Back to the Classics 2016


This will be my third year doing the Back to the Classics challenge and this year, I am adding a twist in honor of the Classics Club Women’s Classic Literature Event. I am reading only women authors. I should also probably acknowledge up front that there is every likelihood that I will completely change my list before the end of the challenge.

A note on category 11 – I graduated from high school more than 30 years ago, and have little to no recollection of anything I read during that time period. I’m just guessing on Jane Eyre. I’ve read that one since I began blogging, so, if I can come up with something else that I think I read, I will probably substitute. In any case, it’s pretty much a crapshoot at this point.

Back to the Classics is hosted by Karen, at Karen’s Books and Chocolate. Her sign-up post is here.

But, as a first crack at the challenge, here goes:

1. A 19th Century Classic:

Tenant of Wildfell Hall The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.

Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by Helen Graham, a beautiful and secretive young widow who has moved into nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. He is quick to offer Helen his friendship, but when her reclusive behavior becomes the subject of local gossip and speculation, Gilbert begins to wonder whether his trust in her has been misplaced. It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of her past.

2. A 20th Century Classic:

excellent womenExcellent Women by Barbara Pym.

Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym’s richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman’s daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those “excellent women,” the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors–anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door–the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.

3. A classic by a woman author:

O PioneersO Pioneers! by Willa Cather, since I am doing a Cather project read right now!

O Pioneers! tells the story of the Bergsons, a family of Swedish immigrants in the farm country near the fictional town of Hanover, Nebraska, at the turn of the 20th century. The main character, Alexandra Bergson, inherits the family farmland when her father dies, and she devotes her life to making the farm a viable enterprise at a time when other immigrant families are giving up and leaving the prairie. The novel is also concerned with two romantic relationships, one between Alexandra and family friend Carl Linstrum and another between Alexandra’s brother Emil and the married Marie Shabata.

4. A classic in translation:

the wreathThe Wreath, by Sigrid Undset, which was translated from the original Norwegian.

In Kristin Lavransdatter (1920-1922), Nobel Prize-winning Sigrid Undset interweaves political, social, and religious history with the daily aspects of family life to create a colorful, richly detailed tapestry of Norway during the fourteenth-century. The trilogy, however, is more than a journey into the past. Undset’s own life-her familiarity with Norse sagas and folklore and with a wide range of medieval literature, her experiences as a daughter, wife, and mother, and her deep religious faith-profoundly influenced her writing. Her grasp of the connections between past and present and of human nature itself, combined with the extraordinary quality of her writing, sets her works far above the genre of “historical novels.”

5. A classic by a non-white author:

Jonah's Gourd VineJonah’s Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston.

Jonah’s Gourd Vine, Zora Neale Hurston’s first novel, originally published in 1934, tells the story of John Buddy Pearson, “a living exultation” of a young man who loves too many women for his own good. Lucy, his long-suffering wife, is his true love, but there’s also Mehaley and Big ‘Oman, as well as the scheming Hattie, who conjures hoodoo spells to ensure his attentions. Even after becoming the popular pastor of Zion Hope, where his sermons and prayers for cleansing rouse the congregation’s fervor, John has to confess that though he is a preacher on Sundays, he is a “natchel man” the rest of the week. And so in this sympathetic portrait of a man and his community, Zora Neale Hurston shows that faith, tolerance, and good intentions cannot resolve the tension between the spiritual and the physical. That she makes this age-old dilemma come so alive is a tribute to her understanding of the vagaries of human nature.

6. An adventure classic:

the rescuersThe Rescuers by Margery Sharp.

MISS BIANCA IS A WHITE MOUSE OF GREAT BEAUTY and supreme self-confidence, who, courtesy of her excellent young friend, the ambassador’s son, resides luxuriously in a porcelain pagoda painted with violets, primroses, and lilies of the valley. Miss Bianca would seem to be a pampered creature, and not, you would suppose, the mouse to dispatch on an especially challenging and extraordinarily perilous mission. However, it is precisely Miss Bianca that the Prisoners’ Aid Society picks for the job of rescuing a Norwegian poet imprisoned in the legendarily dreadful Black Castle (we all know, don’t we, that mice are the friends of prisoners, tending to their needs in dungeons and oubliettes everywhere).

