Ex-classics: when classics are forgotten

Here’s an interesting post that I gather was pulled together from a reddit thread: These Books Were Once Considered “Classics” But Are Now Largely Forgotten

Neat idea for a post! Let’s see what’s on the list:

Telemachus by Francois de Fenelon — evidently a retelling of Ulysses from Telemachus’ point of view. That is an interesting idea, but I don’t know that I would rush right out.

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. That one I’ve heard of. Doesn’t sound like my kind of thing at all. “follows orphan Philip on a bildungsroman through Europe.” — yeah, no, not a very appealing description.

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington, “follows the decline of the superrich Ambersons in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.” Ugh.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. Now, that one I actually have on my TBR pile. I will have to overcome my ingrained distrust of anything labeled a “classic” in order to read it, and so far that hasn’t happened. The first line is almost as famous as “It is a truth universally acknowledged” or “Call me Ishmael.” Probably you know it, right? “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I faintly remember having heard of this one, which actually sounds quite inviting. “One would think, in creating what is believed to be the first modern English detective novel, you would solidify your place among the literary greats; that seemingly is not the case for Wilkie Collins, whose 1868 epistolary novel The Moonstone pioneered a new genre.” I like English detective novels and I like epistolary novels, so I guess I should look into getting this one. … Yes, it seems to be free for Kindle. Okay then, added to the TBR pile.

Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon. Well, well. That one I’ve not only heard of, I think I read it. A while ago, though. I don’t remember it well, but yeah. I don’t really like the “blending into the cosmic mind” type of outcome.

Rope by Patrick Hamilton. Well, that is certainly a forgettable title that probably did not do the book any favors. Looks like it was a play, and it is described thus: “[a] Dickensian” portrayal of British street culture amid the World Wars.” Hmm. I think I would rather just read something by Dickens.

Okay, that’s it on the list. Anything you would like to add? I’ll include one that may never have been a classic, but should have been: An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden, published in 1956.

Practically any of Godden’s work ought to have been a classic, and should still be read today. My personal favorite is actually In This House of Brede.

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6 thoughts on “Ex-classics: when classics are forgotten”

  1. I’ve actually read The Moonstone and Scaramouche . FWIW I remember Collins’ work more fondly and looked up The Woman in White as well.

    Definitely Rumer Godden belongs as a classic, and I’m with you on Brede . Others… hmmm … maybe a Du Maurier, like Rebecca? Seton’s Katherine Lots of people I know still love it. Rosemary Sutcliff probably, but I’m not sure which.

    One for the forgotten list Jane Porter’s Scottish Chiefs . She was contemporary to Walter Scott and is claimed to have outsold him with this one. And it is very good. I ran into it as a juvenile ‘Scribner’s Illustrated Classic ‘ abridged edition -at 500 pages it was the largest book I’d dragged home from the library yet. Years later (yay, internet book searches!) got hold of an unabridged edition.

  2. I’ve read Scaramouche: it’s a decent swashbuckler but can’t really live up to that killer first line. Also Star Maker, — though I’d question whether it ever really had classic status.

    I’m not persuaded The Moonstone is as forgotten as all that: I note it has 673 reviews on Amazon. (And I keep meaning to get around to it someday.)

    Others? I’d say Rasselas: Samuel Johnson loomed so large in literary circles during his life that people thought he must surely have produced a classic work. (Of fiction, I mean.) Also from the 1700s, Alexander Pope probably suffered the greatest posthumous collapse in reputation of any English writer: I can’t even recall what his major work(s) were.

  3. Jenny Schwartzberg

    Telemaque was the first YA novel, published in 1699. I’ve read it since I did a lot of research on it for a never-completed dissertation. It’s still a classic in France but not YA and I doubt it’s read much even there.

  4. Ow. I am now feeling bad for Alexander Pope, not that I know anything about him. … Oh, Wikipedia says he wrote “The Rape of the Lock.” I think I remember encountering that in high school.

    I’d heard of Telemaque by that name; I didn’t realize it was the same work and didn’t recognize the name in the French version. It does sound interesting.

  5. There is an ex-classics web site Http:\\www.exclassics.com but most of the books are much more “ex” than any of the above — mainly 16-19th century works. As for the 20th novels — there are whole swathes of writers once very popular and highly thought of but now almost forgotten e.g.
    Nevil Shute
    J. B. Priestley
    Pearl S. Buck (Nobel prize winner)
    Anthony Burgess (apart from Clockwork Orange, which would be long forgotten were it not for the film)
    Henry Greene

    And does anyone read Graham Greene any more?

  6. Graham Greene not so far, but I have read several of Pearl S Buck’s and liked them quite a bit.

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