Sensational September

Firstly sorry for such a late blog, it seems I have some kind of evil food poisoning and have been up half the night and then finally getting to sleep about 7am so have not long got up. Well I say got up, I think today is going to be a day in bed with books to be honest, I can’t really see me going anywhere. Anyway for quite a while now I have been hinting to you all that I am doing a themed month in September. Apart from obviously devouring the Man Booker long list over the last few weeks and will continue to in the following weeks, I haven’t really done a themed blog or themed month on the blog so I thought that it was time for a change.

What is the theme? Well I have decided to make September ‘Sensation September’ yes I am going to be reading the fabulous sensation novels of the late 1800’s for a whole month. Now for those of you who might be thinking ‘what the heck is a sensation novel?’ this should sum it up…

Typically the sensation novel focused on shocking subject matter including adultery, theft, kidnapping, insanity, bigamy, forgery, seduction and murder. It distinguished itself from other contemporary genres, including the Gothic novel, by setting these themes in ordinary, familiar and often domestic settings, thereby undermining the common Victorian-era assumption that sensational events were something foreign and divorced from comfortable middle-class life. When sensation novels burst upon a quiescent England these novels became immediate best sellers, surpassing all previous book sales records. However, high brow critics writing in academic journals of the day decried the phenomenon and criticized its practitioners (and readers) in the harshest terms. The added noriety derived from reading the novels probably served only to contribute to their popularity.”

Penguin Wilkie Collins Collection

The lovely people at Penguin have sent me all the Wilkie Collins that they publish (see above) which include “The Haunted Hotel”, “The Moonstone”, “Armadale”, “The Law and the Lady” and “The Woman in White” the latter of which is one of my favourite all time books. Plus for some reason not pictured one of my favourite novels ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. If that wasn’t enough the lovely people at Oxford University Press are sending me another ten or so which I will report back on but include the mother of all sensation novels ‘East Lynne’ by Ellen Wood. I am really excited about these as its perfect for when the nights start to draw in and you want to curl up with a good book.

I also thought it would be nice to mix these up with books that have been inspired by the sensation novel. Or in the case of Kate Summerscale’s non-fiction marvel ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ a book about the murder case that started all of the sensation novels off. In terms of modern books that are based around sensation novels I am thinking of ‘The Observations’ by Jane Harris, ‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters and a few more.

Who has already dabbled in the sensation novel, if so which ones have you read and which ones did you enjoy? Who has never heard of the sensation novel and is now looking forward to some high Victorian melodrama? So who is up for joining me in a sensational read-a-long?


Filed under Sensation Novels

38 responses to “Sensational September

  1. I won’t be able to read-along with you but I may dip into a sensational novel here or there where I can (Booker, other challenges, and the own theme I am considering is too much as it is for the coming months to commit to anything else!) I will definitely be following with interest, especially for the Wilkie Collins reviews as I want to read more of his work; so far I have only read The Moonstone, which I absolutely loved, and The Woman in White.

    As well as urging you to use this opportunity to read Fingersmith, I also suggest The Woman in White by Susan Hill, which I loved earlier this year.

    Great theme!

    • Oh Susan Hills novel is in my top 40 books I think its utterly brilliant, and the play is fantatsic too. If you havent seen it you must. I have never jumped so much.

      Fingersmith is a must! Do dip in Claire that would be really lovely, I am intrigued as to what your next theme is going to be! Do tell.

      Is The Moonstone good? I have heard from everyone its better than The Woman in White though I find that hard to imagine.

      • Sorry, Simon, I forgot that The Woman in Black (just noticed my mistake in first comment!) featured on your Reader’s Table. I really, really want to see the play.

        My next theme is in the concept stages just now and I’m trying to organise something around so can’t divulge details yet. It really isn’t fair of me to tempt you as it’s going to take at least another month probably until I’m done with the Booker commitment.

        I think The Moonstone is amazing and definitely better than The Woman in White but I think it’s one of those times when the first novel you read by a writer remains your favourite and The Moonstone was mine.

