I haven’t taken part in the Classics Club Meme for a while, but August’s topic is one I feel quite strongly about! This month’s question is:
Do you read forewords/notes that precede many classics? Does it help you or hurt you in your enjoyment/understanding of the work?
I do sometimes read the forewords and notes but I’ve learned from experience to read them at the end rather than the beginning! I’ve never understood why so many publishers think it’s acceptable to give away the entire plot of a novel in the introduction just because it’s a classic. It’s true that many classics have become such a big part of popular culture that most of already know what happens, but that’s not always the case and I hate to think of anyone unsuspectingly reading the introduction first and having the story completely spoiled for them. When I read the Penguin English Library edition of Far from the Madding Crowd recently, I was pleased to find that the ‘introduction’ had been placed at the end of the book as an afterword instead of at the front. I think it would be nice if all publishers could either do the same or at least print a spoiler warning at the beginning the way Wordsworth Classics do.
Personally I like to go into a book knowing as little as possible about the plot and whether it’s a classic or a contemporary novel makes no difference. I might go back to read the introduction after I’ve finished the book, though not always as sometimes I either forget or decide that I’m happy with my understanding of the book and am ready to move straight on to another one. I read classics simply because I enjoy them so I’m not necessarily interested in analysing every little detail. I like to read the information on the author and their life, if any is given, or information that places the story into historical context, but apart from that I don’t usually find the introduction particularly helpful and prefer to interpret a book the way I want to interpret it.
What are your opinions on forewords? Do you like to read them or not?