30 day book challenge – day 11 – Favourite classic book.

If you read my last post, you will know that I tried my best to avoid the classics for a long time.  I think it was down to reading and hating Pride and Prejudice in my teens.  After reading and loving Tess of the D’Urbevilles, I realised I had a lot of catching up to do and so I have been making an effort to catch up on everything I had so stubbornly and stupidly missed.

My favourite classics author so far is Edith Wharton.  I have read two of her most famous works – The Age of Innocence and House of Mirth.  I honestly can’t separate which out of the two I prefer, so I’m going to write about them both.

496px-Age.Of.Innocence.1920.Cover

The Age of Innocence tells the story of Newland Archer in 1870s New York.  He makes a good, conventional match with May Welland and his life is set to follow exactly the lines that he had expected.  However, he then meets and falls in love with Countess Ellen Olenska, who is scandalously separated from her husband.  Newland finds himself torn between his duty and the expectations of society, and his own passionate love for Countess Olenska.

House of Mirth 5

The House of Mirth is the story of Lily Bart.  Her father died in mysterious circumstances following his financial ruin, leaving Lily dependant on wealthy relatives,  Lily is the belle of 1890s New York society and has a real taste for pleasure – she wants to wear the latest fashions, attend all the best parties, gamble at bridge.  She knows that in order to survive, she needs to make a good marriage, however she cannot bring herself to give up her single life and steps away from the brink numerous times.  Lily is a object of desire for men, including married men, and she ultimately finds herself ruined by scandal.

I really enjoyed both of these books for their devastating portrayals of New York society, for their well painted and believable central characters who maintain sympathy throughout, and for their unexpected and in a way, heartbreaking endings.  When writing about society from that era, it would be very easy to be superficial, but all of her characters have real depth and complexity, and Edith Wharton does a tremendous job of portraying this to her readers.  I won’t spoil the end of either book for anyone who has not read them, but they are both really thought provoking and stayed with me for a little while after I had finished.  As much as I enjoyed the whole of  both of these excellent books, it is their endings that elevated them from being more than just good classics into becoming my favourites.

 

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Posted on September 8, 2013, in Reading and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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