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Five Classic Reads for Winter  

Sarah Biggerstaff

With its shortened days, and icy winds, winter is pretty much the ideal time to sit at home and enjoy a good book.

While there is no shortage of new and amazing books to see you through the long winter months, personally, I find the inclement weather provides the perfect ambience in which to enjoy a well-loved classic. I have selected five of my favourite classic winter reads to review, which suit a range of moods and tastes, but are all equally brilliant.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

You have probably seen at least one film adaptation of this novel in your lifetime, or at least one of the many vampire-based series which have germinated from the Stoker’s blood-sucking prototype. However, I don’t think any of the adaptations successfully capture the eeriness and unsettling effect that Stoker’s narrative produces, not even the 1922 silent film, Nosferatu, which was bloody (sorry) terrifying. Apart from being a good old fashioned scary read, Stoker’s novel is stylistically interesting, employing an epistolary (letter- based) narration style, rather than a standard first or third person mode.

Using letters, diary entries, and newspaper articles, Stoker produces a narrative that includes the perspective of many diverse and interesting characters, to create an overall picture of the events that has a disturbing sense of reality to it. One of my favourite things about this novel is the powerhouse female protagonist, Mina Harker, who represents something rare in Victorian fiction – an intelligent, capable woman. If you’ve never read Dracula, I strongly recommend it, and if you have, you already know how great it is.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Like Dracula, Jane Eyre is another classic that has been somewhat done to death in terms of screen adaptions, however, the original text absolutely warrants your attention, even if you have seen the version with a smouldering Michael Fassbender (but, just so you know, the mini-series with Toby Stephens is the absolute best). Jane is a fantastic heroine, equal parts quiet and gutsy, and though she is so morally upright it can get a little sickening, you have the morally questionable Rochester to create a nice balance.

Though it is essentially a love story – and a winning one at that – there is a lot more going on here than you may initially think. The psychological elements alone make this a gripping book, with the elements of haunting, and questions of morality, reflecting the challenges we face as individuals trying to establish an identity that is true to itself, without rejecting the tenets of society completely. Truth, as a concept, is integral to this novel, and readers will enjoy following Jane as she tries to determine what her own truth is in the face of many obstacles and misrepresentations. 

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Like strong heroines? Like ‘hate at first sight’ romances? Like poignant reflections on class inequality and the social implications of the rise of industrialisation in Victorian England? Well, then this is the book for you! North and South is the story of Margaret Hale, a young, educated, middle-class woman from the south of England, who moves to a dirty northern industrial town when her father ceases to be a clergyman, and attempts to earn a living as a tutor.

It’s full of social commentary on the treatment of workers in cotton mills, and looks at some of the first organised worker’s actions which occurred around this time. Margaret, a kind-hearted woman, is shocked by the poverty she sees as a result of industrialisation, and desperately wants to help the workers struggling to adapt to the advances in industrial practice. The owner of one of these mills, the hard and uncompromising Mr Thornton, is drawn to Margaret’s kind and charming nature, but, not surprisingly, she is repulsed by his mercenary business practices, and rejects his advances. Like each of the novels listed here, North and South is about people, and how they try to survive in a changing world. For all its overt political agenda, it is also a great romance, and a fantastic narrative about a young woman seeking to bring justice to a world that seems to be fast losing its humanity in the face of radical technological change.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

One of my favourite facts about this novel is that it was written by a woman. This on its own is not remarkable, but when you consider that it was written in 1818, when women were not well-known or respected as writers of what we now call horror, and the fact that at the time her husband was far more famous than her, and that this novel is one of the most adapted and referenced pieces of Georgian fiction in modern popular culture, it’s kind of a big deal.

Mary Shelley, as a person, is endlessly interesting; the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, wife of Percy Shelley, and friend of Lord Byron, she could easily have been overshadowed by the great stars of the Georgian era with whom she associated. But this one book prevented that from happening. Ok, moving onto Frankenstein itself. It artfully combines so many elements to create a story that is scary, sentimental, sad, reflective, and intriguing. There really is no wonder that it had become such a staple source in modern film, mutating into so many different forms through interpretation. But the original story of the man who challenged death, created life through science (there is much less grave-robbing and hacking up of dead bodies than you are probably expecting) is definitely worth the read. It is full of surprises and completely warrants its place in my top five classic winter reads.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

I know I am doubling up on my Bronte’s here, but The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is such a wonderfully underrated book, and its story so excellent that I couldn’t leave it out. Yes, I know I’ve left out Emily, but Wuthering Heights is really depressing, and I thought we could do without it. The Tenant looks at how the small-town mindset influences how perceptions of a young and beautiful widow are formed, when she refuses to be forthcoming about her past. It has tragedy, romance, social commentary, and a narrative of self-discovery. It also uses multi-character perspective in a way that was quite innovative for its time, and still proves interesting today.

Yes, the male lead, Gilbert Markham (what a name!), does have more than a little bit of a stalker vibe about him, but this can be attributed mainly to the social norms of the time, and also a little to the incredibly messed up personal lives of the Brontes – I mean, they did NOT get out much, so their ideas of romance were a little weird. Irrespective of this, Tenant has one of the best love stories of any Bronte novel, and Anne’s skill in characterisation is so great that you can forgive some of the more peculiar points of the novel. It, like every other book on this list, is a top read for the frosty winter days, when all you want to do is curl up with a good book.

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Sarah Biggerstaff

Sarah Biggerstaff is a literary enthusiast, from Canberra, with a Masters degree in English Literature from the University of York in the United Kingdom. She is currently in her first year of an English PhD, the focus of which is British women’s fiction from the inter-war period, with a particular interest in feminist readings of these novels. Sarah hopes to one day write books, as well as review them, and in the meantime, is happy sharing her passion for books with others. More about the Author

  • 2am kindle

    Thanks Sarah! I have had Frankenstein on my list and will add Dracula. I have been rereading lots of favourites from my childhood lately, and noticing how much my perspective has changed eg: I have so much more sympathy with Ma Ingalls now. I recently read the Tenant of Wildfell and was struck by what a lacklustre hero Gilbert was, tantrums, assault. Mr Lawrence and Helen were more interesting.

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