I started writing an explanation on GoodReads as to why I was abandoning Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell but it became very much not about this book.
I have decided to abandon not only this but all 19th century fiction.
I've read some Elizabeth Gaskell in the past and enjoyed them, a couple of them very much so. Ditto a couple of Brontes and one or two Dickens.
Over Christmas, I was tempted by free Kindle copies of numerous 'Classics' & thought, given that they're free, there's no reason not to read them.
On a close but separate track I set up my GoodReads account and my random book selector spreadsheet, and populated it with Freebie classics, and various Booker shortlisted books, and recommendations from broadsheet newspapers of 30 books to read before I die and similar nonsense.
I've been having a glorious time reading books. I've mainly read crime and psychological thrillers, but I've read a few history or geography books, a splattering of literary fiction, and even some children's books. And you know what, I chose books because I wanted to, and, apart from a very few exceptions, I enjoyed them.
But I was still plagued with this ridiculous pretension to be an intellectual, or a feeling of guilt that I 'ought' to read certain books of literary bent.
Why should I? There's more than one definition of intellectual. One involves pretentiously and publicly reading classic fiction and Booker shortlisted pretentious crap.
The other sort involves questioning every fact conveyed, understanding the relevance, sufficiency and reliability of the evidence that supports it, asking whether the person conveying the fact is biased or is trying to further an agenda. And also, knowing when these rigorous standards can be relaxed. It's a bit like walking - do I set my apps to measure my progress and monitor them to ensure I'm reaching my target, or do I stroll along the river for a bit before adjourning for tea and scones or a pie and a pint?
Why do I read? Because I want to see the world, or my little bit of it, through the eyes of others, I want a bit of entertainment or a thrill, or a laugh, or a cry.
I'm not stupid and arrogant, so I know there is a reason why certain 19th century writers are still widely read today. And yes, they tell us about the world and how it used to be. But hey, guess what, so do history books and TV documentaries. And, anyway, why do I need to know all this stuff? I've long finished my Higher Education and my Professional training, what am I trying to prove?
Of course one should be undertaking Lifelong Learning, but what's this book going to tell me - unmarried mothers suffered because of Misogyny, Patriarchy and Christianity in the 19th Century. Wow, you don't say. On the other hand, my reading of a different Ruth, the Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths, which are not by any means great books, have told me just a little bit about saltmarshes, and Celtic and Roman ritual, because she has stood on the shoulders of those who have bothered to study these things. And that little bit of extra knowledge I have picked up from a middle brow thriller is of so much value to me.
All I will learn from reading 19th Century literature is about 19th century literature, a self-fulfilling circle. I have spent 35 years being bullied into thinking I ought to read this stuff by the English Literature industry, who have tried to define 'intellectual' as 'the ability to enjoy long winded fiction' because they don't have the ability to analyse information and data, to make decisions that have an affect on people's lives (possibly devastating) or to speak truth to power, simply to write about writing and sit around perpetuating each other's self importance.
I'm not saying 'never' and it's entirely possible that a Classic work or a pretentious fiction book will suddenly appeal, or have some relevance to a place I'm due to visit. It's possible that I might end up hospitalised or housebound but still with sufficient cognitive powers to struggle through a difficult book. But until then, I really can't be bothered with circumlocutory purple prose and books full of flat and binary characters.