The Sunday Salon: A “Surprising” Classic

This month The Classics Club posed a question to its members:

“What classic has most surprised you so far, and why?”

I had to think about this one for a while.  “Surprises” come in many forms: plot, characters, writing style, enjoyment, etc.  On my Classics Club list are books I enjoyed, disappointing books, and others that weren’t what I expected.  But as I scrolled through the list, one stood out as the biggest surprise so far:  The Warden, by Anthony Trollope.  My review opens with this:

This review could be subtitled, “In which I develop a fondness for Anthony Trollope.”  A couple of years ago I gave up on Barchester Towers, and while I had my reasons I never felt good about it.  This time I decided to start at the beginning of Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire, and I’m glad I did.

Bookish friends told me  The Warden was a quiet novel, and an important introduction to Trollope’s fictional county of Barsetshire.   I was helped along by a tutored read on LibraryThing, which explained the intricacies of the 19th century English church and other important context.  But mostly I fell in love with Septimus Harding, the title character.  He was such a dear man, and nearly done in by unjust accusations.  While my love for Septimus came as a surprise, perhaps more surprising was how much I loved the entire book, and how it set me on a course to read the complete Chronicles of Barsetshire.  I read Barchester Towers in December (read my review), and I’ll be reading the third novel, Doctor Thorne, next month.

I love discovering new authors, and when they are classics, so much the better!

What’s your most surprising classic read?

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12 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: A “Surprising” Classic

  1. : ) oh dear old Warden Harding – how I love him still. My re-read of The Warden in January was such a joy. Glad you have highlighted the brilliance of it.

  2. I loved Septimus too and look forward to reading Barchester Towers eventually. My biggest surprise classic recently is Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth. I struggled to get through part of it, but was so taken by her writing skill that all other books that I read last month either came up short or were abandoned. Now I want to read more American classics (including more Wharton). I have read a few, but classics of any kind were not popular when I was in high school (mid-70′s) and I have read very few. Probably just as well, of those few that I read the only ones I cared for was The Grapes of Wrath, my favorite book for a long time, and The Great Gatsby. I bet that I enjoy them more now at my age.

    • Laura, isn’t House of Mirth wonderful? I can understand how your other reads came up short by comparison. I went to high school about the same time you did, and also missed a lot of the classics. I’m making up for that now with The Classics Club! Wharton is one of my favorite authors — may I recommend The Custom of the Country? Thanks for visiting!

  3. Now that’s an interesting question. Nearly every classic I’ve read has been a surprise to me; I always thought classics would be tiresome and none of them ever have been. So nice.

  4. The Warden was definitely surprisingly wonderful, since a few people had told me it was boring.

    I don’t know quite whether it counts as a classic, but I was really surprised by how much I loved A Confederacy of Dunces, because I’d assumed I would hate it.

  5. I love Septimus Harding too, and I hope you love Barchester Towers! Dr. Thorne was also wonderful.

    I think the classic that’s suprised me most was Madame Bovary. I expected to hate it and I could hardly put it down. Emma Bovary is a real train wreck but the story was riveting!

    • Karen K., I read Barchester Towers a couple months ago and really liked it, too. Bring on Dr. Thorne! I will have to re-read Madame Bovary someday. I read it in school and I’m sure I’d get more out of it now.

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