LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

What is a Classic?

on April 11, 2013 8:47am

images 200px-The_Secret_Garden_book_cover_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_17396

An individual may ask what characteristics make up a “classic” when it comes to literature and the usual response would be the age of the book. A classic can be a novel that has been around for several decades and is still being read by both children and adults today. In fact, a classic tale can become immortalized as it is passed down through generations of readers as long as people are willing to keep the books alive when reading them to their children. Considering classic literature is very outdated, there are several occasions when the values in the stories are quite different from contemporary ones. Moreover, the language and writing style become a lot more difficult to comprehend over time, but fortunately some classics have been recreated in modern English, so that readers can understand according to how they speak today. There are also different ways the characters behave and talk in society. In other words, a classic can serve as representation of the time period it was written. However, despite the many changes throughout time, a classic always maintains consistent morals and a unique story for readers of any age and time period to enjoy for an eternity.

A book can be deemed a “classic” merely by how memorable it is to society. Time does not necessarily limit the “classic” label, but it does strengthen the credibility when someone picks up a book that is several years old. One could probably argue that it is the book’s popularity and the large sum of people who know of its existence and contents in the story that immediately makes the book a classic. Perhaps it is a little pretentious to consider a book a classic after being out for not even a decade, but it is really up to time to decide if a book should be considered a classic. If future generations are able to remember books of today then these contemporary books should indeed be considered classics, but we have to let time decide the future label of a book. Both adult and children’s books can both be evaluated equally in terms of being classified as classics; both adult and children’s literature have their fair share of renowned stories and, in most cases, are books that are kept alive by the educational system which requires these classics to be read.

Now how exactly would Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel, The Secret Garden, be considered a classic to contemporary readers? The first and most important thing in a classic novel is the universal appeal. Burnett uses the garden motif as an expression of life and its beauty. Moreover, the garden is a place where healing and magic occurs, a location where things are able to be at peace and grow. As readers, we can often relate to flawed characters like Mary Lennox and Collin who eventually overcome their problems and develop into strong and memorable characters. The lesson in this novel seems to lean to being positive and looking on the bright side which is often accentuated by the beauty in the garden. Mary begins as a spoiled and immature character, but by meeting Collin she becomes aware of her own flaws which are practically mirrored through her cousin. Mary learns to take responsibility and Collin, who was initially wheelchair bound, is soon able to walk. The characters play an important role in making the story survive for multiple generations, the morals and lessons taught through these characters can be relatable to many readers no matter what time period they live in.

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One response to “What is a Classic?

  1. Aaron Pirkkala says:

    Hi, I absolutely agree with you, Broatchlit. Even if both sides of opposing views continue to argue on a book’s status of classic, it is irrelevant, as time will be the lone juror of that judgment. A classic is a book that can survive the passage of time by remaining influential to the generations — perhaps even reviving after skipping a generation or two, as did The Secret Garden in the 20th century.

    Although time is the ultimate factor in granting the title of classic, there are general aspects as to why such texts exist in this category.

    Burnett’s The Secret Garden is a prime example of a classic. As you said, the garden motif is used “as an expression of life and its beauty.” We also see the transformation of two spoiled, bratty children into beautiful nature lovers. Burnett’s story has a consistent underlying moral that, later on in the story, she delivers quite loudly and bluntly. Nevertheless, her trust in nature and its healing is understandable and, at times, of a factual nature; although our connection with nature cannot heal the most permanent and profound of conditions, it can work its wonders by healing an ailing heart — and I personally believe that happiness, the main produce of nature, is the cure to many sicknesses.

    One of the reasons why this book will last for the ages as a classic is because, in contemporary times where most of the population is out of touch with nature (as well as fresh air), The Secret Garden allows one’s soul, one’s essence, to be submerged in nature and warmed by Mother Nature’s kiss. As generations and generations repopulate earth and continue enhancing and exploring our collective knowledge and inventions, we will become ever more distant from nature, which I hypothesize will cause bucolic texts like The Secret Garden not only an escape from reality into the healing power of nature, but perhaps even essential to a city-goer’s sanity and survival.

    Other motifs and morals exist in the text that mimic the timeless nature of human discovery, curiosity, and mystery, among other things. Only time will tell us if The Secret Garden will live on as a classic, but I can assure you that I will read this book to my children one day, only adding to the book’s significance in the canon of sentiment.

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