I need to confess my cultural ignorance. I have never read some of what are often called ‘the classics’. This deficit doesn’t usually make a massive difference, but, having now visited the wonderful Haworth – only a few miles from the wonderful Bradford – several times in the five months since we moved back up north, I am embarrassed by knowing a good deal about the Brontës without having read any of their books.
I can feel a bout of Jane Austen coming on as well.
I once made the mistake of telling the Archbishop of Canterbury that I found Dostoevsky boring – three attempts at ‘Crime and Punishment’ had never got me beyond page 82 as “nothing really happened”. After a short silence in which he probably wondered about my credentials, he replied that he was about to write a book about Dostoevsky. (I went out and read everything Dostoevsky had ever written – my next conversation with Rowan Williams might need to be a bit more intelligent and a bit more informed.)
Anyway, embarrassment aside, I am half way through ‘Wuthering Heights’ – despite being told by a clever literary friend that, not being a 17 year old girl, I might not quite ‘get it’. Discouragements aside, I am now intending to read the Brontës. Then I’ll be able to go back to Haworth with my head held high(er).
So far – I am half-way through- it is OK. But, I am still not sure how to judge whether or not it is (or should be regarded as) a ‘classic’. Which criteria do we use to make such a judgement? Or Is it merely subjective? Is there any… er… evidence?
While writing this, the news has broken that Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend have won their appeal in Italy against their convictions for murdering the Surrey student Meredith Kercher. What is amazing is the stuff flying around Twitter and the blogosphere celebrating their release or condemning it. It isn’t clear what has led to which response. Does Knox look guilty? Does her lifestyle make her more likely than not to have been guilty? Or what? How do people in England or anywhere else know with such certainty whether they are guilty or not?
Cases such as this one get acres of media coverage because of the mixture of sex, violence, mystery and character – hyped in the tabloids at every stage of a complex presentation of evidence. There are heroes and villains and the language used of them suggests who is which. It isn’t clear that hype encourages good or wise judgement, but I am equally unsure how to judge the guilt of ‘foxy Knoxy’ as to decide what makes ‘Wuthering Heights’ a classic of English literature.
Maybe when I finish it…