My Top Victorian Reads by Essie Fox; Part One

Yesterday on the blog I was discussing my latest desire/reading whim seems to be for Victorian books be they written at the time or contemporary novels set in the period. (I also said that I would have another review of a book set in the era, thing is they are so full of twists and turns its hard to do anything without spoilers, it will appear honest.) This was in part, as I mentioned yesterday, thanks to reading Essie Fox’s debut novel The Somnambulist’ and I had an idea. With her blog Virtual Victorian who would be better than to give her suggestions for just these types of books? Essie of course, and so here is the first of her selection of novels from the time, tomorrow she will be giving us her recommendations of modern novels set in the period…

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Said to be one of the earliest examples of English detective crime fiction, Wilkie Collins’ thrilling sensation novel is full of unnerving gothic twists – not to mention one of the most hideous anti-heroes that you will ever chance to ‘meet’ in the obese personage of Count Fosco. Once you start reading, you will be gripped.

Note from Simon – “this is one of the best books ever written and if you haven’t read it then you must, or else.”

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

From Wilkie’s good friend Mr Dickens. Such a wonderfuly ‘human’ psychological drama which really has it all – love, lust and deception, class and wealth, not to mention one of the finest gothic heroines in the tragic yet dangerous form of Miss Havisham. And then, there is the house in which Miss Havisham lives, a brilliant realisation of materialised decay and corruption: Satis House, where every clock has been stopped, Satis House, where Satis means ‘Enough’. And it is, in every sense of the word.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I had to think very hard about my favourite Bronte novel, and although I might prefer to read Charlotte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ these days, if only for the beauty of the novel’s style and construction, in my heart Emily still has me enslaved, just as she did when I was seventeen, when I first read the story and wept for days at the doomed love of Healthcliff and Catherine. But, for those who may not have read Wuthering Heights, it is so much more than a simmering tale of thwarted love…think more warped passions and violent revenge, the twisted ambitions that result from desire for inheritance and wealth that seed like a canker in the flesh of those who live on after Catherine’s death.  It also has a very interesting structure – with varying levels of narration opening up like magic boxes to reveal the truth at the novel’s heart.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Oh, this was so hard – and again I had to really think to choose between Bram Stoker’s work and other supernatural tales such as Stevenson’s Doctor Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, or Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray. But ultimately Dracula wins out for sheer gut wrenching terror imbued with a dark sensuality that still has the power to draw one in to such a compellingly dangerous world. And my, what fan fiction it has produced!

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert’s debut, and his masterpiece. How a male writer so convincingly enters the mind of his passionate ‘heroine’ Emma Bovary is in itself a wonder. This is a far more ‘realistic’ novel than any of my other choices. It shows, with enormous psychological awareness, the unravelling of a woman’s mind – a woman who sees her life as if a romantic novel. But dreams and ideals are soon to be dashed in the mire of adultery and social ambition. A devastating cautionary tale. A woman born before her time.

NB: I realised too late that I’ve not included any Thomas Hardy, which is terrible omission. Perhaps ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, or ‘Jude the Obscure’, of the tragic ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ should replace my ‘Madame Bovary’ – but why not read and decide for yourself?

What a great selection of books Essie has chosen, and she is another person to recommend ‘Great Expectations’ by Dickens who as you know I have somewhat struggled with in the past. Maybe it’s time to just give him another whirl? Which books have you read from Essie’s list? Which Victorian novels would you add?


Filed under Book Thoughts, Essie Fox

25 responses to “My Top Victorian Reads by Essie Fox; Part One

  1. It’s impossible to argue against any of Essie’s choices – they are all must read books and absolute classic examples of Victorian literature.
    I might like to choose Bleak House or Our Mutual Friend for Dickens or Armadale for Wilkie Collins, but those authors and novels belong in the list.

    But you set such a difficult task, to choose five books from a period that spanned 60 years and so many changes of style and culture.

    I wouldn’t want to displace any of those picks, but at the same time would have to find space for Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines; and the list could go on.

    Although my preferred period generally pre-dates the Victorians, I agree there was a wealth of good reading produced during that thime that could keep one going for many years.

    Look forward to seeing Essie’s recommendations for newer works.

    • It’s a great selection isnt it?

      I can’t quite believe I have still not read Madame Bovary, and I so should as both Polly of Novel Insights and my Gran have called Emma Bovary a real ‘bitch’ and that made me want to read it even more.

