I sometimes think people place too much value on classical literature just because it is classical. Having been written in the 19th century does not automatically a good book make, no? I mean, have you READ The Old Man and the Sea? It is several hundred pages of some old fart gazing out into the deep blue, pondering existence. Fascinating, if you’re braindead or on serious narcotics. That being said, lots of classical literature out there is a beautiful window into a universe long past, fueled by timeless characters who, in today’s world, would have hate-watched Keeping Up With The Kardashians and worried that their pushup bra has a quarter inch too much padding. Here are a few of my favorite classics featuring – what else? – strong female protagonists, women whom we would gladly go out with for lattes if we met them at a party tonight.
1) Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Flawed characters often are the most interesting characters, because we identify with them. We see our own shortcomings mirrored in their mistakes. Jane is a classically flawed character who manages to work through her insecurities and prove her mettle. I’ve always found her compelling because I’m sick of authors writing tragically beautiful heroines who are too shy and modest to either know or acknowledge their beauty. “Ohhh, Bella, you’re so gorgeous and you don’t even know it!” Jane Eyre is straight-up homely, real talk. Bronte doesn’t shy away from the topic of romance or sexuality, but manages to do it in a way that doesn’t exploit Jane’s sexuality. This brings us closer to the character as a person, rather than as some magical unicorn-woman with a pussy made of gold and smelling of freshly-baked cookies. Such women don’t exist, and Bronte seems to know this.
Not to mention, this novel is underrated for its sheer gripping thrills. A tall, dark stranger, a mysterious noise from the attic, a twisted relationship – it’s like the original 50 Shades of Gray, but without the misogyny and the terrible writing.
2) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Most people know Lewis Carroll’s tale either from the Disney adaptation or from their own drug-fueled nightmares, but there is so much more to Alice than that. Smart, intrepid and curious, she possesses intelligence and daring remarkable for a child. She thinks and acts much like an adult, but with the childlike sense of wonder and adventure that adults so often lack.
Alice’s journey seems at first to be solely frivolous, an answer to an afternoon of boredom. But soon we come to understand who Alice is at heart, and the people she meets along the way challenge her to put others before herself and to face her own fear of change and transformation. As much a coming-of-age tale as it is a child’s fantasy, it’s hard to leave Alice’s world once you enter it.
3) To Kill a Mockingbird
I give you – my favorite book of all time. Set in 1930’s Alabama, racial tensions are as thick as the humid summer air, and six-year-old Scout Finch watches as her father dares to defend a black man wrongly accused of a rape. Scout may be small, but she manages to insert herself into the middle of things in order to better understand the chaos and hatred darkening her little town’s skies. Her determination to set things right is remarkable, and is especially jarring with juxtaposed with her innocent childhood adventures with her brother Jem and their friend Dill. The children may seem to be just children, helpless to affect the world or the minds of others, but nothing in this book is an accident or a coincidence. Everything is tightly woven together like an expensive tapestry, and the children are the center of this masterpiece of literature.
Harper Lee’s prose simply can’t be beat. She has you hooked from page one, and you won’t be able to put it down until you find out what happens to Tom Robinson, who Boo Radley really is, and how Atticus is going to get everyone out of this dangerous mess. Plus, Scout’s pluck and sense of humor keep this energetic, powerful tale from becoming too dark. She is one of my most beloved characters I’ve ever read, and I’m sure you’ll dig her, too.