Victorian Musings

Since I gave up on Trollope for the Classics Circuit a strange thing has happened. I thought that I would veer away from Victorian novels and towards something else. But that hasn’t happened. The great Victorian authors are calling me loudly.

It’s strange because the eight books I read this year for Our Mutual Read weren’t typical Victorian classics.

I read two wonderful travelogues by Victorian novelists who toured Cornwall: Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins and an Unsentimental Journey Through Cornwall by Mrs Craik.

My third Victorian travelogue was an account of Thomas Cook’s first tour to Switzerland that was rediscovered after being lost for many years: Miss Jemima’s Swiss Journal.

Back with fiction I met two gentlemen – Mr Tress and Mr Pugh – with extraordinary stories to tell in Curios by Richard Marsh.

I read two wonderful French works from the Victorian era: The Child by Jules Vallès and One Thousand and One Ghosts by Alexandre Dumas.

And I read two works by Louisa May Alcott for Margot’s All Things Alcott  Challenge. Thank you Margot, for inspiring me! I read Eight Cousins and A Long and Fatal Love Chase. I had intended to read Harriet Reisen’s  biography too, but the year is winding down and it’s not a book I want to rush. Next year, definitely.

Eight wonderful Victorian books and two challenges completed.

But I dropped Trollope and drifted away from Dickens, and now they are calling me back.

This year life got a little too busy and so I think I rushed a little too much at my reading. And now I realise that what I need is to immerse myself in a long slow-paced book, the kind of the books that Victorian Authors did so well.

I’m looking forward to reading some Dickens over Christmas, and in the new year I’m going to pick up The Old Curiosity Shop again. I have learned that one of the great things about reading Dickens is his stickability: I can put his books down for ages but I still remember everything when I pick them up again.

And I’m signing up for The Victorian Literature Challenge at Words Words Words.

I’m not reading from a fixed list, I’m going to read the books that call and the books that I discover along the way.

But a few authors and books are calling particularly loudly:

I’m going to try Trollope again: I just need to pick the right book at the right time, and not go wrong as I did this year.

Lifetime Reader has inspired me to reread Thomas Hardy.

And this might just be my year to read Vanity Fair. My mother had been telling me to read it for years, and she’s generally right about these things.

Mrs Gaskell is one of her favourites, and that’s part of the reason why I’m signing up for the Gaskell Reading Challenge at Gaskell Blog too. I’ve only read Cranford, so I have a good number still to choose my two books from.

My mother is quite frail now and she doesn’t have the concentration or the short-term memory to do much reading, yet she remembers details of books like Cranford and Vanity Fair that she read st school more than fifty years ago.

She will be pleased to see me reading the books that she loves, and she remembers enough details for us to be able to talk about them.

It’s a tribute to the skills of many Victorian novelists, and to the power of a wonderful teacher whose words my mother can still quote too.

18th & 19th Century Women Writers Challenge – Complete


Becky from Becky’s Book Reviews has been hosting  the 18th and 19th Century Women Writers Reading Challenge for 2009.

Pparticipants are asked to read no fewer than four and no more than twelve books written by a woman who lived and wrote from 1700 to 1900.

I’ve read six:

All good but The Yellow Wallpaper has to be my favourite, with Paul Ferroll and Behind a Mask not to far behind.

A lovely challenge!

Victorian Challenge: a conclusion


The Victorian Challenge has been graciously hosted by Alex on a dedicated blog here. Do take a look – there are some wonderful reviews of an inredible array of books.

I was thrilled as soon as I first saw the words “Victorian” and “Challenge” together, and decided to set about reading a few of the big Victorian novels that I hadn’t got around to.

In the end I settled for a walk in Hyde Park (4 books) rather than the tour of the British Museum (5 books) I had planned.

I loved the books I read and I’m happy that I took my time and enjoyed them rather than rushing to hit a target.

Here they are, linked to reviews:

  • Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens
  • Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell


    My mother has been telling me to read Cranford for years. She read it at school aged fourteen, and could still quote from it and recall things she had been taught about it more than fifty years later. A testament both to Miss Tranter, her teacher, and Mrs Gaskell.

    But I resisted.

    “In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women. If a married couple comes to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week …In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford. What could they do if they were there?”

    For a long time I thought, well how entertaining could a story of spinsters and widows be?

    Now that I have read it I have to say that Cranford is wonderfully entertaining..

    It was originally published in a serial format in Charles Dickens’ Household Words. Each chapter stands as a story in its own right, but there are common threads running through that bind those stories together.

    And those spinsters and widows are so beautifully drawn. The spinsters – Misses Deborah and Mattie Jenkyns, daughers of the former rector and Miss Pole. The widows – Mrs. Barker, Mrs. Jamieson, and Mrs. Forrester.

    The story is of everyday lives of these women as they hold fast to their traditional way of life in a world that is caround them.

    And so we travel throgh the social rounds of Cranford. Occasionally, of course, we are disrupted by some of life’s bigger events.

    There is even the odd appearance by a man – Captain Brown, Mr. Holbrook, Peter Jenkyns, Signor Brunoni – though they never stay for long.

    The wonderful narration brings everything together. Making the narrator, Miss Mary Smith, not a resident of Cranford but a frequent visitor was a masterstroke. She loves the village and its ways, but she is also just a little bit more worldly and aware of how the world is changing. Her tone is warm and chatty, and it is easy to feel that you are catching up with an old friend.

    Cranford is a wonderful portrait of an age and a lost way of life.

    My mother was right!

    Victorian Challenge


    The Victorian Challenge is being hosted by Alex here.

    I was thrilled as soon as I saw the words “Victorian” and “Challenge” together. I have read so many wonderful books from and about the period and there are still lots more out there.

    So I am definitely in!

    Here’s how it works:

    • The challenge runs between 1st January 2009 and 30th June 2009.
    • It is open to everyone who wishes to participate.
    • You can choose one of four reading levels.
    • You can be added to the blog if you want.
    • You can share your reviews or make updates in the blog.

    Books allowed:

    • Books wrote during the Victorian Era
    • Books set during that period
    • Books about that period or biographies

    Reading Levels:

    • A drink at Whitechapel: 3 books
    • A walk in Hyde Park: 4 books
    • A tour of the British Museum: 5 books
    • A visit to Buckingham Palace: 6 books

    I’m opting for a tour of the British museum, and these are my books:

    • Little Dorritt, by Charles Dickens
    • Belinda, by Rhoda Broughton
    • The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
    • Miss Cayley’s Adventures, by Grant Allen
    • Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell

    I plan to turn the titles to links once I have read and reviewed and I’ll track progress in my sidebar.