As I stared in the blank pages of my pad paper, my mind was wandering and drifting to far off places never heard nor seen, thinking that I would write about my own definition of a classic novel. And, as I sat in front of the computer, still, I could not compose myself, yet there were ideas blinking in my mind just like the cursor blinking and mocking me for not typing right away. Then the words flowed out of my mind and I began.
However, I thought about how the writers, specifically novelists, composed their novels and how it enticed and persuaded the reader to love it and became a classic. I also thought on how the ideas on the minds of the writers were translated and weaved into words and sentences in an intricate way creating meaning and a scene that would be visualized by the readers. I was thinking on how they combated those mocking blank papers and then wrote words on them that were remembered and lines that are immortalized and often copied in movies and theatrical plays. Then, the novel became a classic.
Some linguists often say that English language is such mess, a weird language. I supported that claim because I had a hard time figuring out on how I will define a classic novel. My presumption of a classic is something that is old. The bible is a classic. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and the Hindu’s Mahabharata are classic. Classic is a word proportional to old age or something that has existed in the past and is still remembered. However, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys are considered classic. They are rock and roll groups that have emerged in the late fifties and early sixties. Hitherto, Beethoven and Mozart can be considered “more classic” than these groups. However, these rock groups and Mozart and Beethoven were considered both as mere classic. Then, we could conclude the word “classic” did not pertain only to old age but was something that has significance and passed a certain standard that it became a classic.
For example, Mozart and Beethoven are considered classic because they had composed songs that had passed the test of time. Their songs are still revered today that they served as background music to theatrical plays and were major concert pieces of top caliber orchestra around the world. In contrast, the Beatles who were Liverpudlian boys just emerged in the early sixties and is said to have conquered the world through their music, with many followers that included the old ones in the sixties who were now dead today and the youths of the sixties who were now old today. Yet, the songs were not just the ones considered classic but also the place, the persons and events that were mentioned in their song. Almost all the people, according to surveys, who passed Penny Lane, stopped by and said “Hello”. Sergeant Peppers, Eleanor Rigby and Mr. Kite were remembered as though they are persons that had really existed. Even though the Beatles claimed that their songs have some personal references. Yet, that is not our topic and that is just an introduction. However, standards really matter in considering something as a classic. The Beatles, Mozart and Beethoven are considered classic because they had followers. Many performed the concert pieces of the two classical composers and still had many audiences. And for the Beatles, as the phrase goes, “no one sounds better than the Beatles.” Many still bought their records even though they had disbanded a long time ago. Why did I cite this as an example? Because through this we know that standard is required in christening an object or a person a classic. Moreover, with Beethoven and the Beatles their songs had passed the test of time and are immortalized by their audiences.
However, I did not know if these kinds of standards apply to novels. Yet, I considered a novel as a work of art, as a very hard, timely, and ambitious endeavor of writer. I could not imagine myself writing all day long in front of a monitor with hands on the keyboard, typing and erasing words that seem vague to me, then creating fictional characters that would interact with each other and that would give color to the story. Yet, I considered writing to be a very hard profession. Writing as compared to speaking required a lot of effort. Speaking is a mere utterance of words, of sentences and ideas as to public speaking, one can see the speaker, his hand gestures and his facial expressions and can determine exactly the message that the speaker is trying to conveyed. Maybe, you would think of radio commentators, broadcasters, evangelists and Disc jockeys and might think that they possessed a handicap. Yet, even though we could not see those hand gestures and facial expressions yet meaning still transcends to us. It is because that mere voice cannot hide the feelings and the meanings. The rise and fall of the intonations, the pause, the cough, the laugh and the voice’s volume are indicators that meanings of the assertions are still conveyed to the listeners. Yet, if you consider a radio broadcaster or a disc jockey as handicapped, then what more is a writer. The writer is much less equipped. The writer’s tools are pen, papers, typewriters and computers yet the reader does not see them or hear them speak. They write with ideas. I consider myself a writer, yet even I still had a hard time organizing my thoughts and ideas. Moreover, the more tricky part is how a writer lets you know that this is what he means or this is what he does not mean. Writers do not write with words yet they write with information that is valuable to the projected audience, ideas and information that will remain in the minds of their readers, meaningful sentences that will make the reader cry or laugh, and ideas that will convince them and persuade them to actions.
