Can My Child Learn to Love the Classics?
- Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Many home schoolers are precocious readers, and some even distinguish themselves by reading the classics merely for pleasure. Lest some home educating mothers be troubled by "great expectations" because their children have not yet embarked upon Shakespeare or Dickens, however - and for those who tend to feel benighted among literature of renown - let me encourage you: the classics were generally written for adults, and reading them is indeed an acquired taste. If the classics seem ponderous to you, you're in good company with King James I, who compared a certain poet's lines to "the peace of God - they pass all understanding."
Here are my recommendations for appropriating timeless literature in your home: If your children are small, acquaint them with the smaller, less intimidating "kinsmen of the shelf." Familiarize them with excellent precursors to the classics, written for children. They may not be capable of appreciating masterpieces, but they can still be exposed to them. Read the books aloud, and such revels will come to be much anticipated even by children in whom it seems "difficult" to nurture interest in reading. Titles read aloud in my home include A Little Princess, Little Men, The Five Little Peppers, Pilgrim's Progress, Robinson Crusoe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Little House on the Prairie.
Do not be daunted (whatever your age) if the classic you choose seems arduous. Be patient with yourself! Give the book a fair chance before dismissing it, and be sure to try it again later. (Many of my favorites contain tedious beginnings, but usually my perseverance is amply rewarded. I've also begun classics which seemed bootless and baffling, to revisit them years later, delighted!) Sometimes the ability to continue a classic simply depends on how appealing the author is, so choose books whose subjects/settings will interest you (i.e., a relish for frontier life, read Deerslayer). If challenged, consider listening to classics read on CD or watching good movie adaptations. Set realistic goals for children (i.e. read twenty pages a day) and reward them for their accomplishment (at my home, completion of a schoolbook is celebrated with cake). I also recommend writing about the classics (it can be a simple summary of that day's assigned chapter, a book review, or character sketch). This forces us to be specific and attentive in our studies.
Now let me introduce you to a masterly written and engrossing classic, Silas Marner by Victorian novelist George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880), as just one of the best classics worth discussing and critiqueing.
Earlier novelists aspired to entertain readers (and perhaps edify them), but George Eliot bequeathed something more to the English novel: her vast erudition and philosophical and moral insight. Silas Marner is the shortest of her novels which deal with dilemmas of conscience. Often deemed a children's classic for its little girl heroine, fairy-tale motifs, and storybook ending, Silas Marner nevertheless penetrates deeper themes and will be most provocative to older readers.
Silas Marner is the account of a weaver falsely accused and banished to Raveloe. His faith in God and man shaken, and his "affections made desolate," Silas Marner exiles himself from the denizens of the town. His life diminishes in an endless circle of weaving and hoarding, as he cares only for the companionship of his loom and the gold begotten by his labour.
As Silas spins and hoards, the Squire's eldest son, Godfrey Cass, grows desperate under the "yoke a man creates for himself by wrongdoing." Godfrey dreams of future domestic happiness - a home sunned by the smile of Nancy Lammeter - but is fettered by a secret concealed even from the Squire which, if disclosed, will result in dreaded consequences. Will his roguish brother Dunstan reveal his secret? Vacillating between confession and duplicity, Godfrey realizes the "iron bit destiny put in his mouth" is the fruit of forgetting duty, and following desire.
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