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
News
US comedian Bill Mahr
people
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Sport
football
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
News
Friends for life … some professionals think loneliness is more worrying than obesity
scienceSocial contact is good for our sense of wellbeing - but it's a myth that loneliness kills, say researchers
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Life and Style
Models – and musicians – on the catwalk in Dior Homme for the men’s 2015/16 fashion show in Paris
fashionAt this season's Paris shows, various labels played with the city boys' favourite
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us