My Not So Popular Opinion: Classic Novels Are Overrated

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A monthly discussion post about a topic where my opinion deviates from the norm. The topic will generally be bookish, but may occasional lapse into other subjects. Feel free to join in.

Classic novels are overrated
Let me preface this by saying that I have in no way read all the classic novels (nor do I ever intend to) and there are a (very) small handful that I’m sure I would enjoy, namely anything written by Jane Austen. This post is my opinion on the classic novels I was forced encouraged to read during my time in high school. In my entire high school career, there was only one thing that I enjoyed reading, Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. THAT’s IT. Obviously I run a book blog, so I enjoy reading immensely. I spend all my spare moments curled up in a book, but that book has to be my definition of “good.” Classics don’t meet that standard. This is basically an outlet for me to rant about the bullshit of classic literature.

My number one most hated piece of classic literature, that more or less sparked my hatred for it in 9th grade, is The Tragedy Of Romeo And Juliet. Now, for people who know me in real life, I know I’ve beat this particular horse to death, but it never fails to bother me. Being an all around bookish (and somewhat naive) ninth grader, I was rather excited when my teacher announced that we would be reading this famed play. Isn’t it hyped as being the greatest love story ever? Are there not films and books and songs professing that this particular play is Shakespeare’s greatest work?

If you’ve listened to the radio at all in the past five years, you’ve heard that horrid Taylor Swift song about how she wants swearing that her new love was the Romeo to her Juliet….let me know how that works out for you when you’ve both committed suicide. SPOILER ALERT***They both die. In fact, R&J must be the least romantic thing I’ve ever read…no…wait…that would be Wuthering Heights, but we’ll get to that later. Before you rail on me with that whole “they died because they couldn’t bear to live without the other” know that I will find you and I will hurt you, k? First, suicide is never the answer, NEVER. Again, that’s a rant for another day, but NEVER. Second, I don’t think they were really in love. I think it was a mixture of lust and teenaged rebellion. Think about it, when you are an adolescent, what is more appealing to you than the one thing your parents say you can’t have? The son of your parents arch nemesis, perhaps? Also, this tale takes place over a period of five fucking days. From the first moment they see each other to the death scene, 5 DAYS! And they manage to take down a bunch of people with them in that five days. How is that romantic? And let’s not forget that Romeo was a world class player. In the very beginning, before he lays eyes on his dearest Juliet, he is talking with his buddies about how smitten he is with Rosaline. If I remember correctly, the only reason he goes to the ball where the famed couple meets is to see Rosaline. But oh dear heaven, he sees Juliet and bam! Love. Obviously insta-love is a troupe used throughout literary history, not just in YA novels today. What I don’t get is how do people who hate seeing it in current literature like it in historical literature? Can you explain it to me? These two don’t even have deep meaningful conversations. It basically amounts to he calls her pretty, she thinks he’s hot, therefore we must defy all the rules of our families and runaway together. That’s not my idea of a fun novel.

Then there is Wuthering Heights, which is also deemed to be one of the greatest love stories of all times. Once again, my question is how? To be fair, I never finished this novel. I couldn’t. It would too much. Heathcliff and Catherine more are fucking horrible to each other. HORRIBLE. They are friends and then she gets a taste of a higher level of life and shuns him. Then she marries another man even though she loves Heathcliff. And the only damn reason is because Heathcliff is poor and lowborn and she just can’t marry someone who is lowborn. Now, admittedly, that was a common opinion that marrying below your station was a huge deal, but if it’s supposed to be “romantic” than you’d want them to defy the odds, right? Not hear. Eventually Catherine dies and Heathcliff marries someone else. It’s beyond dreadful.

These are the two that I have the biggest issues with. I’ve read others and skimmed through even more, and I just can’t tolerate any of it. Just because it’s old, that makes it worthy of praise? In that case, I can’t wait to be old so everyone will praise me. That’s the only common element of most of the classics I have read, it’s old and rather depressing. Why does it have to be depressing? Why is that a mark of “good” writing? I realize that some stories have a moral and their main goal is to get that point across, but if you make it so dull that I want to claw my eyes out, then odds are, I’m not going to finish it and the moral of the story is never received. The Grimm brothers I love because they tell incredible gory stories, that still manage to have a happy ending (mostly) and they keep it short. Cinderella isn’t a 500 page epic narrative. It’s more like 20, if that. Short, sweet, and to the point. And Cinderella gets her prince while her sisters are punished.

