Sense and SensibilityFrankensteinThe Scarlet Letter.

You’re familiar with these pillars of classic literature. You have seen plenty of Frankenstein costumes, watched the film adaptations, and may even be able to rattle off a few quotes, but do you really know how to read these books? Do you know anything about the authors who wrote them, and what the authors were trying to teach readers through their stories? Do you know how to read them as a Christian? Taking into account your own worldview, as well as that of the author? 

In these beautiful cloth-over-board editions, bestselling author, literature professor, and avid reader Karen Swallow Prior will guide you through the classics. She will not only navigate you through the pitfalls that trap readers today, but show you how to read it in light of the gospel, and to the glory of God. 

These editions include thorough introductions to the author, context, and overview of the work (without any spoilers for first-time readers), the full original text, as well as footnotes and reflection questions throughout to help the reader attain a fuller grasp of the text.

the author

Karen Swallow PriorPh.D., is a Research Professor of English and Christianity and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T. S. Poetry Press, 2012), Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson, 2014), and On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Literature (Brazos 2018). She is co-editor of Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues (Zondervan 2019) and has contributed to numerous other books. Her writing has appeared at Christianity Today, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, First Things, Vox, Relevant, Think Christian, The Gospel Coalition, Religion News Service, Books and Cultureand other places. She is a Senior Fellow at the Trinity Forum, a Senior Fellow at the International Alliance for Christian Education, a Senior Fellow at Liberty University’s Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States. She and her husband live on a 100-year old homestead in central Virginia with sundry horses, dogs, and chickens. And lots of books.

author q&a

What prompted you to work on this series? What specifically is added to these volumes?

I love classic literature—especially English novels of the 18th and 19th centuries—and I want others to love these works, too! I often hear from people who say they wish they could take a class with me. The introductions and discussion questions in these books are drawn, in part, from class lectures, so the volumes will, I hope, be a little bit like taking a class with me. 

I especially want fellow Christians to appreciate the significance of these novels in history and culture, so I have written introductions with that particular context in mind. The discussion questions are quite thorough and are designed to help individual readers who want guidance in thinking through the works, and the questions would work wonderfully for book club discussions.

Who are these designed for?

I’ve written the introductions in hopes of both helping first-time readers of the works approach them more confidently and adding understanding and perspective to returning readers who already love these books (or maybe hated them when they were forced to read them in school). I’ve also emphasized what Christians can learn and apply from these works. There are countless editions of classic literary works and good introductions to many of them. But introductions written by and for Christians are hard, if not impossible, to find for many of these works. This series is a step toward filling that gap.

How did you choose the volumes? Which ones are you most excited about?

I began with works that are already in the public domain. This eliminates all of the more contemporary works and translations. From this pool, I chose works I’m most familiar with and love. And from those, I chose works I think are particularly important for Christians to read and appreciate. I also tried to choose works that might appeal as much to men as to women. Christian men, stereotypically anyway, tend to read theology and history and don’t always see how much theology and history (and much more) can be learned from good literary fiction. It is my hope that this series appeals to them, too.

Why is it important for Christians to read the classics?

Christians ought to love good literature because language is a gift from God. The gift of language God gave human beings is a reflection of his image in us. Reading good literature—an art form that uses language as its medium—is a way to steward this gift well. We understand ourselves through words (and ultimately through the Word), and the classics have become classics because they reveal this truth about the human condition so well. Not only can the classics show us universal truths told through the particulars of individuals in their time, place and situation, but they are also simply works of beauty. And it is good to take delight in good things.

What would you say to people who didn’t enjoy these stories in high school? Why should they give them another try?

Honestly, although I certainly want students introduced to the classics early on, many of these works are really written for adults. Without good preparation and intellectual maturity, most young people simply can’t appreciate these works until later in life. It is a completely different experience to go back and read books such as these with the experience, insight and abilities of an adult. No one is going to love every classic, and we all have differing tastes, but as adults, we are much more capable of appreciating the things these works offer. 

How are the themes in “Sense & Sensibility” and “Heart of Darkness” still relevant today?

I try to answer these questions more fully in the introductions, but most simply, these works have passed the test of time because they portray lasting truths about the human condition. These are very different works, of course; one is about the world of women and men of relative luxury trying to work out their familial relationships, and the other concerns human evil on a global scale. Yet each in its own context rings true to what we know about human relationships and human depravity (both ordinary and extraordinary) and our need to be reconciled with God and each other. We may never have lived in circumstances like the characters in these novels, yet the characters portray qualities we know to be true to life.