The Classics Club August Meme: On Forewords and Introductions

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This month, the Classics Club has posed the following question to its members:

Do you read forewords/notes that precede many classics?  Does it help you or hurt you in your enjoyment/understanding of the work?

It’s been far too long since I’ve answered one of these questions, so I thought I’d give this month’s a go.

I remember when I read Jane Eyre last year, I glanced at the introduction of my copy before beginning to read, and the first few words spoiled the ending.

I suppose you can say that Jane Eyre is over 150 years old, so there’s no such thing as a “spoiler.”  And maybe somewhere in the back of my head, I already knew the ending.  And although knowing the ending to Jane Eyre didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the book in the slightest, having it spelled out for me right before I was going to start the book irked me.

I’m a spoilerphobe – hence, my spoiler policy on this blog.  Although it is often said that the journey is more important than the destination, I still like the destination to be unknown.

I used to skim over introductions before reading a classic novel, but now I hardly even glance at them.  I prefer to read them in depth after I finish the book.  I often wish that these introductions were labeled as “critical essays” and put after the text of the work.

Even though I’m not a literature student, I do enjoy reflecting on a book and picking it apart to a certain extent.  Introductions and forewords often give a solid overview of the interpretations and scholarship surrounding the work, so I find them useful compasses for beginning to think about the book on my own.  Reading them after finishing a book adds to my understanding of what I just read.

That said, I wouldn’t mind having an introduction give some background on the author and the time period as well as a few pointers on things to watch out for while reading.  A helpful guide with no spoilers!

What are your thoughts on introductions or forewords?  Do you find their inclusion of spoilers problematic?

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8 thoughts on “The Classics Club August Meme: On Forewords and Introductions

    • It’s already hard enough to avoid spoilers for older works – I actually had the ending of Anna Karenina spoiled for me by reading something in a news magazine – so it boggles my mind that spoilers would be in something intended to be read before the book. Glad to find some others who agree!

  1. I love forwards/introductions. They’re a goldmine of information.

    Then again, I’m one of those who reads the last chapter of a book after I’ve read 2-3 beginning chapters. I can’t stand not knowing how a book is going to end!

    • I suppose knowing the ending enables you to pick up on things while you’re actually reading, instead of going over it again. I sometimes feel as though I should try it once, but I just can’t get myself to peek ahead!

  2. I don’t read intorductions, or I carefully skim them. I’ll read them after, but I’ve had the same thing happen too many times, revealing the end of the book. I’d like a chance to read it first, even if it’s a classic.

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