Moreover, not all writers are novelist, yet novelists for me are those that faced a lot of challenges in writing. First is on how they consider a topic. Is it timely? Is it interesting? Will it entice curiosity? Will people catch the bait and vie to their ideas? Will it bring changes to the community that they are living? Will it be sold and become a best seller? And the most important is: Are they successful in making the readers understand the novel? Those are the questions that are faced by a novelist. Those questions are somewhat broad and encompassing but no one should be afraid of being a novelist. Many novelists amassed a large amount of fortune in writing like novelists J.K. Rowling with her Harry Potter series and Dan Brown with his Angels and Demons and the Da Vinci Code. However many novelist had also ruined their life because they had failed in their purpose. They had gone home bringing a lot of shame and embarrassment. Yet those who succeed in their endeavors had not only got wealthy but also had their names well-regarded by the readers and their works had become “classic.”
So, what does it take for a novel to become a classic? I had analyzed different novels and through this I had formulated my own set of standards in determining a real classical novel. I want to describe a classical novel to be a sensitive novel. What do I mean when I said that a classic novel is a sensitive novel? Sensitive novels are novels that are both sensitive to the story and sensitive to the readers. Sensitive, that the words and sentences were properly organized and conveyed meaning. Yet, sensitivity does not mean that each actions and scenes require explanations. Furthermore, it does not imply that the novelist will avoid tackling certain issues that arises in the novel for it might affect the feelings of the reader, nor will discuss it lightly. Rather, the author will face the issue boldly and then describe and solve it for whatever cost.
I find this sensitivity in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Austen had described her world in which she lived in. She had expressed the issues and the people of the eighteenth century who were more open minded and liberal, where morality was no longer derived from the church but was the business of the social community (Austen-Leigh 1926). She did not hide the feelings of the characters yet she unraveled the characters in their search for identity by describing their characters, beliefs, thoughts and morality. Yet, Austen employed a certain kind of technique. She did not spoon-feed the readers with a detailed description. She realized that there are readers that need to think and analyze and she had been responsive to them. She let the reader make connections and relations to the story. And I responded to her call and invitations and had filled the blanks and I could now claim that her character’s experience became also my experience. This was the famous technique use by Austen that her readers seem to amalgamate with her, that they now share a common experience. Persuasion is hard to do and it took a lot of words and reasons to compel a person to action. The universal experience presented by Austen in her novel made it very distinctive and matchless that it qualified to be called a classic.
Flaubert’s Madame Bovary had also been sensitive in dealing with the issue of the story and had been successful in showing the effects of being materialistic. Nevertheless, the novel showed that Emma Bovary is a symbol of a very ambitious woman who wanted to experience every luxury on earth and was not contented with what she had. This symbolism was very appealing because it showed the story of an unreal love of a woman – a love due to money and a love that is proportional and relative to the amount of material wealth that she will gain. Moreover, Flaubert had somewhat reversed the usual occurrence of things. Usually, in most novels the man is the superior of the woman. The woman was the one fooled and the man was the one who committed infidelity and betrayal. However, in this novel the woman was the one who committed adultery and affairs with other men. The novel showed us the nature of man, of failures, of being too motivated to pursue something but rather end in miserable and dismal situation and the last resort is to commit suicide. However, the novel is not exaggerated and a very ample amount of embellishment was shown. Realism was the main ingredient of the novel. The characters and the settings were described well and the flamboyant narrative portrayed the perfectionism of Flaubert’s sentences and it had invited the reader to be a part of Emma’s adventure. Flaubert made the characters alive and universal by means of giving them a brand, a universal label distinguishable from all other characters of other novels. The reader can easily identify himself with this universality of character and learn a lesson from them. Flaubert meshing of morality in the story and his authentic style made the novel qualified to be a classic.
Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment however had not been sensitive to my taste in its opening yet I find it very interesting. Dostoevsky’s integrated the theory of nihilism and social order destruction in his novel. He used a mad man who was often disturbed and confused by his obsessions to kill yet eventually being distressed by his conscience. Dostoevsky has portrayed that when needs arises some people struggled and usually find themselves torn between doing what is right, or doing what is wrong and survive the needs. Yet, he showed that even though how mad a person is, still, he is still capable of renewing and revolutionizing himself for a change. Furthermore, his embodiment in his novel of the human’s fighting spirit; optimism and confidence make his novel a classic.