Miss Bianca, after all, is a poet too, and in any case she is due to travel any day now by diplomatic pouch to Norway. There Miss Bianca will be able to enlist one Nils, known to be the bravest mouse in the land, in a desperate and daring endeavor that will take them, along with their trusty companion Bernard, across turbulent seas and over the paws and under the maws of cats into one of the darkest places known to man or mouse. It will take everything they’ve got and a good deal more to escape
with their own lives, not to mention the poet.

7. A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic:

kindredKindred by Octavia Butler

The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

8. A classic detective novel:

murder is easyMurder is Easy by Agatha Christie.

Luke Fitzwilliam could not believe Miss Pinkerton’s wild allegation that a multiple murderer was at work in the quiet English village of Wychwood — or her speculation that the local doctor was next in line. But within hours, Miss Pinkerton had been killed in a hit-and-run car accident. Mere coincidence? Luke was inclined to think so — until he read in The Times of the unexpected demise of Dr Humbleby…

9. A classic which includes the name of a place in the title:

pomfret towersPomfret Towers by Angela Thirkell.

Pomfret Towers, Barsetshire seat of the earls of Pomfret, was constructed, with great pomp and want of concern for creature comforts, in the once-fashionable style of Sir Gilbert Scott’s St Pancras station.

It makes a grand setting for a house party at which gamine Alice Barton and her brother Guy are honoured guests, mixing with the headstrong Rivers family, the tally-ho Wicklows and, most charming of all, Giles Foster, nephew and heir of the present Lord Pomfret.

But whose hand will Mr Foster seek in marriage, and who will win Alice’s tender heart? Angela Thirkell’s classic 1930s comedy is lively, witty and deliciously diverting.

10. A classic which has been banned or censored:

ethan fromeEthan Frome by Edith Wharton (banned for infidelity).

Ethan Frome works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious, and hypochondriac wife, Zeena. But when Zeena’s vivacious cousin enters their household as a “hired girl”, Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent.

In one of American fiction’s finest and most intense narratives, Edith Wharton moves this ill-starred trio toward their tragic destinies. Different in both tone and theme from Wharton’s other works, Ethan Frome has become perhaps her most enduring and most widely read novel.

11. Re-read a classic you read in school:

jane eyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.

With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte’s innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.

12. A volume of classic short stories:

Gothic talesGothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s chilling Gothic tales blend the real and the supernatural to eerie, compelling effect. ‘Disappearances’, inspired by local legends of mysterious vanishings, mixes gossip and fact; ‘Lois the Witch’, a novella based on an account of the Salem witch hunts, shows how sexual desire and jealousy lead to hysteria; while in ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ a mysterious child roams the freezing Northumberland moors. Whether darkly surreal, such as ‘The Poor Clare’, where an evil doppelganger is formed by a woman’s bitter curse, or mischievous like ‘Curious, if True’, a playful reworking of fairy tales, all the pieces in this volume form a start contrast to the social realism of Gaskell’s novels, revealing a darker and more unsettling style of writing.


  1. Good luck with the challenge! I listed to the audio book for O Pioneers last year and really enjoyed it. I had no idea The Rescuers was written by Margery Sharp. I might try to read that book too this year.

    • Christine

      January 25, 2016 at 10:47 am

      I’m reading The Song of the Lark by Cather right now, and it is wonderful!

      I’ve actually never read anything by Margery Sharp. But The Rescuers looks like a lot of fun. I saw the movie years ago, but barely remember it!

  2. Wow. That’s a great list. And I’ve only read two of them! (Jane Eyre and Ethan Frome). Good luck with them!

    By the way, you asked over on my blog if I was reading all of the Little House books. Thought I’d point you to the Little House Readalong (in case you didn’t know about it).

    • Christine

      January 26, 2016 at 7:13 am

      Thanks for the information on the Little House RAL! I’ve read that series about a hundred times, especially the early books, but I might join in. I’m still deciding if I am too overcommitted.

      The Back to the Classics challenge is my favorite challenge! It has enough direction that completing it is satisfying, but it is loose enough that it allows for substitutions if necessary!

Leave a Reply

© 2017 Bookish Pursuits

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