I was in a classroom from the age of 5 to 22. I read all kinds of books for all kinds of courses. Back in my day, prehistoric times according to my daughters, colleges offered a variety of classes in American and English literature. They still do. But today, they require that you take a “cross cultural” class. That class can be in literature from African, the Middle East, Latin America, Caribbean or American Indian categories. Literature from European authors not included. Why this is I do not know. If you major in a foreign language of Europe, such as French, Italian or Spanish, you are required to take many classes in literature. Of course you will read them in the foreign language. But, many of these important and classic works have been translated, and are available for all to read. I discovered some great French authors in my studies and have read both the original and translated versions of many books. Books do lose a little in translation, but good translations are out there.
What are we missing in our education by not requiring European literature, or at least adding it as a viable choice to all the others? We are not offering Dante’s “Inferno,” Cervantes’ “Don Quixote,” Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” The list of brilliant and classical works of European literature is almost endless. You shouldn’t have to major in a foreign language to be able to enrich your education with courses in these masterpieces.
I have read quite a few French books by a variety of authors and I thought I would mention a few in case anyone is interested in trying something new.
Emile Zola’s first novel, Theresa Raquin, is a psychological work. Theresa is raised by her aunt and talks her into marrying her sickly cousin Camille, when she is 21. Theresa meets a childhood friend and they become reacquainted and fall in love. They conspire to get rid of Camille so they can be together. However, the guilt from their actions soon starts to prey on their minds.
Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is another excellent work and Flaubert’s first novel. Emma Rouault is a farm girl who constantly reads books and fantasizes about romance and luxuries. When Charles Bovary, a country doctor, meets her and eventually asks for her hand in marriage, she is thrilled at the idea of being a doctor’s wife. However, the reality of married life is not at all what she envisions it to be. She needs an escape and instead of turning to books, she turns to other men.
Choderlos de Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a epistolary novel (written in letters from one character to another). I consider it a work of genius. The way he was able to write such an intricate plot of deceit, manipulation and revenge, is like nothing I have ever read before. The two main characters, Valmont and Meurteuil, use sex to ruin other people’s lives, in order to win a bet amongst themselves. It’s riveting.
Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, is another excellent book of revenge. Pichaud is the main character and is falsely accused of a crime and sent to jail for seven years. A dying fellow inmate leaves him a treasure, which Pichaud finds on his release. Pichard spends ten years planning the perfect revenge, down to minor details, on those who had him imprisoned and then executes it.
These are just a few of the books that I have been introduced to in my studies, and there are countless more. I think that somewhere along the way, on the road of education, there should be a place for novels like these. Courses offered to all, not just language majors.
Why not try one and let me know what you think?