be appreciated.
Even if you are not a fan of a piece of classic literature a level of appreciation can shine through. The story can be acknowledged for what it offers to the world of literature. It is those impacts that can make it great.
Writers shouldn’t feel ashamed for not finding a story to be that great. Think of it this way: not everyone will like our own work. That being the case, it is okay to have stories that do not land on your list of the most stellar. But understanding why this story was groundbreaking both then and now, is important.
This can help English students to realize the evolution of language and how storytelling has changed over the course of ten, twenty, fifty, and even one hundred years. The trajectory of writing is even shifting as we speak.