Topiary Reading Club Vol. VII: Our Take On Beloved Essential Classics
In this installment of Topiary’s Reading Club, we traverse through the defining works of 19th and 20th century literature.
Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Dostoyevsky’s The Notes from the Underground is an 1864 novella—originally written in Russian—and one of the most influential and revolutionary works of 19th century literature as it was one of the first works of existentialist literature.
Set in 1860’s St. Petersburg, the novel is divided into four parts that depict memoirs and confessions of the protagonist. Despite the seemingly trivial and mundane events that take place in the novel, Dostoyevsky is able to weave a commentary rich with sincerity and rawness, made possible by the lack of any solid plot. The novella reflects the intricacies and complexities of the human condition through the lense of existentialist philosophy. This labyrinth of emotion and misery is narrated by the book’s anti-hero: a 40-year-old retired civil servant, the unnamed, underground man—a man purely made out of paradox, as he is egoistic yet cripplingly self-loathing, near genius yet ridiculously stupid, indifferent yet hypersensitive, desperate for human interaction, yet terribly misanthropic. The readers witness the brokenness of his character as he is turned from the inside out, bearing the tenets of his mind, the longings of his heart, and the sickness of his soul in his notes.
Dostoyevsky himself claimed that, “It will be a powerful and candid piece; it will be truth.” Notes from the Underground is impulsively tangled, glaringly honest, and painfully melancholic, but in its truest essence, it is unadulteratedly human.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sparkling champagne. The Roaring Twenties. Extravagant yet hollow parties. The American Dream. Great, lost loves....
American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby is set in the Jazz Age and narrated by Nick Carraway as he details the story of his mysterious and wealthy neighbor, Jay Gatsby, who longs to reunite with his ex-lover, Daisy Buchanan. Through Gatsby’s tragically opulent life, the novel explores themes of new money and old money, class and society, love and marriage, the emptiness of the upper class, and the failure of the American Dream. Fitzgerald’s elegant writing style—riddled with stunning prose, evocative metaphors and imagery, and well-crafted motifs, symbols and literary devices—adds another layer of grandeur to the already grandiose story, truly transporting the readers to Gatsby’s lavish mansion and the exuberant New York of the 20s. With fleshed-out themes, vivid characters and gorgeous writing, The Great Gatsby has become a classic of 20th century literature and has enchanted generations of readers, becoming a truly unforgettable story.
1984 by George Orwell
Imagine living in a society with a totalitarian government that controls everything—from the simple things like how you dress and what you eat, to the bigger, fundamental aspects of your identity like how you think, speak, act, feel, like your daily routine and your interactions with others—a government that dehumanizes its civilians by destroying human relationships, art, literature, history and culture, and by stripping you of all freedom, self-expression and individuality through constant surveillance and propaganda.
That is the world of George Orwell’s 1949 masterpiece, 1984, one of the most prominent and influential works of dystopian fiction. The novel takes place in a fictional country, ‘Oceania,’ and focuses on protagonist Winston Smith, as he pursues a forbidden romance with a woman named Julia, and attempts to uncover the truth and rebel against the ruling Party and its leader, ‘Big Brother.’ Ultimately, 1984 is a poignant and powerful narrative that took the literary world and dystopian genre by storm, and a cautionary tale that is hauntingly terrifying in its possibility of becoming a reality.
It’s great to have a few classics under your belt, so we hope after going through our recommendations you get cozy in your reading nooks, and let these novels take you back in time and transport you to their worlds……..