      Vanity Fair is a book I have tried and failed so many times, despite the wonderful sounding Becky Sharpe.

  2. I LOVE it that she says of Dracula, “what fan fiction it has produced!” Ha, never thought of it that way. Dracula is one of my favorite books of all time–it’s the book that turned me into a reader. A school teacher killed Great Expectations for me, but perhaps I, too, should give it another whirl (especially with the Masterpiece version and big screen adaptations coming out soon). Never thought of Madame Bovary as a Victorian novel. I really, really need to get it in gear and read The Woman in White already. Wuthering Heights is one of those books that I think I read, but maybe not? It’s on my TBR list this year. If I were to add anything, it might be Uncle Tom’s Cabin or perhaps something by George Elliot, but this is a fabulous list. Can’t wait to see her contemporary list.

  3. I’ve not read Woman In White yet, it’s on the to read list, loved The Moonstone though. Dracular and Wuthering Hights are two of my favourite books, both chilling and haunting without being obvious.

  4. I love Wilkie Collins, and re-read The Moonstone last year – I must re-read The Woman in White – although my to be read pile is actually more than two shelves – so goodness knows when I’ll manage it. I’m not a crazy Dickens fan – though I’ve read them all – I have infact read GE three times I loved it too – and rather to my surprise rather liked Dracula too. Wuthering Heights though I enjoyed it was my least favourite of all the Bronte sisters novels – everything just too tragic and obsessional.

    • I really didn’t care for Wuthering Heights, however I loved Jane Eyre. I think the Guardian did a comparison of readers of Jane Eyre vs Wuthering Heights one were rockstars and the other librarians – ha.

      Woman in White is wonderful.

      • I think Wuthering Heights is a great teen read – when you’re so immersed in passionate thoughts. I had to include it because it had such an impact on me when I was seventeen. My now husband gave me a copy with a lovely dark green leather cover – so it has an extra resonance.

  5. FleurFisher

    What a wonderful selection of books. I’ve read and loved them all, and they are all books I could read over again.

  6. Wow, a list where I’ve actually read most of the books (except The Woman in White, which I’ve had on my TBR list for some time). It’s a great list, although I agree that replacing Madame Bovary with a Hardy might make more sense. Well, I think replacing Madame Bovary with almost anything makes a lot of sense.

    My favorite on the list is probably Dracula, followed closely by Great Expectations. I definitely preferred Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights when a teen, but maybe I should reread the latter and give it another chance now.

    By the way, Simon, Great Expectations has some Rebecca-esque elements that might make it more appealing to you than other Dickens.

    • Read the Woman in White, you must. Hardy isnt as readable as Flaubert I am guessing is he?

      Comparing Great Expectations and Rebecca might just be the best way anyone has pushed me even nearer to trying it, thank you.

  7. Excellent choices! I would have to include Lady Audley’s Secret, though; and East Lynne, for sentimental reasons, as it was my first sensation novel and got me hooked on the genre.

    • Both of those would be in my top five Catherine. In fact maybe at some point I will do a top 5. When I volunteered at Highgate I alwats pointed out Ellen Wood’s grave as I felt it sad she was missed out and East Lynne is incredible.

      • Oh dear! Yes, they should have been there Catherine – and for any readers who don’t them and who has a Kindle – they are both to be found free in the classics sections.

  8. I’ve enjoyed all of these novels, but am disturbed by Wuthering Heights. It really shocked me when I read it a few years ago more than it did when I was a teen. It is really darkly powerful.

  9. I adore Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels and think that Wives and Daughters is one of the Victorian age’s funniest and most wonderfully written novel. I also adore Cranford and North and South.

    Anne Bronte is so frequently overlooked, but Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are such powerful novels.

    • Gaskell is another author I seem to have missed, especially shocking as I am now in Manchester. Maybe that should be something I rectify rather than Dickens?

      I nearly read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall at Christmas, I wish I had now. Mind you its delightfully foggy outside so maybe I could read a sensation or Bronte novel this afternoon… well make a start on one.

  10. Pingback: My Top Five Victorian Reads by Essie Fox; Part Two | Savidge Reads

  11. All of these are on my list of top classics — although my favorite Collins is Armadale and my favorite Dickens is David Copperfield. And yes, I would probably go with Jane Eyre too for the Brontes. I really loved our group read of East Lynne a couple of years back too. Maybe this fall needs a resurrection of the sensational fiction club!

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