Approaching Classic Novels the Other Way Around

“What are you reading?” I ask my ten year old daughter, Gemma-Rose.

She looks up from her Kindle and says, “Bleak House.”

I remember reading this Charles Dickens book a couple of years ago. It took me a long time to finish it. I had to return to the beginning a couple of times and start over again, because I kept putting the book down. By the time I came back to it, I’d forgotten what I’d previously read.

“Are you enjoying it?” I ask.

Gemma-Rose smiles and nods her head. Yes, she is enjoying Charles Dickens.

It was actually Sophie who asked me for a Kindle version of Bleak House. I found a free copy and had it delivered to all the girls’ Kindles, along with a few other free classic novels.

“Classics seem less dense when I read them on my Kindle,” Sophie tells me. I think I know what she means. Most paperback classics are printed in very small font on cheap paper. It takes ages to read each page. But on an ereader the font can be enlarged. The words seem less forbidding.

Sophie and Gemma-Rose have been watching the BBC mini-series version of Bleak House. They’ve seen it maybe three times. And they love it. Now they want more so they’re reading the book.

I have a habit of reading books first and then maybe seeing the movie. Some people might say this is the right way to do things. The books are so much better, because how can you condense a classic into so few movie minutes? But sometimes approaching a classic novel the other way round (movie before book) can work well. At least that’s what I’ve found with my girls. After watching movie versions of all Jane Austen’s books, a couple of Charles Dickens’, and even several of Elizabeth Gaskell’s, all the girls are now eager to read the classics.

Here’s some of the mini-series or movies we’ve enjoyed:

There are other versions of these books, plus many more adaptations of other classic novels. 
A couple of thoughts…

The 2007 version of Persuasion has an awful kiss in it (at least we think so!) and the heroine was rather wishy-washy.

And we couldn’t finish the 2007 version of Northanger Abbey. It was unnecessarily sensual. We couldn’t bear to watch it. 

So what do you think about the classics? Do you like to read the book first or watch the movie? And do you have a favourite screen classic? I like Bleak House best… or maybe North and South. Oh, it’s hard to decide. So many wonderful versions to watch!

My children’s novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek, is available from Amazon, as well as Lulu and Barnes and Noble.
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  1. Reply

    I'm going to give this a go, Sue. It sounds fun as well as educational. Instead of making myself hoarse with reading to the girls, I can sit back and watch a DVD – and then watch them go and read to themselves. I'll let you know how we get on 🙂

    1. Reply


      If your children like listening to you read, I'd keep on doing it. In fact I wish I could listen too! That sounds like fun. I listened to part of Bleak House as a podcast and that was good. But then I decided it was taking too long to get through the story (the girls were waiting for me to finish the book) so I read the rest of the novel.

      It is enjoyable though watching mini-series and movies. The BBC ones are especially good. I can't guarantee everyone will feel like reading the books afterwards but you never know. It could happen! Yes, let me know how you get on!

  2. Reply

    I do things both ways but I do often read the classics after watching a BBC mini-series. I would add to these Ivanhoe, Adam Bede and Middlemarch. This is a great post!

    1. Reply


      Your recommendations led me on a whole new rabbit trail. Now I feel a George Eliot phase coming on! I found some DVDs which look very attractive. I am putting them on my Christmas list. In the meantime I am downloading the books. Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Reply

    I – and the Owlets as well – prefer reading the books first. That way the film does not prevent us from making our own characters, painting our own pictures and portraits so to say. On the other hand this often leaves us disappointed with the movie, when the characters do not fit our expectations.

    1. Reply

      PS. I don't know if it's a classic or not, but we enjoyed Brideshead Revisited. The tv serial that is, not the new movie.

    2. Reply


      I also prefer reading the books first for the same reasons as you. My girls got very impatient with me when I was reading Little Dorrit. Imogen and Charlotte had already read the book, and wanted to watch the DVD series. I asked them to wait until I'd finished the book so I could watch it as well. That took a long time!

      I was also thinking about Brideshead Revisited. I haven't heard about the new movie. I like the series with Jeremy Irons!

    • Hwee
    • October 16, 2014

    It's funny how there are different ways to approach the classics! For myself, I like to watch the movies first then read the classics, but Tiger is the opposite. He much prefers to read the actual book than to watch the movie which inevitably contains alterations, which really bothers him. I often wonder whether that has to do with how we were first exposed to the classics, whether first through the books or via the movies.

    1. Reply


      I think I understand Tiger. Alterations from the book really bother me too! I often wonder what was wrong with the original version of the story. Why did someone feel compelled to make changes? I think I'd be so annoyed if I wrote a book and then someone changed aspects of it, when turning it into a movie or mini-series. I was first exposed to the classics through books, though I have now watched a few screen versions without first reading the novels. I am reluctant to go back and read the books in case I discover changes were made!

  4. Reply

    I have found with my kids (they are only 7 and 5) that seeing the movie will entice them to ask for the book. We watched the Hayley Mills version of Pollyanna, and they asked to read the book, which we all enjoyed. We tried Chronicles of Narnia and it was over their heads. We watched an older production of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and they are now asking to read the book. I have always been a strict book-first person, but this is what works for them/us right now, so we are going with it!

    1. Reply


      My girls also enjoyed both the Pollyanna book and Hayley Mills movie!

      Maybe there are times when the movie versions give us a taste and then, yearning for more, we go looking for the book. This has happened to me before though, generally, I'm a book first person like you! Whatever works? Oh yes!

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