November Tea Party Winners: Carrie Fancett Pagels' copy of The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides Collection - Debbie Curto, Christmas tea - Andrea Stephens, Golden Tea body wash Joy Ellis, lighthouse earrings -- Pegg's SIL from Lake Ann and Perrianne Askew, Pegg Thomas's Leather journal - Shelia Hall, and Writing Prompts book goes to - Connie Porter Saunders

Friday, May 4, 2012

Tools of the Trade ~ The Classics

by Roseanna M. White

One of the first lessons students are taught at St. John's College (a.k.a The Great Books School) is that there's nothing like an original text--and that we ought not refer to anything but the texts we've read together when in class. And so begins an education steeped in all things classic--an education that works its way not only into my writing, but into my outlook on how to research.

I've been thinking about this in recent weeks because each review I've gotten lately on Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland mentions my use of language and how it feels historical--something I achieved solely through reading texts from my time period. And a fellow St. John's graduate who'd just finished it emailed me the other day to say "I have to say, when you pulled out Pascal, I thought, 'Roseanna is such a Johnnie!'" 'Tis true, 'tis true. =) And in my next book, Ring of Secrets, I draw even more on my classical education thanks to a hero who's a professor at Yale (in 1780) in the subjects of philosophy and chemistry.

What I love about the Colonial, Revolutionary, and early Federalist periods is the rich literary culture. They not only had the ancient texts to draw on, they had more modern philosophers, political theorists, and some oh-so-fun scientific discovery happening under their very noses. 

And yet, I confess, whenever I have a character reaching for a book, I have to stop and think, "What would she be reading?" I often have to do some searches to remind myself of when certain books were published, or which authors were more popular at a given time. And though I often use ones I've read, occasionally my characters' literary taste diverges from my experience. No matter what I write, my characters will always find an occasion to delve into the classics--and since most people don't have a shelf full of the books from St. John's reading list (ahem--I know I wouldn't had I not gone there, LOL!) I figured it would be fun to draw together a small smackerel for anyone interested. =)

Fiction Popular in the 18th Century

Don Quixote by Cervantes - a bit of a parody of the chivalric tales popular way-back-when

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift - another parody, of course

Iliad by Homer (especially the Alexander Pope translation)

Odyssey by Homer (also the Pope translation)

Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais (not for ladies of delicate sensibilities! Far too much talk of cod-pieces for the gentler sex)

Anything Shakespeare, of course

The Aeneid by Virgil - did you know Caesar Augustus ordered the writing of The Aeneid solely to give the Greek version (Iliad) some competition?

Ovid's Metamorphosis (not to be confused with Kafka's)

The Misanthrope and other works by Moliere

Paradise Lost etc. by Milton

Dante's Divine Comedy - most of us found the Inferno to be far more interesting than Paradisio, LOL

Non-Fiction Popular in the 18th Century

(Since most of these fellows wrote a number of treatises, I'll list authors and subject matter rather than particular titles.)

Pascal - this guy was a certifiable genius whose salvation led him to turn his considerable brain-power to convincing others of the logic and reason behind Christianity. Fun stuff!

Descartes - though best known for his philosophical works (such as the one with the famous "I think, therefore I am") he also wrote scientific works that are, um, less credible when one actually experiments upon the objects he discusses.

Hobbes - a political theorist whose works played a major role in the shaping of America's political system

Adam Smith - an economic theorist who may put you to sleep but who, again, greatly shaped America's early systems

Montesquieu - a political theorist who first devised the separation of powers now taken for granted.

Francis Bacon - political and scientific theorist most remembered for creating the scientific method

Locke - political theorist

Hume - political theorist and skeptic

Spinoza - essays laid the foundation for the Enlightenment; a biblical critic

Rousseau - political theorist

Newton - scientific and mathematical genius

Huygens - scientist who made breakthroughs especially in the behavior of light

Lavoisier - scientist of the 1770-90s who introduced the idea of elements into chemistry which led to the periodic table

There are many more, but for those curious about where the Founding Fathers got their ideas, that'll give you a great starting place!


Roseanna M. White grew up in the mountains of West Virginia, the beauty of which inspired her to begin writing as soon as she learned to pair subjects with verbs. She spent her middle and high school days penning novels in class, and her love of books took her to a school renowned for them. After graduating from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, she and her husband moved back to the Maryland side of the same mountains they equate with home.

Roseanna is the author of two biblical novels, A Stray Drop of Blood and Jewel of Persia, both from WhiteFire Publishing (www.WhiteFire-Publishing.com), Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland from Summerside Press, and the upcoming Culper Ring Series from Harvest House beginning in January 2013 with Ring of Secrets.

She is the senior reviewer at the Christian Review of Books, which she and her husband founded, the senior editor at WhiteFire Publishing, and a member of ACFW, Christian Authors Network, HisWriters, and Colonial American Christian Writers.


  1. Thanks so much, Roseanna! This is a great article and has information that I can use. I started poking around for some of this and gave up about a year ago. Bless you for your persistence and in sharing!

    1. It's amazingly hard to find in a simple search! I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took me to realize I could just look over to my "classics" shelf, LOL.

    2. The good thing is that my characters in Europe were reading some of these books, also. How wonderful for you that you had a classical education. I'll admit that a couple of these, when I tried reading them, put me to sleep!

    3. LOL, Carrie. Some were definitely difficult! The worst one for me was Adam Smith. I read it every possible moment, resorted to skimming, and STILL didn't get the assignment done for class.

  2. So many books, so little time - thanks for the terrific reading list!! Wonderful post!

    Miss Kathy at The Writer's Reverie

    1. I know how you feel--I don't get nearly as much reading time these days as I wish for!

  3. You are blessed by so rich an education. You pass on the fruits of classical knowledge through the gift of your own spirit in your gorgeous writing whether fiction or in essays like this one.

    Thank you.

    1. I am definitely blessed to have gotten such an education! I'm very grateful for my time at St. John's. And thank you. =)

  4. Thank you so much for this listing. You have put together a valuable resource. In a critique group, I shared part of my Quaker tale. A grammarian questioned some of my usages. I couldn't tell her why I wrote what I wrote. It just seemed to trip off my tongue in that fashion. Probably because I've been reading Quaker writings of the era. I fully believe we catch as much grammar as we learn.

    1. Oh, I definitely agree! We have a natural leaning toward language, we humans, so we really do just pick up whatever we're steeped in. Hence why you deserve big kudos for reading Quaker writing of your era. =) Nothing beats that for research!

  5. Great post Roseanna. Very helpful list. Your writing really exemplifies your education. Great work!

  6. Great article, Roseanna! It occurs to me I've read most of the 18th century fiction books you listed!

  7. Many of my 18C characters turn out to be readers/book geeks. I wonder why that is? ;)

    I love being able to place a specific book in their hands, and even include book discussion in my dialogue.

    Thanks for this great information and the book lists!

  8. Thanks for this handy list, Roseanna! I might use it for my non-Quaker characters to add detail. I believe the Quakers thought Shakespeare too risque! I found a document last year that showed books were so important that their English counterparts shipped them to remote colonists, listing each title - a rather dry, religious reading list.

  9. Happy Anniversary, Colonial Quills! Can't wait to spend this week in celebration with you. Many more years of blessings!


  10. Thanks for the informative and fun post! :) Of course I have heard of many of these authors and books, but I believe The Odyssey is the only one I've read - and it was a shortened version.


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