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.

Miss Jemima’s Swiss Journal

“On the 26th June 1863, sixty-four excited ladies and gentlemen left London Bridge Station on the very first tour of Switzerland arranged by Thomas Cook, the excursionist. This was the beginning of a tourist movement which now involves millions taking their holidays abroad.”

Among the sixty-four were the seven members of the Junior Alpine Club: Miss Eliza, Miss Mary, Miss Jemima, Miss Sarah, Mr William, Mr Tom and Mr James.

Miss Jemima was charged with preparing a record of the trip for the clubs archives, and maybe even for publication.

What the club thought of Miss Jemima’s writings, what came after the trip to Switzerland is unknown. 

But, of course, that isn’t the end of the story …

In 1943 an old tin box was found in the rubble of a blitzed warehouse in the East End of London. And in that box were Miss Jemima’s notebooks, drawings and souvenirs.

Miss Jemima has never been identified, but her work was finally published almost a century after she visited Switzerland.

It makes a lovely book, recording everything that the group saw and did over the course of the tree weeks that they spent in Switzerland.

Well, nearly everything. There are only fleeting references to accommodation, meals, and fellow-travellers. Miss Jemima is clearly focused on the country and on the journey.

But it is still clear that seven members of the Junior Alpine Club fell in love with Switzerland. A sense of enjoyment and fun permeates the pages.

And such an appetite for adventure. Mule-back journeys? Dawn departures? Mountaineering in crinolines? All are undertaken with gusto!

Towns, villages, mountains, glaciers, valleys, lakes … All wonderful!

The prose is simple, clear and informative, and though there is much detail it flows quite beautifully.

And the text is accompanied by some lovely drawings and photographs.

Reading Miss Jemima’s Journal was like hearing about the trip of a lifetime from an articulate friend.