I like to read classic novels. Anything that’s 100 years old that is still being read is a classic in my mind but I know not everyone labels books that way. I was reading The Scarlet Pimpernel a few months ago and I came across some blatant racism against Jews that made me very uncomfortable. A better description would be disturbed and deeply sad. I know this is me reading it from a modern perspective since I know how history has treated Jews and many other minorities. It’s still kind of shocking to come across any racism or discrimination and have it be presented as normal. I almost wanted to put the book down. Here’s my dilemma and I wanted to know what you thought.
- Is it fair to judge this old novel by my modern standards?
- If I just let it slide because it’s old, is there a point where the discrimination in classic novels has passed the point of teaching me something and is just disturbing to me and therefore not worth reading?
- Is reading about racism in older books a teaching tool for me or my kids to not think that way about people? Or am I just justifying reading something I don’t agree with?
I posted this discussion mostly because I don’t know for sure how I feel about all those questions yet. I don’t know that it’s fair to judge a classic by my modern standards but I am concerned about reading classics that are discriminatory, especially if it’s not blatant like in The Scarlet Pimpernel. I think reading affects who we are and how we think. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I think reading enough books that had racism in it would eventually desensitize me to it. But maybe I could learn something from these old novels about how not to be racist. I don’t know!!
How do you react when you come across discrimination, sexism, racissm etc in classic or old novels? Have you ever read a classic novel that was so racist/sexist/discriminatory that you couldn’t finish it?