My Top Five Victorian Reads by Essie Fox; Part Two

After a wonderful guide to some of the literature of the times yesterday, today Essie Fox gives us her guide to her top five Victorian Pastiche novels. I have to say I have never been sure if I like the term Victorian Pastiche, it almost sounds like its work that is mocking or merely copying the original works when these modern novels can be a real treat. I suppose that ‘contemporary novels set in the Victorian era’ is rather a mouthful, though someone mentioned neo-Victorian yesterday in the comments which I quite liked. Anyway enough from me, over to Essie…

The Quincunx: The Inheritance of John Huffam – by Charles Pallisser

Oh, but this is brilliant. I really can’t begin to recommend this book highly enough. It is a very big novel in every sense of the word and one in which the story’s hero, John Huffam, bears the middle names of Charles Dickens, of whose inheritance this book is a worthy champion. Huffam’s story artfully reflects that of Dickens’ own creations, filled as it is with stolen documents, deceitful women, laudanum addicts, sewer scavengers, asylums and dens of thieves – but this pastiche also has modern sensibilities so that our narrator is not always the most reliable, and there are many ambiguities.

Affinity by Sarah Waters

This spell-binding story draws the reader into a brooding, slowly swirling vortex in which an unmarried well-to-do woman has suffered a nervous breakdown and is far too reliant on laudanum. Now seeking to become ‘useful’ in the world she is visiting those less fortunates in the gothic maze of Millbank prison. But there she is mentally imprisoned herself when drawn into the seemingly magical world of Selina Dawes, a young, disgraced spiritualist medium. Incredibly sensual, eerie and dark, this is a very clever book.

Note from Simon – I too loved this book, in fact out of all her works this remains my favourite though I haven’t read ‘Fingersmith’ yet.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

The sheer magic and dizzying prose of this post-modern feminist plot will enthral you. It is the story of Fevvers, a circus trapeze artiste who was raised in a brothel and who may or may not have a pair of wings sprouting out from her back.

Note from Simon – I had no idea that Angela Carter had written a novel set in the Victorian period, let alone that it was one of her most well known. I shall have to read this pronto, I always seem to pick up her dystopian works.

Angels and Insects by A S Byatt

This is actually made up of two novellas, both written in Byatt’s gloriously sensual style, weaving fact with fiction, and reality with magical romance. Morpho Eugenia is the story of a young naturalist, William, who finds himself immersed in the lives of the Alabaster family, gradually and naively drawn into their dark world of depravity. The Conjugal Angel is the tale of a group of spiritualists, one of whom is mourning her dead lover, the young man immortalised in Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’ – and Byatt’s own poetry is also woven into the plot.

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

An exceptional Victorian crime thriller which tells the story of Edward Glyver and his obsession with Phoebus Rainsford Daunt, a man who has stolen all that is rightfully his. The story continues in a sequel, entitled The Glass of Time.

Note from Simon – Sorry I keep bustling in on your recommendations Essie, I had this to read and it sounded so up my street, one of my old flats got flooded and which book took the brunt. Yes this one. Its 600+ pages soaked up most of the damage and saved a few others. Just a little bookish aside.


A huge thank you to Essie for doing this, especially at short notice as I had been a bit lax, and sharing a wonderful list of ten books to get stuck into, especially as she is currently rather manic with The Somnambulist’ being on The TV Book Club tonight and all that entails. If you want to see the first part of the Victorian reads bonanza pop here, and for Essie’s wonderful Victorian-fest of a blog head to Virtual Victorian. Which of her recommendations have you tried and what did you think? Which Victorian Pastiche or neo-Victorian books have you read and loved? I must give yet another heard up for ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris, one of my personal favourites. Do share the ones you have enjoyed too. Who knows Essie might come and chat with you about them!


Filed under Book Thoughts, Essie Fox

36 responses to “My Top Five Victorian Reads by Essie Fox; Part Two

  1. gaskella

    Now I have actually read The Quincunx, and remember it as very good indeed, if a bit of a chunkster. One day I will re-read.

  2. FleurFisher

    Another wonderful list – four books that I have loved and one – The Quincunx – that I really must. And you must read Michael Cox – the man was a genius.

  3. An intriguing list – sadly I must admit the only one that I have read is the Angela Carter – I do like her style & did indeed enjoy Nights at the Circus.

    You sell The Quincunx particularly well, I am a little surprised that I had never heard of it, but I shall add it to my list. Currently more than a little Lost in Dickens with Lynn Shepherd’s latest, memories of the BBCs Great Expectations and all of the other general 200th birthday high jinks , I feel the need for another shot of Dickensian fun. I shall probably head over to amazon mid post and order this one.

    Beyond that, I have little helpful to add, Victorian Pastiche being largely outside the scope of my little world. But yes, Quincunx it is then; and through this little exercise I have been led to discover your wide read and fascinating blog. So a bonus all round.

    • Nights at the Circus is one of Carters books I have always wanted to read and yet is never available in bookshops or to be seen in charity shops. I shall have to keep it in my peripheral at all times when out on the hunt. I might read some of her short stories next though.

      Lynn Shepherd’s new book is getting rave reviews here there and everywhere so I think I need to get my mitts on thta too.

