I tend not to read many Penguin publications – not due to poor quality, but because I find the spelling rules which they adhere to a little irritating (both -our and -ize endings are utilised, which does not make a great deal of sense to this former proofreader). I do, however, find myself growing increasingly fond of their Little Black Classics list. I had read several from the list before they were published, and have since acquired rather a few, either as gifts, to make up the money so that I could get a stamp on my Waterstone’s card (shameless behaviour, I know), or just to try something a little different.
If you are not familiar with them – which I am sure the majority of you will be – the Little Black Classics are a range of eighty short books (each of around sixty pages), published to coincide with the eightieth anniversary of Penguin. They are inexpensive; their corresponding price of eighty pence means that the entire collection is relatively cheap to amass, and will certainly provide some food for thought.
Rather than write reviews of each of the books which I have read from the list to date, I thought it might be a nice idea to focus upon several of the books, along with an enlightening Guardian article about them. The list which follows is as diverse as Penguin’s publishing list, and I feel as though each and every one of them would serve as a great introduction to the series.
3. The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue
Anonymous Icelandic sagas are wonderful. I first read this in a collection some years ago, and revisited it last year thanks to the wonderful Poetic Edda. Written towards the end of the 13th century, the saga is comprised of 25 verses, and is of great importance in both Icelandic and Norwegian history. It tells of two Icelandic poets, who duel over their shared love for Helga the Fair.
‘Madeleine undressing’ by John Everett Millais; inspired by Keats’ The Eve of St Agnes
13. The Eve of St Agnes by John Keats
One cannot go wrong with Keats. He is one of my absolute favourite poets, and sitting down with his work is about the most relaxing thing which one can do. He wrote beautifully, and The Eve of St Agnes is no exception. His depiction of nature and the countryside, and his evocation of the cold, is utterly sublime.
23. The Tinder Box by Hans Christian Andersen
I am sure that most are familiar with Andersen’s fairytales, and this one is one of the more well-known. It perhaps needs no introduction, but the very idea of it is inventive. A soldier acquires a magical tinder box which is capable of summoning three dogs to do his bidding. It sounds strange, but the story is sure to delight (and possibly frighten!) children and adults alike.
42. The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
First published in 1892, Gilman presents an incredibly important early feminist tract, revolving around the female protagonist’s rest cure. I won’t say too much about this before you embark; just know that it is both wonderful and semi-autobiographical.
50. Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen
I absolutely adore war poetry, and Wilfred Owen is another of my favourite poets. He wrote so strikingly about his own experience during the First World War, in which he was killed just a week before Armistice. I am unsure as to which poems this collection includes, but I imagine his most well-known works will be included.
72. Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield
I would be doing myself an injustice if I didn’t include Katherine Mansfield here. I absolutely adore her work; I find her so inspiring, and really admire the way in which she can present such a vivid slice of life in just a few pages. A wonderful short story author, and this is one of my absolute favourites.
Which of the Little Black Classics have you read, and which are you coveting? Do you like the format of the books?