Nevertheless, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man talked about a person (the narrator, himself) who is imperceptible and with transparent color because as he said no one wanted to recognize him. Hitherto, as the story progressed, we can see that the person is not antisocial or a loner. He has schooling because he was awarded a college scholarship but his encounter with Dr. Bledsoe and the letter of the former to his would be future employers catapulted his rage that he was ready for revenge. Nevertheless, he encountered misfortune and bad luck in his employment and was kicked out a lot of times, yet his anger motivated him to still strive until he found himself acquainted with the Brotherhood and together with them he did a lot of foolishness and idiocy. However, estrangement and alienation was very evident in the end of the novel. The protagonists finding him in a manhole resolved that he would live there for a while and afterwards resurface into the community. Nevertheless, Invisible Man is very trivial although the author’s purpose is very clear. I find the account very authoritative that even though there are fictitious things that were included in the novel, still, the message was clear that inequity often leads to chaos and troubles. Ellison had been successful in his purpose of showing the human struggle by using a perverted character and this qualified the Invisible Man to be a classic.
Now, let us look at the famous novel of William Faulkner which is The Sound and the Fury and see if it will fit to be a classical novel. The Sound and the Fury according to many reviews was the finest among Faulkner’s novels. The novel was really fine though it has a slow beginning yet in the middle there are rising actions. Yet the existence of four I-narrators made the novel somewhat confusing yet I managed to understand it slowly (Padgett 2006). The existence of two Quentin makes the novel more miserable. Hitherto, I just consider distinguishing the Quentin from the other as a challenge for me. The story revolved around the Compson family and their deteriorating and burgeoning affairs. The story started with a problem and more problems arose when Caddy and Herbert Head divorced. Yet the narration was quite jumbled. Nonetheless, in employing this style many revered Faulkner. The method of his narration was called stream conscious where ideas of the characters were written exactly as they were thought and mainly disregarded the time element – meaning that the scenes were not chronologically arranged and the characters went back and forth thru time. However, employing this technique gave color to the novel and his cluttered style of narration was taken as a puzzle by the reader. I too found it hard to distort time and scenes and I thought that this is a unique talent of Faulkner and this fitted his novel to be a classic.
Then, we are about to investigate again a great novel, if it is classic, and this is the The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which is also considered his finest. The Great Gatsby talked about dreams and ambitions of a young man, Jay Gatsby who would do everything to marry a woman with a higher social stratum, Daisy Fay. Yet, they got acquainted before the war and had promised each other that they will get married someday. The fragility of the promise made Daisy broke it and married the wealthy Tom Buchanan. Jay Gatsby after hearing this went to his endeavors to amass a lot of wealth to regain back his love. Nevertheless, this thing was not anymore possible because of the marriage bond, so in consequence all this lead to a fatal accident that had caused Jay’s death. Nevertheless, the novel counseled the reader to avoid obsession of money and wealth. And this simple counsel is enough for me to consider it a classic novel.
However, Moby Dick by Herman Melville will not be excluded on the analysis. Of all the seven novels, that we discussed Moby Dick seemed to be the most illusory of all. The names of most of the characters were derived from the Bible. Even though it discussed about a meaningful voyage in pursuit of a whale in their travel around the world, yet the effort for me is just a mere waste of time because they ended up chasing a whale and finding it and then meeting their own damnation and deaths. Yet Melville’s vivid description of the characters made them possessed an identity different from those perceptions that I had before reading it and I thought that this is enough to call it a classic.
If one would observe, I had analyzed the novel simply according to my feelings and perceptions towards it, avoiding the complex and traditional literary theories. All the novels have intricate qualities that we could deem it classic. Furthermore, I had analyzed the novel as a whole from beginning till end (reading some reviews and critiques about them), the characters, the story and the plot. Yet I will repeat that classic is not proportional to age or to the years that a novel had existed even though most of them are old, or to the personality of the writers. However, the term classic is used to describe a novel that had passed the standards set by the readers and the literary world. For me, if I am going to rank, all are first because they were classic in their own unique ways. However, I am forced to rank and I arranged this from the “more classic’ to the “less classic”: Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Ellison’s Invisible Man, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Melville’s Moby Dick.