by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian
How many of the classics have you read? We’ve all read some in school: Johnny Tremain and Lord of the Flies, anyone? Some of us like to tackle a classic novel from time to time to see whether we think they’re one of the best, or as good as we remember. The Litchfield Library has been replacing some old, worn-out copies of classic novels with new editions recently, because they still get checked out regularly.
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway was published in 1940. Robert Jordan is a young American teacher who goes to Spain to fight for the Loyalists in the Civil War. He becomes disenchanted, but in the end he learns about the value of life. This novel was chosen for the 1941 Pulitzer Prize, but the recommendation was reversed when the prize board was convinced that the novel was indecent; no award was granted that year. I started reading this novel in an English class, but when none of the students were keeping up on it, the teacher said she couldn’t teach us about a book no one had read and she called it off in frustration! My classmates might find it more interesting now. A Spanish character in the novel asks Robert if there are not many fascists in his country, and he replies, “There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes.” Look for themes of superstition, irony, death, and the common people vs. the political-military complex.
The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a Gothic novel published in 1851. The grand house is built after Colonel Pyncheon covets the land and has the owner charged with witchcraft. The man cries out on the gallows that the Pyncheons will forever be cursed. The novel’s events mostly take place 160 years later, when the family and house are crumbling ruins, seemingly from the curse. The house functions as a character in this novel, and themes of guilt, ghosts, and original sin are significant in the book. Never as popular as Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, this novel still attracts readers a century and half after it was written.
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens should attract local readers since the musical Oliver! was just performed in Litchfield last month. Young Oliver is an orphan in a workhouse who is sold to an undertaker after his famous line, “Please, sir, I want some more.” After Oliver runs away from the funeral parlor, he meets the Artful Dodger and innocently joins a gang of pickpockets in London. This novel was originally published in installments in a magazine between 1837 and 1839. Dickens believed the way the English dealt with poverty and homelessness led to more trouble, particularly crime, and in this novel the good and the evil people get their just rewards.
One of my favorite novels of all time is Emma by Jane Austen. I took a class on the history of the British novel in college, and the early ones were dreadfully boring. Then I read Emma, expecting more of the same since I had not yet discovered Jane Austen, and partway through I thought, “Hang on… This is a romance novel!” It is more than that, with wonderful character studies and sarcasm and witty observations. But finally we had reached a point in the history of the novel (1815) where a coherent, suspenseful plot, character development, and smart dialogue actually happened. I think one of the great things about this novel is that Emma grows as a person, realizing that she is selfish and that other people aren’t her playthings.
We have also recently replaced many well-worn copies of Zane Grey’s novels, ever popular among our customers, plus some of Agatha Christie’s and Erle Stanley Gardner’s. Some we now have on audiobook, as well. I hope that it will be more pleasant to read fresh new copies of some of these time-tested books that have been loved to pieces.