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?