My fellow Austen Author, Katherine Reay, discusses her love of the Classics. Please share with her your favorite Classic literature when you are finished reading.
If you’ve read Dear Mr. Knightley or Lizzy & Jane, you know I keep returning to these beloved favorites and, from the title alone, you can tell The Bronte Plot will be no different. The Classics have me hooked.
When asked about this, it’s usually assumed that I studied literature in school and come to this adoration with a very firm scholarly backing. Let me be very clear – I don’t. I approach the Classics (note that reverent capital “C”) with a writer’s interest and a reader’s adoration. And, I think, one of the reasons that I love them is because, not only are they beautifully written, but 100, 200, 300 years later, they still speak to us. We use them in our daily conversations (at least I do); they form our world views and feel as real to us often as our own friends and family. These books, that have stood the test of time and touch upon emotions, motivations, issues and eternal concerns that are still alive and relevant.
I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit.
Austen penned that for Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, but doesn’t she also capture the universality of men, gentleman, parenting and discipline? Goodness, I’m now looking at my own son and hope against hope I’m getting it right.
And, while we may think of these stories within the historical fiction genre, they were often cutting-edge contemporary novels at publication, breaking new literary ground and digging into issues previously untouched – pushing the boundaries of storytelling, setting and character. In fact, Jane Eyre is credited for single-handedly ushering in the more emotional, character-focused novel. Today we call it “literary fiction.”
I firmly believe these novels still have much in them to delight us and tell us… Here are three that I’ve been enjoying lately:
Bram Stoker’s Dracula. How did this one ever pass by my radar? I finally dug into it a few months ago and loved it! It’s incredibly creepy and I love that a book written in 1897 can still make my skin crawl. Death and decay seeped into every page and my dreams. Wow!
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. This is an absolute favorite of mine and it plays a large role in my next novel. Bronte fashioned a fascinating character in Jane – so much change, passion and vulnerability. And the scope of the novel reaches farther than that – you see social movement, British imperialism, changing thoughts on religion and justice all within the pages. And, for me, a great attraction is Bronte’s strong and symbolic secondary characters, such as Rochester and St. John.
Jane Austen’s Persuasion. It has to be mentioned – not only because this is “Austen Authors,” but because this book is never far from me. It is my all-time favorite novel (and Lizzy’s favorite in Lizzy & Jane –not a coincidence.) And in this quiet story, Austen is brilliant at laying out huge character struggles in her own understated way and often within a single line.
“I cannot possibly do without Anne,” was Mary’s reasoning; and Elizabeth’s reply was, “Then I am sure Anne had better say, for nobody will want her in Bath.”
Anne, the main character and the middle sister, is caught between the whims of the married younger sister and the domineering older. She has no say, no means and no ability to carry out her own will and you can feel her simultaneously yanked and pushed all way to whiny Mary’s side. Throughout the whole novel, there is such pressure on her that I keep revisiting her journey to discern how Austen made me feel all Anne’s constraints, desires and tensions without spoon-feeding it to me. Brilliant.
So what are some of your favorites? I’d love to know what you think and what’s on your bedside table these days…
Meet Katherine Reay: Katherine Reay has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries — who provide constant inspiration both for writing and for life. Katherine’s first novel, Dear Mr. Knightley, was a 2014 Christy Award Finalist and winner of the 2014 INSPY Award for Best Debut as well as Carol Awards for both Best Debut and Best Contemporary. She is also the writer behind Lizzy & Jane and the The Bronte Plot – all contemporary stories with a bit of “classics” flair. Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, runner, former marketer, avid chocolate consumer and, randomly, a tae kwon do black belt. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine and her family recently moved back to Chicago.