  2. I loved “The Moonstone”, and have “The Woman in White” in my Kindle, waiting for the right moment. “Fingersmith” is on my short list too. I did just finish “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher”, which was a well-reviewed book on Jackie’s list. I was not completely in love with it, however. It is amazing, true crime stuff (even more amazing when you think of how many works of fiction it inspired) but is so very dense and packed full of detail. It was hard for me to get through, but worth reading. Sorry to hear you aren’t feeling well!

    • I am in Jackie’s camp with that book I have to say I completely and utterly loved it. I thought it was enthralling and so well written and as you said how amazing that such a case inspired so many works of fiction.

  3. Sorry to hear you’re unwell, but NEVER EVER apologise for being late with a blog post!! You should never have to apologise to friends, particularly as your readers don’t expect something every single day. You’re not National Express, with a strict timetable to keep, for goodness sake. 😉

    As for Wilkie Collins, I’ve not read any of his stuff, although I have a few in the TBR, and I got to see his grave a couple of years back

    • I just feel bad if don’t get posts out nice and early I should chill out though you are quite right Kim.

      How amazing to have been to his grave, I think that is somewhere I should take in at some point. Do give him a go his writing is incredible in a slightly melodramatic way, which can often be a good thing.

  4. Simon, first Swine Flu, now food poisoning. Do take care…

    I just bought The Woman in White. “Mysteries” aren’t normally my thing, but I keep seeing blogs about this one so I feel the need to check it out.

  5. I am soooo in! Feel like I need a reading retreat into the past, and this has enormous appeal for me. East Lynne has a prime place on my hall of shame list – the books I should have read but have not – so I may knock that out first. And there is always time for a Collins re-read. Honestly, I sometimes feel that my book blogging keeps me focused on current releases, and that constant stream of nowness is starting to chafe a bit. Will keep looking for details, and will post this week on your idea and link back here. Happy reading!

    • Sometimes a good retreat into the past as you so wonderfully put it is exactly what is needed. Especially as the nights draw in and you want to curl up with a good book these can be the best.

      I am embarrased to say that I hadn’t heard of East Lynne until I did some research into that era and found it was the mother of all Sensation novels.

  6. Sorry to hear you are not feeling well. I hope you get over it soon.

    I loved Mr. Whicher and have quite a few of your listed books on my TBR. I may read one or two with you – I’ll have to look through what I’ve got.

    Sounds like great September reading.

  7. I’ve read all of those Collins except for The Law and the Lady which is on my stacks along with Basil and Hide and Seek. I would love to read along with you if I have some free time (I have two 600+ page Delderfields to get through …)! I really liked The Haunted Hotel.

    I also have The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher on my stacks. I’ve collected some books for my late September through October “spooky reads” including murder, ghosts and other foggy day reads but I think a couple of them would qualify as sensational as well (The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes is the one that comes to mind.)

    The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox is one of my favorite modern Victorian sensational reads and I also enjoyed The Quincunx by Charles Palliser. I thought The Observations was okay but not stellar. I will be really interested to see your final reading list!

    • Hopefully when the parcel arrives from the lovely people at Oxford University Press I should have all of the Wilkie Collins novels that fall under the sensation theme. He did a few others that werent, but its always good to leave something by an author of so many works for a later time.

      Suspicions is good some people are a bit ‘meh’ about it but I loved it and its the case that inspired all these great reads. I have The Meaning of Night on my TBR have never heard of The Quincunx.

  8. I was first introduce to the “sensation” novel last year in my summer school course. We read Lady Audley’s Secret and I absolutely LOVED it (even wrote a lesson plan to use sometime in my high school teaching career – I hope). I read The Woman in White over Christmas break and simply could not put it down.

    I am so jealous of all those lovely Penguin classic books – and I hope that I have the time to join you in a few joint reads during Sensation September.

    • I hope you can join in too Molly.

      The Woman in White is just fantastic, I always worry a bit that because I loved it so much the other Collins may not work so well with me.

