Yes, there were, are, and probably will be double standards between the genders. Yes, classics of literature are seldom light and happy, and many of them portray tragic fates. And yes, there’s a lot of fiction that’s much easier, lighter, and happier to read than thick, heavy, and tragic classics. And what’s more, yes, it’s true, I enjoy reading that light and happy fiction, and it does help me put myself in a better frame of mind to deal with the day.
However, reducing the 9 novels cited in this article to issues of women having sex (or not), while a great catchy title, is just oversimplification to the extreme.
Take Anna Karenina.
It’s not about sex.
It is true that she becomes isolated and despondent, but it’s not because she had sex with the Count. It’s because she made her affair public.
Yes, she had a bad marriage. True, her husband wasn’t the greatest guy on earth. And again, true, it was an arranged marriage that tied her down early.
But aren’t you looking at this from your modern point of view?
Arranged marriages were the norm.
Girls married in their mid to late teens.
There was nothing in Anna’s life that was unusual, uncommon, or so horrible that she should flaunt all the rules of the society that she was raised in.
Except one thing: herself.
The novel isn’t about sex. It’s not even about society’s repressive attitude towards sex, or women having sex in particular.
It’s about one person’s choices and how she lived, and didn’t, with them.
Yes, the society she lived in made it harder. Yes, her husband was a cold fish. Yes, Count Vronsky was a handsome, dashing officer. But it’s not about the affair.
In fact, it’s about “Happy families [that] are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (The opening sentence to Anna Karenine).
That’s because the novel isn’t just about Anna. It’s about other families that manage to find happiness, or some happiness, in different ways. It’s about families and life and purpose.
It has to be read more than once to grasp all the themes.
And that’s why I read classics, even when they’re not rosy-happy fiction. Even if I like the latter, too.