I will admit that I like most retellings, both in literature and film. Gnomeo & Juliet and Warm Bodies are both amazing revamped versions of Romeo & Juliet that I absolutely adored. 10 Things I Hate About You, which is my very favorite movie ever, is a retelling on Shakespeare’s Taming The Shrew. It seems like the retellings amplify what I like and cut of what I don’t, making them perfect. So maybe classic novels are the perfect place to go for inspiration.

What do you think? Am I completely off my rocker? Or do you agree that just because a novel is old doesn’t make it praise worthy? Or are you on the fence? Have you read classic novels you loved, but also ones that you’ve hated? Let me know in the comments!

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15 thoughts on “My Not So Popular Opinion: Classic Novels Are Overrated

  1. Completely agree! There are so many classics that are praised beyond belief! I have tried reading several and could not bear to finish them. And the ones that I have finished were an ordeal in itself.

  2. I am so with you. I never was a fan of any classic books in school. The only book that we read in high school that I even saw the read point in reading was The Canterbury Tales. My most un-favorite book they made us read was Great Expectations. I was actually excited to read it… and man what a let down. The only message I got out of that book was “women are evil” which actually seems to be a common theme in classic books. Oh and I couldn’t comment on this without mentioning The Catcher in the Rye. I read it just to see what all the fuss was about… and I’m still wondering what all the fuss is about. It’s just a bratty teenage boy wandering around thinking about doing things and never doing anything at all. I was NOT a fan.

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t like the classics. Great topic!!

    • Luckily, I was never forced to read Great Expectations or Catcher In The Rye, though, like you, I have been tempted to read both due to the hype. And the woman are evil things is the truth! It’s everywhere in classic literature.

      Thank you so much for commenting. ^-^

  3. I think that classic books are important, but aren’t necessarily the best reads. I read them mostly to understand what was popular at the time in a historical context so I don’t really think ‘classics’ should be named that because they are popular outside of their time. I totally agree with Romeo and Juliet. I’ve read a little Shakespeare and never liked any of it. Some of them are definitely overrated, but some are okay, it’s just the challenge of finding the good ones.

    • I can see that. Finding Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead was totally worth the effort of getting through Hamlet. I can also see the historical aspect, trying to understand the people of those times. It’s like trying to find the perfect YA novel, sometimes you have to dig through the crap to get to the gold.

      Thank you so much for commenting. ^-^

  4. I honestly could rant for AGES about how unrealistic and awful Romeo & Juliet is. It frustrates me so much when people try to logically defend the book because there is no logic at all! For me with school it’s been hit or miss with classics. Catcher in the Rye was awful, I never even finished it, and I’ve also never finished Jane Eyre. Great Expectations made my head hurt, yet I somewhat enjoyed the Tale of Two Cities. Classics are important, because they show history and how writing has evolved and such, but sometimes the story just sucks.

    • Same! I get so angry over it. Every time I hear that Taylor Swift song, I go into a rage about it. I think I’m the same way. I loved Pride & Prejudice, but everything else just rubbed me the wrong way. I’ll have to add A Tale of Two Cities back to my list.

      I agree that they are important for the same reason, but I hate how they force kids to read them in school. I think it inspires legions of teens to believe that reading is a boring experience when we all know it isn’t.

  5. I love Jane Austen’s books and I’ve read several other Classics, but man, Romeo and Juliet is the stupidest story ever written! I had to study it in Year 10 and it was just AWFUL. Funnily enough, I just reviewed a book about Benvolio and Rosaline from R&J…

    Wuthering Heights confused me. I adore Ten Things I Hate About You. And I hate every text I have to study in English. Some Classics are definitely overrated, so I agree with you to some extent.

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    • Exactly! I think high school is the worst time to introduce classic literature. It tells kids that reading is boring and depressing. Why would you want to send that message? I think that is a big part of the reason so many people don’t read, they just don’t realize it’s not all like that!

  8. I assume the grammatical mistakes and poor spelling are an artistic representation of your rebellion against literary norms. If so, I still disagree with almost everything you wrote, but it was interesting.

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