  4. Any time the word pastiche is used there’s always a negative connotation involved, whether it’s intentional or not. It’s one of my least favourite terms. I love the idea of neo-Victorian though.

  5. Ruthiella

    I loved Affinity and I already have a copy of Angels & Insects on my shelf. I have added all the other books to my TBR. They sound so good. Fingersmith definitely belongs on the list of neo-Victorian. I also liked Drood by Dan Simmons.

  6. Drood is a book I have picked up on several occasions because Wilkie Collins is a character in it. It’s just so blooming big!!!

    The only one of Essies I don’t fancy is Angels and Insects (I nearly called it Angels and Demons then, ha) but thats because I don’t think I really like Byatt’s books from what I have tried.

  7. Hello – Essie here – I agree, Neo Victorian sounds so much better – and somehow more literary too!

    Ruthiella, I don’t know Drood, so will be looking into that one. And I dithered over Affinity or Fingersmith as I love them both so much – but ultimately the darkness of Affinity has stayed with me so vividly that I let that sway my decision.

    I forgot so many other brilliant books – including Gillespie and I by Jane Harris, and The Underground Man by Mick Jackson – which was actually one of my very favourite books from last year. I’ve read some really good Neo Victorian stories of late…including some authors discovered on Twitter, such as D E Meredith who writes the most elegantly gritty Victorian crime thrillers, and Lynn Shepherd whose Tom All Alones was inspired by Bleak House.

    • Hooray, you managed to pop by. Lovely you could and it seems your selections both on this and indeed on the one prior have been a real hit!

      Congrats on the TV Book Club yesterday, a roaring success I would say. I love Sue Johnston, we talked books one night last year (no really) and she so knows her stuff on the book front, brilliant taste too. It was an ace show all in all.

      I need you to convince me more on Byatt 😉

  8. The Crimson Petal and The White! a perfect book. i wish Michel Faber would write a serial but he has sworn never to.

    • Yes, Essie and I discussed Fabers ‘The Crimson Petal and The White’ on the podcast The Readers as its a book both of us loved, once you read of Sugar I don’t think you can forget her.

      • Sugar was a curious and bewitching heroine. i love the opening pages of TCP&TW, Faber literally yanks you into the narrative.

      • I think that the fact that Sugar was so unusual was what made her so interesting to read and stick in your head. I wanted more of her stories in ‘Apple’ alas though Faber seems to have let Sugar go… for now.

  9. I love Sue Johnston as an actor and was so glad when I realised she was appearing on the programme.

    I am a bit of an A S Byatt fiend. I absolutely loved The Children’s Book, but despite the fact that it opens up in the last years of the nineteenth century, it somehow has more of an Edwardian flavour for me, running on as it does into the Great War.

  10. i also LOVED Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

  11. I’ve read the Byatt and the Waters from the list and loved them both. I’m definitely adding the other three to my tbr.
    Have you tried Possession, Simon? I think it is much more reader friendly than The Children’s Book.

  12. I didn’t manage to get into Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – but perhaps I should have another go.

    Loved Possession. Was weeping buckets towards the end.

  13. mrs_gaskett

    I would add Possession by A.S.Byatt, surprised you haven’t included The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles and would change Affinity to Fingersmith. I did like Night’s at the Circus but would just add my favourite Angela Carter novel is Wise Children

  14. EllenB

    I have read 7 out of the 10 and liked them all, loved some. If I had to choose one to recommend I would go with The Quincunx, first because it is a fantastic read and second, because it may have been overlooked by many because some of the other choices are more well known or are classics. What a great list. I am running out tomorrow to get Affinity as I can’t imagine how I have missed a Sarah Waters book.

  15. I posted all this the other night from my ipad – but for some reason it didn’t work. Grrr…so here’s having another go…

    I really did find it hard to chose between Affinity and Fingersmith – in the end it was simply that Affinity’s brooding dark atmosphere clung so vividly – I can still almost taste the gritty fog around the house and prison. But yes, Fingersmith is a wonderful read…and I’ve read it twice now, and not skipped a single word.

    I also adore Wise Children – I think it is my favourite Carter novel. I tell everyone to read it. Sheer genius! but Nights at the Circus is so much more Victorian.

    How did I forget The French Lieutenant’s Woman? Superb – and another I’ve read more than once, and again it left me in floods of tears – which can be so satisfying. A very clever post modernist take on the Victorian novel.

    • Oh – and one more thing – The Apple by Faber is so amazing. I loved those short stories – all worked around characters linked to The Crimson Petal and the White. If you want to know what happened to Sugar and little Sophie, you get more than a clue in the story: ‘A Mighty Horde of Women in Very Big Hats, Advancing.’

  16. What a great list! I love the term Neo-Victorian. I have a secondhand copy of ‘The Quincunx’, I bought it a couple of years ago, but it is such a chunkster that I can never get myself to pick it up. I also really loved Faber’s ‘The crimson petal and the white’ and Sarah Waters’ ‘Fingersmith’. Thanks for the lovely recommendations!

  17. The Quincunx and The Meaning of Night are two of the best written neo-Victorian novels out there. Affinity was alright too so I will definitely have to go out and get the other two on this list. It’s one of my favorite genres currently and I can never get enough!

  18. Pingback: An A to Z, to get us back into the way of blogging … | Fleur Fisher in her world

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