Are classic novels a thing of the past?


Was Mark Twain right when he made this statement? Even in the 19th century were classics unread?

From the blogs that I follow and people on Twitter that I follow nobody seems to read a classic novel anymore. Is it because so many contemporary books are on offer that are these classics no longer read other than by secondary schoolers studying them for their English literature exams? Actually, I read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee as a school project and it became my favourite novel, it’s probably the only novel I’ve read several times.

If we do read a classic novel, is it because we think we should or some list on Facebook or online says you should read these 50 novels before you die?

I’ve recently starting reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles after watching and enjoying a TV dramatisation, but I must admit I’m finding the language pretty hard going. I can’t get through as many chapters in one sitting as I can with other contemporary novels as I find myself re-reading to understand what I’ve read.

In the past couple of years I’ve read Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger and more recently I tried to read Anna Karenina and only got half way through. To be honest, both these classics bored me to tears and I didn’t enjoy them at all.

The shame of it is that so many of these books are free to download from sites for e-readers but are we just no longer interested?

The BBC Big Read conducted a search for the nation’s favourite book in 2003, here’s the top 10 of that list:

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

As this was 10 years ago, it probably could you do with updating, leave me a comment and tell me what’s your favourite classic novel?


  1. 15th June 2013 / 10:44 am

    I like The Lord of the Flies, does that count as a classic? 🙂

  2. 17th June 2013 / 7:42 pm

    I’ve made it a mission of mine to start a ‘classic reading list’ because I’m completely ignorant of well-known books. I guess I felt a little left out when people seemed shocked that I hadn’t read something like Frankenstein etc.

    Perhaps less people than I thought actually bother with classics! I just think that the classics provide a basis for a lot of contemporary stories, so why not read the originals? Yes they will more than likely be outdated and hard to understand (I know what you mean about Tess, I read it in high school) but I think they’re worth the time. Even just so I can say I’ve given them a go! I always say that you never know what you might find if you give something a try…

    • 17th June 2013 / 7:51 pm

      You’re absolutely right Charl, you don’t know till you try. They do tend to be a hard slog though don’t they?
      I haven’t read Frankenstein either, but not because of its age, just because it’d probably scare me.
      I will pick Tess up again soon as I don’t want to be defeated!
      I’ve just had a look at your classics reading list – wow there’s a lot on there! Maybe we could pick the same one and read at the same time for moral support??

  3. 17th June 2013 / 8:10 pm

    Such a good idea! Let me know what you fancy.

    I think that’s my problem, I hate to be defeated. The idea of stopping a book part way through nowadays fills me with dread. Even if I hated something I’d want to see it through to the end! That’s just me being odd.

    I reviewed Frankenstein not too long ago and it’s nowhere near as bad as what I was imagining. I expected to understand very little because of its age but I was pleasantly surprised. I’m scared by my own shadow but I didn’t find it a distressing read at all.

    I agree they can be hard. I’ve just finished Brideshead Revisited and that took ages for me to get into! You wouldn’t think it would be the case for a book like that but by god it was a bit of an uphill struggle at times. But at least now I can say I gave it a go and I’ve read it.

    Yes give Tess another try too! I haven’t read it for years but I really want to give it a re-read. It has many layers and I really enjoyed the story.

    • 18th June 2013 / 8:52 pm

      I’m going from your list and quite fancy these:
      The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
      Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
      The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
      The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
      Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

      Let me know what you think, when’s best to schedule and if we should rope in some others? 🙂

  4. 19th June 2013 / 5:38 pm

    Oh god I’m awful at making decisions! My first instinct is The Picture of Dorian Gray? I’m happy to see if other people would like to read along at the same time, though I’m not sure how many won’t have already read Dorian. Can always change the book, there’s plenty of other classics that I haven’t read!

    I’m flexible with when to read. In a week or two? It depends if you’ve already got a list of books that you’re working through! I’m going to be starting Catcher in the Rye very soon but that won’t take me long to read. After that I’m pretty easy, I just tend to go on a book-by-book basis without too much thought.

    • 19th June 2013 / 8:10 pm

      Ok, let’s do that one then 🙂
      Am committed to a couple for next week or so, could say let’s start July 1st? If anyone else would like to join, the more the merrier! Very excited!!

      • 20th June 2013 / 11:17 am

        July 1st is good for me! I’ll add you on Twitter etc. Might do a post to see if anyone is interested and if Dorian is a popular choice.

        • 20th June 2013 / 1:57 pm

          Good idea 🙂

  5. 25th June 2013 / 11:39 am

    I guess each person has their own reading interests but I still think there are people who are reading classics. Contemporary authors writing today would have been influenced by previous books in their genre and sometimes this influence in their writing encourages readers to look at these books. Take Harry Potter for example. I’m sure people who loved the series were inclined to look at the books that provided inspiration for Rowling- like Tolkien and Edith Nesbit. I also think that if people like a book like, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, they will be inclined to read The Catcher in The Rye as it’s a similar coming-of-age story. I think part of the problem with Classics is that the term has expanded over time as we now have modern classics like Harry Potter sitting on the shelf next to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I’ll admit there are a ton of classics that I have yet to read but I hope I’ll get around to finishing the list. I would also recommend The Picture of Dorian Grey- it’s a great book. 🙂

  6. 1st July 2013 / 1:42 pm

    I haven’t really read many classics as there’s millions of others to read. I hope someone quotes me on that in 100 years time.

    I recently started David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, an author I previously despised due to being forced to read Great Expectations in school. Thing is, I’m actually enjoying DC.

    Bonkers, eh?

  7. 1st July 2013 / 4:05 pm

    My favorite classic is Gone With the Wind, but I love so many of them: Walden, Jane Eyre, Villette, Agnes Grey, Sense & Sensibility, Little Women, A Tale of Two Cities, etc.

    I feel compared to share: The Classics Club — 349 classic readers so far. 🙂 Cheers!

  8. 2nd September 2018 / 10:25 am

    I read a few Thomas Hardy novels ‘life before children’ after visiting his home in Bockhampton but probably wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t.

    There are so many great books being published aren’t there … no time!


    • Lindsay | Bookboodle
      5th September 2018 / 8:04 pm

      I bought Tess of the D’Urbervilles when I visited Thomas Hardy’s cottage last year. I had tried to read it before on a Kindle copy but couldn’t get it into it. I thought having the paperback might help 😉

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