I like reading classics but have always avoided Dickens. I read A Christmas Carol as a child and thoroughly enjoyed it but have stayed away from what I perceive as his more 'adult' books; Bleak House, Little Dorrit and all the rest. I've had this perception that Dickens is a stuffy writer and his books full of dull stuff about social morality rather than, you know, plot and story. I pictured endless scenes about Victorian workhouses and the treatment of the poor and could not imagine myself enjoying it, so I simply stayed away.
I tend not to like classic authors that focus too much on their surroundings. I've read a few Thomas Hardy novels and the portrayal of rural communities is simply not for me; I imagined that Dickens would be like that, but grimier, as he was dealing with London. I like my classics sweeping and epic, like Anna Karenina and Gone with the Wind, not necessarily dealing with the grubby reality of everyday life. I had also picked up the notion that Dickens had awful female characters, which was another reason to ignore his books.
Anyway, it got to the point where I felt I had to try a 'proper' Dickens book and actually judge the books themselves, rather than just my preconceptions of them. I found a great deal for a set of books and put five of them on my classics club list to force myself to at least try them. After much deliberation I decided early in the week to start Great Expectations first; it's not the longest of his books and I have vague recollections of my sister enjoying it in secondary school.
I've now read 186 pages and whilst Dickens is not going to suddenly become my favourite author, I'm pleased to say that so far, I was wrong about him. There is a story, lots of it, and whilst the sentences can be meandering, they aren't difficult or stuffy to read. There is much about social morality but it's not as heavy handed as I feared. And sometimes, just sometimes, Dickens is actually funny. He doesn't take himself too seriously and has a little joke with the reader. I'm up to Pip finally moving to London at the behest of the mysterious benefactor and I'm enjoying the ride with a feeling Dickens has some surprises in store for me.
Lesson learned: always try something before judging! I think most of us have a classic author we are 'scared' of, whether we need to be or not. I'm still scared of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, but that's a story for another day! What classic author are you unreasonably prejudiced against/scared of?