  9. Simon – what are you doing to me? S is for Short Story September, (Booker) Shortlist and now Sensational. I need a speed reading course!

    Fortunately, I’m reading Mr Whicher for my Book Group and I might be able to slot in either Lady Audley’s Secret or The Moonstone.

    • Oh do give Lady Audley’s Secret a go I love it so much and Mr Whicher is a great book for a book group I would imagine so you must report back on that.

      Sorry am adding more to your reading pile though… well maybe am a bit sorry as you will be reading some fabulous stuff.

  10. Hope you’re feeling better, Simon. I might join you as I want to read The Woman in White for my COlorful Reading Challenge. However, I couldn’t get hold of the edition I want (the only one that has the cover I like, lol). If I get it soon I’ll join you for sure!

  11. This sounds really exciting – I’d love to follow suit, and do the same.

    I have read Suspicions of Mr. Whicher which I didn’t really enjoy – but – I might be in the minority there, so I’d suggest reading the book before venturing anywhere near my review.

    Plan to take Fingersmith on holiday next week, which I’m really looking forward to.

    And, I have a couple of Wilkie Collins on my TBR since forever, so I really should find a copy, and get cracking.

    Have fun on this one – sounds like a blast.

    • Oh do join it it would be lovely to have lots of people joining along for the ride. I am aiming to start it the day after the shortlist for the Man Booker is announced as will be reading those up to the final moments I imagine. It’s the perfect time for you to get dusting of those Collins.

  12. novelinsights

    Oh sickie-poo. Didn’t know you were i’ll hope you have recovered now. Does Lady Chatterly’s Lover count as sensational? I read that when I was alot younger thinking it would be really interesting but it’s very flowery and boring in between the equally flowery saucy bits. I love, love, loved The Woman in White, and would like to read Armadale after your hints to it’s sensational nature.

    • I got sent home this morning apparently I look dreadful so now at home. LCL I don’t think counts as that was more a sexual book than a sensation book. Plus sensation novels were all published between 1860- 1890 (well just it was mainly condenses to the 1880’s) and dealt with adultery, bigamy, murder and other unmentionables but not in the same way as LCL discusses unmentionables. I never liked that book.

      Do give Armadale a whirl its the one I am currently the most excited about.

  13. Sorry you’ve been sent home!
    I’ve not read any Wilkie Collins but in a strange coincidence watched The woman in white film at the weekend. I was gripped! It’s unusually a book that my partner has read but not I (that rarely happens), but I loved the film. Think I will wait before reading the book but in the meantime will look out another of his novels, particularly for my partner to read on holiday.

    • You must, must, must read the book Verity as its one of those books a film can never truly capture. Maybe if Hitchcock had done a film version of it he would have got it spot on as he did with Rebecca.

  14. justicejenniferreads

    This theme is an awesome idea. When you said “sensation novel” I had no idea what you were talking about. But in the midst of your definition, I realized that I knew exactly what you were talking about; I just didn’t know that it went by that name. It sounds like September is going to be filled with wonderful reads for you. Can’t wait for the reviews. I’m sure I’ll be adding a lot of books to my to be read list.

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  16. dotscribbles

    This sounds like a really good idea. I have to admit to the crime of never having read The Woman in White, even though I have two copies! I shall dust them off and get them ready!

  17. I love sensation novels. My all time favourite is The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I also loved East Lynne by Ellen Wood. Have you tried that? You must!

  18. Mae

    Sounds like a great challenge! I love Sensations. I did my English thesis last based on Armadale and Lady Audley’s Secret. Great fun, it was too. You should throw in some earlier sensations like Ann Radcliffe’s ‘The Mystery of Udolpho’ or ‘The Italian’. I wish Penguin would send me a box of books! 🙂

    • A thesis on those two books must have been slightly more fun than a thesis should be! I don’t know if Radcliffe quite falls into sensation though if she does I can read Austens Northanger Abbey too!!!

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