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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at KCL chapter.

Classic novels, whilst famously beautiful, important reads, can be a challenge to get into because of the difficult, dated language and forms used. However, I think it is a travesty that so many people disregard classics due to preconceptions about how inaccessible they are. There are so many brilliant novels and plays that are worth the read, and not nearly as academic or lengthy as you might think! Below, I have listed five classics that I absolutely love, but more importantly, think are engaging, accessible reads that you will really enjoy. 

Emma, Jane Austen 

This list begins with Jane Austen, who is well-known for her critique of British aristocratic society, and her exploration of the limited autonomy afforded to upper-class women in the eighteenth century. However, I will not be discussing, arguably, her most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, but instead her, still very well-known, novel, Emma. A genius comedy of manners, Emma explores how the issues of gender, social status, and marriage manifest in Highbury society, a microcosm of Britain’s landed gentry. Austen creates a dislikeable, but redeemable, protagonist in Emma, who is stubborn and selfish, as well as highly unusual because of her lack of interest in marriage. She is able to prioritise her own personal freedom, and display such outrageously headstrong behaviour at times, because of her wealthy familial situation, which outlines the exceptional privilege she has. Emma is a deeply engaging read, and a perfect pick for anyone who enjoys a good romance or period drama.

My favourite character:  Mr Knightley. He is the only match for Emma’s wit and obstinance, who refuses to allow Emma to continue spewing her cruelty and misjudgements, ultimately making her a better, more compassionate person. My favourite quote: “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.” 

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë 

Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is a masterful exploration of love, revenge, class mobility, and greed. It is a gothic novel set in the bitterly cold Yorkshire moors, featuring the supernatural, and even a character’s imprisonment in a remote manor house. I will admit that it can be a difficult novel to get into because of its complex narrative style as well as its regional dialect. However, I found that through listening to it as an audio book, the dialogue came to life, and I could really understand the cruelty and treachery at play within the story. Wuthering Heights is a captivating novel that truly reflects on the brutality of human nature and tragedy of misaligned love. There’s a reason that Kate Bush wrote a song about this novel!

My favourite character: Hareton Earnshaw. He is ill-treated by Heathcliff, and raised out of spite and revenge against the Linton’s. However, he does not succumb to the bitterness he is surrounded by, instead maintaining his compassion and a desire to better himself. My favourite quote: “He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same […]”

The Driver’s Seat, Muriel Spark 

The Driver’s Seat is a gripping novella that I found impossible to put down. It is a ‘whydunit’ rather than a ‘whodunnit’, exploring the events and triggers leading up to the crime, rather than who committed it. Spark’s writing is masterful and eerie, building the tension continuously throughout so that the reader is left constantly on the edge. It is a novella that dwells in the land of discomfort and anticipation, leading the reader to a clue and then shrouding the protagonist in even more mystery. Spark presents an immensely interesting protagonist in Lise, peeling off layers of her nature, particularly her history of mental health issues and erratic behaviour, to uncover fractions of the ‘why’ in the novella. The Driver’s Seat is short, cinematic, and unsettling, and is a perfect classic to grip you and compel you to carry on reading. 

Favourite character: Lise. Often main characters can be bland and uninspiring, but she is unusual and engaging in the way that is completely necessary for a novella of a psychological nature. Favourite quote: “I thought I knew him,’ Lise says. She is crying, her tears fall heavily. She says, ‘I was sure he was the right one. I’ve got to meet someone. 

The Third Policeman, Flann O’Brien 

Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman is an immensely confusing but incredibly funny novel that epitomises Irish dark humour. The story is told by a nameless narrator, and explores the boundaries between reality and the spirit realm, and features a group of policemen who are curiously obsessed with bicycle related crimes. The novel is absurdism at its finest, and has been influential within the literary world because of the philosopher De Selby that is referenced throughout. O’Brien mentions De Selby repeatedly across his literary works, and other authors begin to follow his lead, attributing various ridiculous philosophies to him as part of a literary inside joke. De Selby is not a real person, but as O’Brien, and other authors – even musicians like Hozier – reference him in their work, the blurring of reality and fiction is taken to another level. The absurdism of the novel can make it difficult to read at first, but once you gain enough knowledge of the world being built by O’Brien, it is like having learnt a new language; the humour and twisted logic comes naturally to you. The Third Policeman is truly a fascinating novel like no other, and while it can take a while to get into, it is well worth making the effort.

Favourite character: the narrator’s soul, named Joe. I have never read a novel where a soul is personified, and it is certainly story enhancing. Joe is a witty, snide, and cynical character, who would be sorely missed if he were not a part of the narrative. Favourite quote: “ ‘Why would anyone steal a watch when they can steal a bicycle?’ Hark to his cold inexorable logic.

Antigone, Jean Anouilh 

Jean Anouilh’s Antigone is a modern take on Sophocles’ Greek tragedy of the same name. It is a nuanced play that explores justice, authority, and morality, taking the ancient Greek themes of heroism and loyalty and making them much more politically charged. It was first performed during the Nazi’s occupation of France in 1944, allowed under the regimes’ censorship because of the ambiguous portrayal of King Creon. However, there are clear allusions to the French resistance of Nazi rule throughout. The potential for backlash against Anouilh because of his courage to question a fascist regime so overtly makes this tragedy more impactful than its original form, and makes Antigone’s defiance against tyranny more admirable. Antigone is a story that has everlasting political and cultural relevance, and Anouilh’s adaptation is a powerful read amid the sinister rise of fascism that we have seen in Europe in the past decade. 

Favourite character: Creon. Anouilh portrays a more complex and understandable villain, which makes him harder to quickly, wholeheartedly despise as we do with the classic tyrannical Creon in Sophocles’ play. His politicalized reasonings and slow action makes him a far more familiar and impactful villain to a modern reader. Favourite quote: “And what will my happiness be? What kind of a happy woman will Antigone grow into? What base things will she have to do, day after day, in order to snatch her own little scrap of happiness? Tell me – who will she have to lie to? Smile at? Sell herself to? Who will she have to avert her eyes from, and leave to die?”

Classic novels are renowned for good reason. They can deepen your understanding of human nature, love, relationships, faith and more, leaving you clamouring for your next read. As much as it can be pleasant to read simply with no outside interference, I am a strong believer in using the tools available to further your reading experience. So, if listening to an audio book, or watching a film adaptation helps you to understand the text better, then why not? Once you get past the hurdle of tackling your first classic, the rest really don’t seem so daunting. Look through this list and give one of these classics a go – I promise that you won’t regret it. 

Eliza is a writer for the culture section at Her Campus at the Kings College London (KCL) chapter. Eliza is currently completing her Masters in Modern Literature and Culture at KCL. She completed her undergraduate degree in English and related literature at the University of York. Beyond Her Campus, Eliza enjoys playing music, and grew up playing traditional Irish music and competing in competitions across Britain and Ireland. Eliza also loves travelling around Europe (when she has the funds), reading, and having cosy days watching films and baking.