Are Classics Ageless?

Happy 200th Anniversary to Pride and Prejudice! Source: SprinkleBakes

Happy 200th Anniversary! Source: SprinkleBakes

Pride and Prejudice, probably the most well-known and influential work by Jane Austen, turns 200 today. Happy Bookiversary, Jane! Pride and Prejudice is one of the many books that have become part of the Western canon and that now inherently carry the word “classic” with them. I have noticed a resurgence of classics in bookstores lately. It’s not just that they are more visible, but they are now also pieces of art or interior design accessories. Take for example the beautiful collection of classics from Random House:

Classic books in a rainbow of colours. Source: Retreat by Random House

Classic books in a rainbow of colours. Source: Retreat by Random House

These books beg to be displayed. I have also noticed classics like Pride and Prejudice making their way into the teen section of book stores with new covers meant to appeal to younger generations. After all, don’t we start reading these works of classic literature in high school? It makes sense that publishers could want to create books that appeal to this demographic, who might begrudgingly buy from the adult section, but will give a book a chance if it is nestled on the shelf next to their other favourite authors and has a cover that doesn’t look centuries old. Look at these Jane Austen covers from HarperCollins:

Jane Austen books get a teen makeover

Jane Austen books get a teen makeover

These covers are excellently branded. They have similar covers so they that they look lovely on your shelf, they have catchy taglines like “Love Is a Game” and “The Love That Started It All,” and their covers are distinctly reminiscent of the Twilight books. Someone definitely had their thinking cap on when designing these covers.

The classics in the teen section make sense. They help to bridge the gap for readers caught between adolescence and adulthood.  Perhaps they even let us stay feeling like teens a bit longer even though we are required to read adult books. And that’s a good thing. The teenage years are gone far too quickly. But what has always puzzled me is the classics section for the age group 9-12. There are books that are obviously age-appropriate (and I say those words very loosely) like Black Beauty, Anne of Green Gables, and Peter Pan. But what about books like Dracula and Frankenstein?

Frankenstein was on the reading list when I was in Grade 12. I didn’t read Dracula until university. Would I have been ready to read these stories in Grade 6? Forget about the subject matter, and just look at the writing style and vocabulary. Chances are I would have exchanged them for Lemony Snicket or Judy Blume. Yet there they are in the kids’ section. Are they there for the same reason that Pride and Prejudice is in teen? For young readers with interests beyond their age. Or are classics ageless?

Share your thoughts on the agelessness of classics in comments.

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