The Classics Club October question is: Why are you reading the classics? Before you start, I’m warning you this is a ramble and a half!
There are lots of reasons why I read classic books. When I was about 9 or 10 I started reading classics which had been abridged for children and Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. I really enjoyed reading books which were set in a more genteel time I think and it was about that time I tried my hand at embroidery, I think I fancied myself as a Victorian heroine!
I soon moved on to reading the unabridged books like Jane Eyre and then everything by Jane Austen, and George Elliot’s Mill on the Floss was a favourite of mine when I was about 12. I think at the back of my mind I had a feeling that if a book was still being read and reprinted after so many years then it must mean that it’s a book worth reading. I do hate giving up on books which have been a disappointment to me, there’s less chance of that with a classic I think.
I still have the very first classic book which I bought with my own money, and I can clearly remember buying it. My mum gave all of my books away when she was having a mad clear out, apparently I had grown out of them, I of course knew nothing about it until the deed was done. But my first purchase survived the pogrom because it was for adults. It is a small cream coloured book, published by Thomas Nelson and it’s Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson. Apart from being a dinky wee book it was the title which made me buy it, vanity I suppose, or just curiosity because Catriona is the Gaelic spelling of my own name of course, and I wanted to know what this other Catriona/Katrina got up to.
I had to wait though as I hadn’t looked inside the book where it says – sequel to Kidnapped. As I hadn’t read Kidnapped I had to find that one first. Both books are well worth reading and have a Scottish setting, which is something else which I enjoy. I know – how parochial of me!
I’ll give you a flavour of that first classics book purchase. I bought it in John Menzies (pronounced Ming-is – it’s that yogh letter of the alphabet again) Stationers and Bookshop in Helensburgh, on the west coat of Scotland, north of Glasgow. Helensburgh is a town just about 7 miles north of where I was brought up and it was a favourite place to have a nice day out, a bit of a change of scene. It was a popular destination for day trippers, holidaymakers and at that time had the most millionaires living in it of any town in Scotland. It attracted successful football players and theatrical entertainers, showbiz types I suppose you could say. The actress Deborah Kerr was born there and John Logie Baird lived there and apparently started his experiments on the development of television there in the 1920s.
But all that was of not very much interest to my mum, what she liked Helensburgh for was the American Navy! At the time they were based at the Holy Loch and possibly Faslane, on the Clyde. Yes, all the nice girls love a sailor – so they say, and my mum certainly did. She was always terribly disappointed if for some reason there were no US sailors in the town when we were there. I was always quite relieved because she would urge me in a stage whisper, which really more resembled a fog horn. Touch their stars for luck! She always got the attention of the sailors – I always just about died of embarrassment and of course refused to touch up any sailors. I’m sure my mum made it up – that it’s supposed to be lucky to touch the star on the bottom corner of a US sailor’s collar.
Well I warned you it was going to be a ramble! But when I look at my copy of Catriona it reminds me of sailors and my somewhat eccentric mum. As it happens my dad had been a sailor when they got married, but then, it was during World War II and there were a lot of them about back then.
If you look carefully you should be able to see my cream coloured copy of Catriona on the shelf below.