I hold a B.A. in English, an M.A. in English Language and Literature, and a PhD in English Language and Literature. My specialties are officially medieval, early modern (Renaissance), and speculative fiction literature. My confession: I think most “great literature” is awful.
Chaucer, I like. But, I prefer Marie de France, Chretien de Troyes, the Gawain-poet, and several anonymous writers. Beowulf, I enjoy.
I read Shakespeare and think he’s important to look at for his influence. However, I don’t particularly care for him. There are others from the era that I like better.
I don’t see why Hardy, Dumas, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and scores of other canonical “great” writers are considered so great. I don’t think it’s because I’m not smart or knowledgable enough, after all I read Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon.
That said, there are classics I enjoy: Poe, Dickens, Wright, Bierce. But, they are pretty few and far between after the 16th century.
I’m much happier reading, researching, writing about current genre greats, or those I consider to be great or even good. Quite frankly, I’ll take Pratchett, Rowling, Heinlein, Gaiman, or Brust over Dumas any day and I’m not ashamed to say it.