They’re the books and plays that we’ve heard referenced time and time again, but despite being centuries old, it turns out that the works of Hardy, Shakespeare & co bear more perennial relevance than you thought.
From quotes to philosophical musings, they’re the tokens of wisdom that we only really learn to appreciate in the midst of a quarter life crisis.
For literature’s best life lessons, read on.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
The “bad boy” is overrated
Poor Tess. Poor, sweet, innocent and fatefully naïve Tess, whose tragic descent from rural heroine to “Maiden No More” is catapulted by the dastardly Alec d’Urberville: the unofficial “bad boy” of the literary canon. Whilst Hardy’s version might be extreme by modern standards – Alec allegedly rapes and impregnates Tess after which she becomes ostracized from society – it is a basic narrative we know too well from predictable-yet-insatiably-satisfying romantic comedies. Boy meets girl, boy charms girl with his wayward philosophies, devil-may-care attitude and exquisite bone structure. Alas, said playboy ultimately proves to lack both romantic substance and/or moral compass, transpiring to lying/cheating/leaving the loo seat up/all of the above. In other words, despite their inexplicably attractive libertine tendencies, bad boys like Alec will screw you - in more ways than one.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
“To be, or not to be?” Is that the most pretentious question you’ve ever heard? Hamlet might’ve been dealt a rough hand – dead father, murderous uncle, weird mother, obsessive admirer etc – but he certainly didn’t help himself with his intense introspection and scrutinising self-analysis. He has seven soliloquies in the play, which, in 2017 is the equivalent to a selfie-saturated Instagram littered with quotes by anon. Whilst back then, he might’ve been categorised as a depressive, today Hamlet would be just another narcissistic, self-obsessed millennial, riddled by self-doubt and anxiety about getting on the property ladder. Hamlet’s inability to escape his own thoughts leaves him passively pondering whether or not to avenge his father for five whole acts. Think how many entry-level jobs he could’ve been rejected by in that time? Realising that actions speak louder than words – your own or otherwise - is the key idiomatic takeaway for Twentysomethings here.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Forbidden love doesn't exist in the age of Tinder
The tale of Heathcliff and Cathy will forever hold a place in any literary buff’s hearts. But in 2017, the whole “but we’re from different worlds” concept doesn’t fly, mostly because since dating moved online, romance is governed by omnipotent Tinderellas and Bumblers, who employ algorithms to ensure that we’re all operating within the same digital world, or your money back. The lovers in Bronte’s novel were kept apart by torturous social constraints and agonising bigotry whereas today all they’d have to do is swipe right. All’s fair in love and apps.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Stick to one Instagram account to avoid an identity crisis
Who has the time to manage more than one social media account anyway? Unless you’re an “influencer” trying to build a personal “brand” (Jekyll) through #spons and #ads, but insist on maintaining a separate platform to document the drunken debauchery of your weekends (Hyde) #weekendwarrior, keep it simple with one profile that encompasses the good, the bad and the unfiltered ugly.
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
Even rich people have problems
Even Jay Gatsby couldn’t live a life of happiness – despite his million dollar mansion, stratospheric parties and inexplicably large wardrobe, the poor man ends up shooting himself in the head. Oh and let’s not forget the slew of adulterous relationships that lead to this cataclysmic turn of events. We all know by now that money doesn’t buy happiness, but this one really hits home when you leave university and realise that the glitz and glamour of a high-flying grad scheme might not be the gateway to glory you thought. Pursue passion over pennies.
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