Classics can be quite intimidating, especially when it comes to length, language and even sometimes problematic and archaic themes. However, there are some amazing ones out there that we can still learn a bit from today. Here, I list some of my absolute favourite classics that I think you should definitely check out, either to give classics a second chance (after A-Level English) or to just get started with the genre in general. I have chosen a few that are quite accessible and easy to start with, so they shouldn’t be too difficult to get your classics journey started.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
I could not make a classics guide without mentioning Jane Austen because she is iconic and if A-Level English ruined her for you, please give her a second chance. The key with Austen is to read her books while paying attention to the incredibly sarcastic narration and hilarity of the characters in the books. Of course, I would generally recommend all of her books, but I think Northanger Abbey is a great place to start with Austen and classics in general. It was the first book she ever wrote, it is quite short, very easy to follow, and basically makes fun of the gothic and horror fiction that was very prevalent at the time she was writing. It really exemplifies Austen’s wit and sarcasm.
Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
Again, as with Austen, I would absolutely recommend to you all of the Brontë sisters’ works, especially Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, which are iconic and books everyone should read at some point in their lives. However, Anne Brontë is not talked about nearly as much as the other two sisters and she wrote some excellent books as well. Agnes Grey is another very accessible classic that is a quick and impactful read about a young governess that has to take care of three dreadful children. Its narrative has a lot of parallels to Anne Brontë’s actual life and it is an all-around surprising and underhyped classic.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde has his way with words and storylines and manages to spin a perfect tale of beauty and corruption with very gay undertones. This twisted story centres around Dorian Gray, a young and beautiful man who sells his soul for eternal beauty, leading to his moral disintegration. When it first came out, it was highly criticised for its corrupting character and later even used against Wilde during his trials for homosexuality. When referring to the book’s characters, Wilde expressed that “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps”.
Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
I had to put the queen of crime on here because she really shaped the murder mystery genre and is one of my all-time favourite authors. And Then There Were None is probably the one she is most famous for (it is excellent), but Five Little Pigs is a little less well known and a highly interesting character study of five people that were all involved in a murder several years ago, each one recounting the murder in their own terms. Five Little Pigs is a very quick read and is guaranteed to keep you on your toes.