You may be aware that the editors of The Literati all met while creating BookTube content. We have been involved in the bookish community on the internet, whether it be via blogging, creating video content or obsessing on twitter. Our obsession with reading great literature has lead us to some amazing books. However, we have noticed that while talking about classics, there are always obvious picks, from authors like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, to novels like To Kill A Mockingbird and Jane Eyre. These are great books for a reason, but we wanted to talk about books that we feel are neglected. These books might not fit everyone's definition of a classic, and for the purpose of simplicity, we have included modern classics in this list as well. Enjoy this list of alternative classics.
The Monk by Matthew Lewis
When The Monk was first published in 1796 it was surrounded by heated hatred and scandal. One critic claimed that The Monk was full of "Lust, murder, incest, and every atrocity that can disgrace human nature"; a line that now seems to commonly appear in the synopsis of the book. This novel is a transgressive gothic novel and possibly one of the first books to feature a priest in such a villainous way there is so much more going on within the pages. Often people tend to see the book as anti-religious, anti-Catholic and immoral but this is a problem with taking text to literally. The Monk socially critiques the church in a comedic way. Although there are many dark and brutal themes, for example near the start of the book there is the line "She was wise enough to hold her tongue. As this is the only instance known of a Woman's ever having done so, it was judged worthy to be recorded here" and thought it was a little harsh; you will soon began to see a real tongue in cheek approach emerging from this brilliant gothic novel.
The Lover by Marguerite Duras
Marguerite Duras novel L’Amant (The Lover) is set in the colony of French Indochina (now known as Vietnam) during the 1920s. The novel explores the salacious love affair between a fifteen-and-a-half year-old French girl and a wealthy Chinese man. What makes this a literary masterpiece is the exploration into desire (and colonialism) and the experimental style adopted for this novel. The narrative devices adopted allows Marguerite Duras to tell an autobiographical story while offering a form of self-reflection and a way to analyse her own feelings. This is the type of novel that you want to dip in and out of because of the elegant language, you may even wish you could read French, just to experience this book in its original language.
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
Main Street; that primary street in every small town that is exactly the same, full of stores and a place where you are guaranteed to run into people you know. Carol Kennicott finds herself moving to Gopher Prairie, Minnesota with her new husband. Carol is a liberal, free spirited city girl who finds herself appalled by the backwardness of this small country town. Her disdain for the town’s ugliness and smug conservatism compels her to change it. Times have changed since when this novel was published in 1920 but in this small town it feels like nothing has changed. If you like to read about a culture clash between the ‘wholesome’ small town and an outsider then Sinclair Lewis has got what you need. Main Street is a satirical novel about the pettiness, back-stabbing and the hypocrisies that make up a small town.
Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was a highly controversial book at the time it was released and even still now. Released in 1870, it was denounced in Germany by a popular newspaper and many people looked down on the book as something not worth reading. Deplorable, perhaps. However, it did garner a sort of cult-following during the time and also for the rest of Sacher-Masoch’s life.
The book follows a man who has a desire to be fully dominated by a woman. To have his life in her hands at all times. I mustn't spoil the book because it is full of wonders.
If you didn’t previously know, that the word ‘masochist’ came from Leopold’s last name. And the word ‘sadism’ came from the Marquis de Sade’s last name. For people telling you that literature doesn’t really influence everyday culture, you can tell them this piece of information!
Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
This one comes from a very well-known cautionary tale about a man who sells his soul to the devil. Although that might sound cliche, do not let that stop you from reading this magnificent play. The writing alone is worth it. Take a break from lighthearted classics, and read this one instead. The play will capture you with its first beautiful poem, "Dedication," my personal favourite to reread for dreary and nostalgic days. You’ll be swept away with the metaphors and the gorgeous writing. Experience the story of this German legend from a legendary German writer.
Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin
Classic erotica? Sign me up! Although not my personal favourite, this one has some of the most visually appealing writing I have ever read. Some of the images are still burned into my mind. Although this book was written in the 20th century, it is a classic in every right because of its singularity in the genre and its lasting influence in the literary community. You might not consider this a classic-classic, like Goethe’s erotic poems or Catullus’, because it is more modern but still it has the absurdity and intensity you’d find in Catullus’ poems. Get ready for a wild ride with Anaïs Nin!
The Meek One by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Have you wanted to read Dostoevsky but are intimidated by his lengthy novels and heavy symbolism? Well there’s gotta be a better way, and there’s no better way than with starting with one of his shorter works, “The Meek One.” This one will be a good tester of whether or not you will enjoy Dostoevsky’s writing style. It follows an older gentlemen, setting his sights on a young girl, who he eventually marries and slowly drives insane. The deep psychological torment is enough to start driving you crazy. Truly a masterpiece and worth every minute of your time. Once you have read this, you’ll be ready to dive into the brilliance that is Fyodor Dostoevsky.
The Diary of a Madman and Other Tales of Horror by Guy de Maupassant
Diary of a Madman and Other Tales of Horror is one of the best horror books I have come across. I have read my share of horror, but this one is something I think about almost every day. Most people are afraid of the unknown, supernatural, things that go bump in the night, and even over-the-top gore, but those are qualities of horror that do not scare me. What scares me – the real horror – is human nature. As ridiculous and trite as that may sound, the cruelty that our hands are capable of has always been a true fear, because it is real. The supernatural is attractive but not scary to me. It's what I see on the news, what I hear from other people, misinformation that drives people to commit crimes that puts me squarely in a place of fear. Guy de Maupassant has written a short story masterpiece, with stories that deal with human nature, and the cruelty and darkness we dole out to each other almost mercilessly. Although written in the 19th century, the stories are still fresh and filled with terror that haunts me to this day.
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
When talking about Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita is the one book that often gets recommended, and with good reason. However Pale Fire deserves to be mentioned as one of Nabokov’s greatest novels. Vladimir Nabokov’s novel is centred on a 999 line poem of the same name by fictional poet John Shade. It’s primarily focus is the literary commentary by Charles Kinbote, an academic with an obsession with the poet. The novel starts with the poem in four cantos, then leads into Kinbote’s analysis, Pale Fire is a wonderfully complex novel on obsession and literary criticism. While Nabokov’s 1962 post-modern masterpiece might sound dense on the surface, I found the novel itself easy to read, but difficult to unpack. On reading this, I found myself laughing at the leaps Kinbote often took to explain the Shade poem. I can’t help but think this was a reflection of some of the assignments Nabokov read as a lit professor.
Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille
This is a staple here at The Literati: it is the only book we have set as required reading (so far) in the bookclub. Georges Bataille’s 1928 novella Story of the Eye has often been read for the graphic details of an increasingly inexplicable adventures of a pair of teenagers and their sexual perversions. Narrated by an unnamed male in his late teens, the book tells the story of his passionate affair with Simone, his primary partner. Throughout the book their relationship involves other people including a mentally ill sixteen year-old girl and a voyeuristic English émigré aristocrat. To say this book is risqué might actually be an understatement, but is the book really about fornication? Come for the disturbing…stay for the symbolism.