Recently, I picked up the novel St. Elmo by Augusta Jane Evans. Part of me wonders whether it stands as the first harlequin romance-style novel, since it certainly has the woman-who-tames-savage-man plot. You might call it The Fifty Shades of Grey of the 19th century: this novel was the third bestselling novel of 19th century America behind Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur. However, St. Elmo has a deeper understanding of tragedy and sorrow and is far more elevated than Fifty Shades of Grey.
So elevated, in fact, that most modern Americans can’t enjoy the book. The reviews on Goodreads revealed a common note of frustration with the Ciceronian periods, les belles lettres, and Classical and Medieval allusions. They put down the book rather than subject themselves to being tortured by someone with a Classical education for over 450 pages. That Americans are not given the same education as their ancestors places a barrier to enjoying the works of Western Civilization. And so, fewer and fewer people read Classic novels.