My First Affair with the Classics

Black BeautyOkay, it’s actually two affairs but I plead ignorance for the first one! There’s also a quick summary of classic books I’ve read in high school at the end of this post.

My earliest encounter with a classic was Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. Black Beauty was a children’s classic first published in 1877. I think my grade five teacher had some obsession with horse fiction because we preceded to read two more of which I don’t remember. Thanks to her, I, too started reading horse fiction for a while such as the Heartland series by Lauren Brooke but I digress. I had no idea what a classic was in grade five, let alone that Black Beauty was one of them. I don’t remember reading it in class but I remember the dramatic points of the plot and watching the movie which was a pretty faithful adaptation of it. I do remember loving the book and even now I still feel a nostalgia for it.

My first adult classic was, of course, forced upon me by my (grade nine) English teacher. But we didn’t read Pride and Prejudice, Catcher in the Rye or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, no, we read Frankenstein. 

Frankenstein. 

By Mary Shelley.

Buddha, save me!

You have no idea how my heart sank when my teacher handed this book out. It wasn’t because this book was long (it’s actually quite short, around 280 pages) or hard to read or that it was boring. It was the fact that it was horror fiction. I am terrified by horror fiction and movies. I couldn’t even bring myself to read R.L Stine’s Goosebump book series or its TV counterpart (admittedly I have seen a few episodes and each one gave me nightmares) as a kid. Even today, you pretty much have to drag me, tooth and nail, to watch a horror movie (unfortunately I watched The Amityville Horror, 15 mins of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Cloverfield, forced by friends naturally) and I guarantee my eyes will be shut half of the time.

Frontispiece to Frankenstein (1831 edition)

Frontispiece to Frankenstein (1831 edition)

But I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, there were scary moments and murders but it wasn’t a gore fest, Frankenstein was very much on the subtle side of horror. The supposed antagonist, Dr. Frankenstein’s “creature,”  was unexpectedly, very human and sensitive. He abhorred his own existence but despite that, asked for a companion to ease his loneliness and to reconcile himself to his unnatural body. I disliked Dr. Frankenstein more than his creature!

While it had you on the edge, the scare wasn’t the novel’s only purpose, it had themes behind it – dangerous knowledge and monstrosity (to name a few), along with a great sympathetic antagonist – and I can forgive a few scares for that.

Frankenstein didn’t make me an avid reader of the horror genre by any measure, but it opened my mind to the genre (in the way of classics especially) and I garnered an appreciation for it.

I read more classics, once again, forced upon by my English teachers. Huckleberry Finn came after Frankenstein, I believe, which sad to say wasn’t particularly enjoyable to me. Grade ten, I read To Kill A Mockingbird. Grade eleven, I read Lord of the Flies as a in-class novel study but I chose and read Pride and Prejudice (loved it!) as my independent novel study. Grade twelve, I read Nineteen-Eight-Four and Animal Farm.

I’m excited to reread Black Beauty and Frankenstein for nostalgia’s sake, but I really have to commend my English teachers for showing me the classics.

Fun Fact: My favourite English teacher (which I got for grade 10 and 12) was Mr. Boomhower – most badass last name for any teacher. 😀

What was your first affair with the classics? How was it?

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