The blog I wrote a few weeks ago about "Oasis" style fiction got me thinking about so-called famous classics I've read over the years, both as part of school or Uni English or just for my own amusement. I've read quite a variety from different speaking English countries, and while some has been great, some has been the opposite. Just for fun, I decided to choose a couple of books from each country that fit into MOST UPLIFTING or MOST DEPRESSING.
Before I start, I want to say that my judging criteria was how they made me feel. Some boosted my spirits, tickled my funny bone, made me rejoice that God really is actively caring for His people, or all three. Others, on the other hand, made me miserable, even teary, longing to put them out of my mind but unable to do so fast enough. By MOST DEPRESSING, I don't mean that I found anything wrong with the writing style. On the contrary, some of it has been the most excellently written and emotional, which perhaps helped it to earn the rating I bestowed on it.
OK, here goes.
"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte. (Even though I've come across some people who'd disagree with this, this book has stayed top of my list since I read it, aged 15. Just the neatness of her plot and functions of each of her characters intrigues me. And I really think that every character ended up as happily as he or she wanted to be.)
"The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins. (This is a great Victorian mystery narrated from the viewpoints of many characters.)
"Jude the Obscure" by Thomas Hardy. (His "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" nearly made it here too, but because of the appalling things that happened to poor old Jude, I had to give him top spot. It was unimaginable.)
"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. (Same goes as for "Wuthering Heights" Even though not everything that happened was good, Atticus Finch and his children were safe at the end and I got the feeling that the whole town had learned a lesson and things were going to get better.)
"The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck. (I had to read this one for Year 12 at High School. All I can say is that after all Steinbeck put the poor Joad family through, surely he could have let at least one of them live happily ever after.)
"Anne of Green Gables" and all of its sequels, by L.M. Montgomery. (A pleasure to read and that lady probably helped put her little province of Prince Edward Island on the world map!)
OK, I have to admit that I can't remember ever reading something thoroughly depressing from Canada. Are there any? Do Canadians have such a happy country that nothing sad or gloomy has ever made it onto the canon of English literature? Any Canadians reading this can answer me that.
"Poor Man's Orange" by Ruth Park. ("The Harp in the South", its prequel, was also pretty good but the herione, Dolour, in "Poor Man's Orange" reminded me very much of myself at her age, and everything ended beautifully for her. It was a book that was meant to reflect "real life" but she got the man of her dreams. Sometimes that's all I want to know when I'm reading.)
"For the Term of his Natural Life" by Marcus Clarke. (This I can say without a doubt. Condemned as a convict for a crime he didn't even commit, treated cruelly, having the only person who could confirm his goodness stricken with sudden amnesia, and finally drowning on his big escape voyage with the girl of his dreams, Rufus Dawes' adventures were every bit as heart-wrenching as Jude the Obscure's. Perhaps Marcus Clarke just wanted to show that anything the English can write, we can write sadder. It's the sort of book you have to distance yourself from and start laughing, or you'll go around the twist. This was on my Uni "Australian Literature" syllabus. I never persevere with anything this sad unless I have to. Thankfully, those days are over.)
So after all that, does this exercise of mine prove anything? Perhaps it shows that people and their books are the same the world over. Or that many authors are exceedingly melancholic in temperament. Or perhaps it just shows that if Prozac had been around in earlier centuries and decades, Thomas Hardy, John Steinbeck and Marcus Clarke might have been prescribed it.