Younger texts for old

7th July 1995 at 01:00
Paul Hopkins is right to mistrust the judgment of politicians when it comes to selecting texts for study in school (TES, June 23). His suggestions for a shortlist of "excellent ... pre-20th century literature", however, only serve to highlight the problems which this latest Government prescription has caused.

Of the 22 books he suggests, five were not originally written in English, which raises the vexed question of the value of studying literature in translation, and two are not "pre-20th-century" - Kim was published in 1901 and The Secret Garden in 1911. A popular book of this age group, which he has omitted, is Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner, published in 1898.

The cut-off date of December 31, 1899 selected by the Government is, of course, completely arbitrary, and I am surprised that little comment has focused on this.

A more obvious "punctuation point" in the history of literature is provided by the First World War. To require the reading of works published before the outbreak of that war would not only have the merit of making some kind of historical sense, it would also allow into the prescribed canon both Kim and The Secret Garden along with other titles, such as The Wind in the Willows.

For students at key stage 4, such a change would open up the infamous "list" by adding the later works of Wells, such as Kipps (1905) and The History of Mr Polly (1910), and Conan Doyle (for example The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) and The Lost World (1912).

A final objection to Paul Hopkins' list is that some of the books still offer a very difficult read. He should look again at the last chapter of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Many adults will find this heavy going, let alone 12-year-olds.

Readers of this age will need considerable help from attractively and helpfully-presented editions and good teachers before they can tackle such texts.

JOHN SEELY Series editor Thornes Classic Novels Highland Place Fownhope Hereford

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