“I don’t believe any of you have ever read Paradise Lost, and you don’t want to. That’s something that you just want to take on trust. It’s a classic… something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”
Mark Twain, “Disappearance of Literature” speech
I know this is a standard joke about classics. People interpret it to mean that classics are books you feel you should read but don’t enjoy so you are glad when they are over. In many ways this is somewhat true for me but not because I don’t enjoy reading them.
I was once talking with Tobias Picker before a new production of his opera based on Zola’s Thérèse Raquin. He had revised the ending a couple of times for previous productions and I asked him which ending we would hear this evening. A woman next to me shrieked and yelled “No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. It will spoil it for me.” Her friends nodded in agreement. It was a surprise for me. Thérèse Raquin is one of Zola’s most well-known novels and opera itself is a genre of repetitions. We go to see the nuances of interpretation rather than the revelation of the plot, which is always provided in a synopsis in the program booklet ahead of time.
For me, the pleasure is not in the reading, but what comes after the reading. That is when the fun begins. It is the thinking, discussing, deliberating, comparing, debating and rethinking. Good literature is not something to be read once and checked off the list. It doesn’t “spoil” but gets richer, deeper, better the more it is read. The best questions are always the ones that come after you’ve answered the question “what happens next?” or “how does it end?”
- Therese Raquin (harrietdevine.typepad.com)
- Zoladdiction: a Zola Reading Event in April (surgabukuku.wordpress.com)
- Spoilers in Reviews (mistressofthedarkpath.wordpress.com)
- Trigger warnings and literature (creepingcommonsense.wordpress.com)