Literary classics panned by critics

Kipling - `Worthless' Orwell - `Tosh' Hardy - `Infernal Bore'

SOME OF the best known literary works in the English language are pilloried today byauthors, publishers and critics who are unusually and refreshingly negative about acknowledged masterpieces.

The high street book retailer Waterstone's, which conducted the survey on what makes a classic, receives some pretty poor notices for some of the books on its shelves.

D H Lawrence's Sons And Lovers is described by Julie Burchill as "perspiring pervert gets it wrong again" although Roy Hattersley considers it "the best thing written about the tortured relationship only sons often have with demanding mothers".

J G Ballard says the American novelists Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth and Norman Mailer seem "over-blown and self-immersed". Roy Hattersley will upset much of Scotland by calling Walter Scott's lvanhoe "a farrago of historical nonsense combined with maudlin romance". The historian Alison Weir, author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII, pleads: "Could somebody please assure me that Virginia Woolf's mind-numbing To The Lighthouse, which I was forced to read at school, will never again be called a classic!" And The Independent's literary editor, Boyd Tonkin, accuses Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim of "setting the tone for 40 years of boorishness".

The children's author Shirley Hughes lays into C S Lewis's Narnia books. She says: "As religion will undoubtedly be a great force in the next century, people may be increasingly repelled by Lewis's hijacking of the Crucifixion and Resurrection ... the underlying elements of lugubrious guilt may also be unacceptable to adults. But these books are so readable that to most children all this is simply water off a duck's back."

The books the respondents choose as classics cover most of the usual suspects, with James Joyce's Ulysses top of the list and described by the author Andre Brink as "that inimitable fanfare for the common man in which centuries of accumulated storytelling erupt in the miraculous and exuberant celebration of a single day".

There is also distaste for calling a novel a "classic". The biographer Michael Holroyd says: "Most often, in recent years, it has been used by desperate marketing men and women in publishing houses who seldom have time to read the books they are promoting and who trust that the `classic label' will somehow signal a prestige purchase. So it has become a lazy word, taken out and reused when- ever precise descriptive words are unforthcoming."

Ms Burchill, while not neglecting to place her own novel Ambition among "the 10 essential classic novels for the next 100 years," declares that "calling a book a classic is the quickest way to put children off them at school, as I know from bitter experience".

Many of those questioned feel schools cause damage by force-feeding classics to the young at an early age. The author Harry Ritchie says: "If it was written by somebody who was long since dead, and if you had to study it at school or university and/or it bored you, then a book was definitely a classic."

TV presenter Vanessa Feltz remembers a classic at school being "like a cabbage. Deeply dreary but somehow extra good for you." Keen to move from the written to the visual, she dismisses Watership Down by Richard Adams with the words: "I prefer Walt Disney."

One voice of disagreement comes from Chris Woodhead, HM's chief inspector of schools. He says: "I did not feel that I was forced to read classic texts at school. As a young child, I progressed from fairy tales to Biggles with a great deal of pleasure. There were times at secondary school when the detailed textual analysis of novels which struck me as irrelevant and overvalued left me cold.

"But then, in my O-level year, I read, initially with some reluctance, Wuthering Heights and I realised the impact great literature could have."

Perhaps the neatest definition of a classic comes from the journalist Cosmo Landesman who describes such a work as "a timeless read that I never have time to read".

Roy Hattersley dislikes

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: "A farrago of historical nonsense."

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling: "Worthless advice to children of the Empire."

The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan: "Any half-witted German agent would have shot him by page 5."

Rassels by Samuel Johnson: "Unreadable."

Julie Burchill dislikes

Animal Farm by George Orwell: "Simplistic tosh."

Sons and Lovers by D H Lawrence: "Perspiring pervert gets it wrong again."

On the Road by Jack Kerouac: "Stoned fag too doped to get out of the closet."

1984 by George Orwell: "Commie-baiting at a level The Sun would find unacceptable."

Shirley Hughes dislikes

The Narnia Books by C S Lewis: "Hijacking of the Crucifixion and Resurrection."

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J M Barrie: "Neurotic sentimentality about the state of infancy."

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy: "Most female readers long for Irene's knicker elastic to give way."

Vanessa Feltz dislikes

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy: "Infernal bore."

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen: "Anaemic heroine afflicted by headaches."

Watership Down by Richard Adams: "I prefer Walt Disney."

The Golden Bowl by Henry James: "Were ever sentences so laboriously entangled?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most