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But it sucks.
You can't get past the 67th page, and all you can focus on is how much you hate reading it and why you don't see in it what everyone around you does.
Which book was it for you?
I bought his The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers together. While I managed to finish the first one I just couldn't go on with The Aspern Papers. It was just so boring!
One would think I would have learned my lesson by now. Apparently not. I ended up buying his What Maisie Knew at a library sale. I thought I would give him one more chance (besides the books were going so cheap!). I, who have read books that are over a 1000 pages long, could not read a mere 268 pages of What Maisie Knew. This is how I was defeated not once but twice by Henry James.
I was sort of hoping the sheer difficulty of that novel would make his earlier works like The Portrait of a Lady seem like cakewalk. However, considering all the great classics out there, it seems silly to waste time on authors one doesn't like.
Add me to the list of those who find Henry James often tedious. I understand that his 'early period' works are easier on the reader and I agree with this. I loved Washington Square and was fine with The Turn of the Screw. I saw the movie version of The Wings of the Dove and bought a really beautiful edition that I couldn't get through. Apparently his contemporaries, including Edith Wharton had the same issues we do with his later prose style.
I had to read The Bostonians in high school and hated it with a fiery passion. Now for a readable late nineteenth/early twentieth century prose style, may I humbly suggest his brother William. The Varieties of Religious Experience was a surprisingly enlightening and enjoyable read. I am keeping my eyes out for a nice edition of his psychology book.
I've just discovered this thread and I really have to thank you all so much. Now I don't have to feel guilty at finding reading Henry James like trying to walk through knee-deep mud!
I have to admit to another classic writer that I just can't get on with - George Eliot. I almost lost the will to live trying to read Middlemarch.
Edited to give Henry James a 'good bracketing', and he still won't come up in blue - typical of him!
I don't think it's reasonable to argue that just because something is 'classic' means it's always well written. Books become classics for a whole range of reasons - they say some thing about a particular period in time, their subject matter transends time, it's simply a good story, at the time it was published it pushed particular boundaries, etc - none of which guarantee they were written well.
(Edited due to my inability to type!)
If something were very badly written, it would not survive time and be published as widely as Defoe's works are.
But one "classic" novelist I've never been able to crack is Dickens. I've tried several of his novels, and just completely bounced on them. And this has always bothered me, because I feel I'm missing out on something. Everybody just seems to love Dickens to death, and it feels like I'm on the outside looking in.
I'd have to give a yes and a no on that one, Phocion. It it were 'very badly' written, perhaps not; but a mediocre writer can create a story good enough to capture the imagination of generations. I'd suggest that Robinson Crusoe is bought more often for the iconic story than for Defoe's prose.
Bram Stoker's Dracula comes to mind (though I don't know if it would be regarded as a 'classic'). I don't suppose a more iconic story has been created in the last couple of centuries. It's gripped the imagination of succeeding generations of film-makers and authors who have recycled it back to audiences (would all this 'Twilight' stuff exist without it?). All this must ensure continuing sales for the novel and it would be difficult to argue that those sales are down to the book's own merit. A lot of horror fans probably fork out the money and then find themselves struggling with it.
So there can be external reasons for a book's survival. I suspect that a few books that would otherwise have faded into obscurity were saved by a few academics deciding they were 'canonical' - then they get taught in university courses and then get cravenly read by a few literature snobs like myself.
Just in case I've attracted the ire of any LT Goths or what have you, I actually enjoy re-reading Dracula every few years or so.
On this i'm with you, i'm on the outside lookin' in.
I agree with you, I found the book got rather tedious after a while. In my opinion, it could be 2/3rd shorter and be a much better book. I got the point, and the joke fairly early on, but it just keeps pounding you over the head with it.
I tend to finish everybook I start, only ones that I can remember in recent memory that I stopped reading were Moby Dick by Herman Melville and On the Orgins of the Species by Charles Darwin.
I stopped Moby Dick because I got tired of long, boring discriptions of whales. I understand that at the time it was written, that most people had never seen a whale, but my god, just get on with the story.
I quite reading Origin of Species because I am not a biologist, nor do I want to be one. I found I was just reading words, not absorbing anything. Total waste of my reading time. I hope the Voyage of the Beagle is a better read.
I had trouble with Conrad's short stories like Heart of Darkness too, but preferred some of his longer stuff like Nostromo.
I'm not sure how classic it really is but I struggled with Catch 22 when I was younger.
I don't think I've ever had a book that was so bad I stopped reading with the intention never to finish it.
EDIT: to correct numerous typos.
I couldn't get through Catch 22 when I tried it in my twenties. It's on my list of "books to try again someday." Alongside Great Expectations, which I can't explain not getting through ...
There's a couple of classics I've read which fell so flat that I'm practically obligated to try them again sometime and see if I can't get more from them: Heart of Darkness being one, which I remember almost nothing about, and The Great Gatsby being another. Both short and easy, happily.
My personal albatross is Thomas Hardy, who is way too depressing for me and I've never enjoyed anything by him, but I've yet to tackle Jude the Obscure which I'm told is his best.
I've read Heart of Darkness three times, I think, and I seem to get something more out of it each time. I think it repays the effort; but I've never thought of it as a 'short and easy' read, though, considering it's only novella-length.
I got pummeled by the Ambassadors. Reminded me of what HG Wells said of James' writing. 'Something about a Hippo pushing a pea all over a room, trying to pick it up with his snout.
I liked Nostromo, especially after a plot started to emerge after the first 1/3 or so, of the novel.
I see a lot of LTers bashing The Heart of Darkness. Conrad's not for everyone; I enjoyed it and it definitely is worth another read. But then again, I like The Sun Also Rises and that really gets bashed around here.
If you want to see some real despair and carnage, check this old thread, out:
(I am only kidding - diversity in tastes is one of the few things that separates us from reptiles.)
Try in anyway. I hated Hardy when they made me read it in school (at 11? I loved reading but he was way over my head). I picked up Tess again a few years later... and I loved it.
This tends to be my way with a lot of authors though - I dislike them the first time around (usually because of inappropriate age and/or mood) and then I start liking them... And it was kinda weird because I grew up reading the Russian classics and never found them boring (although the only time I tried to read Dostoevsky in English (The House of the Dead I think), I hated it and never finished the book -- I actually picked up a Russian copy, started over and loved it - something in the translation was loosing the voice of Dostoevsky to some extent).
Translations can ruin the book - or change it in a way that it is almost unrecognizable for a native speaker - it may be a great translation and all but part of the author voice get lost... and sometimes that is enough to change the book.
I grew up in Bulgaria so I had read a lot of the English classics in Bulgarian (and in Russian - we had them around the house and I was bored). I reread a lot of them when I could read nicely enough in English - for most of them the translations were actually great but there was a difference... the idioms choices (which lead to slightly different associations even if they are perfectly matched - there are no two languages that can pass the same message exactly as it is -- not to native speakers of the languages anyway) for example.
Don't get me wrong - I like translated books - they allow me to read things I would not be able to otherwise. :)
I suppose we either have to make up our minds to accept the book in front of us on its own merits - or go bonkers worrying about it!
I'm pretty unwilling to give up on a book. I don't know why HJ hits me like this.