Tag Archives: Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Do We Ever Know The Reader We Are aka The Mad Ramblings of a Book Lover

I can almost hear one or two of you saying ‘but does it matter?’ simply from reading the title of today’s post, and the answer is that maybe it doesn’t, but bear with me. One of the things that I most love about books is also one of the things that freaks me out the most. I will never in my life time be able to read all the books that I really want to read. I have been tinkering with some pages behind the scenes that will be appearing on the site in the next week or so and they have led me to pondering this matter, along with the fact that in just seven days I will be turning thirty which is giving me food for thought in all aspects of my life. In terms of books though, will I ever know what sort of reader I am?

One of the new pages I have been tinkering with is a page which will feature all my favourite authors with their entire bibliographies (I think I have possibly pilfered this idea from Kim at Reading Matters, best form of flattery and all that). This is so that I can see which ones I have read since I have been blogging and which I have missed, so slowly but surely I can make my way through all of them, I might even revisit the ones I have already read pre-blog. Doing this I was surprised at how many of my favourite authors I have not read in ages. Apart from Margaret Atwood, Daphne Du Maurier, Nancy Mitford, Wilkie Collins and Susan Hill I have actually been a little bit rubbish. What happened to wanting to read everything by Anne Tyler, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Muriel Spark, Colm Toibin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami etc when I know I love their writing so much?

In part I know it is because loving books as I do, and knowing so many people who feel the same way, lots of lovely new shiny books or authors are put in my path. I am not just talking about latest releases and books that are receiving lots of exciting and tempting buzz here either, though I am grateful to everyone who recommended I read ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller which I have just finished and adored. I am also talking about authors who have been going for years, some still producing works and some who have sadly passed away, and have a huge back catalogue, that invariably if I have loved my first reading experience I want to go and read the whole lot of. Just this week I had the absolute joy of reading Beryl Bainbridge  for the first time and adoring ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ (thanks to Gaskella), her narrative voice chimed in with my sense of humour and her writing style was on the money to the style I like to read. So I have now opened ‘Every Man for Himself’ after spotting it in the hospital charity shop yesterday. The rest of the TBR can wait.

I sometimes wonder if having an extensive (you could read that as excessive if you wished) TBR can be a hindrance rather than a joyful personal library, which is what I tell myself it is – you could also call it hoarding. I also wonder if blogging is a help or a hindrance too, but that’s another subject for another time, back to my TBR thoughts.

Since I have moved house I purposefully hid my boxes of unread books to see how long it would be before I routed one out. It has happened all of three times in a month, I seem to be reading new books in from publishers a bit (though my incoming has lessened considerably as I have come to a lovely new agreement with publishers), buying books on occasion in the charity shop down the road which I seem unable to walk past without falling into (how does this happen) or in the main getting books from the library (my new favourite book haunt). I have no idea quite what this is telling me but I do wonder if my tastes are changing again, I think they always evolve, and hence why all those lovely books I have got along the way are left lingering in air tight boxes down the side of my wardrobe that I can’t see.

This may change with my plan of having the ‘Forty for Forty’ page on the blog. All those books you have suggested, and keep them coming here, along with those I have been browsing library and bookshop shelves for which I/you/we ‘should have read’ by the time I/you/we are forty (or ninety or anything in between, under or over come to that). A lot of them are in those air tight boxes behind that wardrobe and have been waiting to be read for some time, years and years in some cases, since I bought them based on the fact that I felt if I was a real reader I would have to jave read that some day.

This could, of course, be lethal. I could end up with a list of forty more authors who have been thrown in my reading path and I want to read everything by (though some of them might have only written one book in which case I will sulk that there are no more for me to find – poor books, they can’t win) taking random detours with. But then is that a bad thing? I guess if it means I am missing out on my favourite authors other works then it is? Hmmm, tricky!

I like to think I have a pretty eclectic taste and therefore as I wander randomly down the yellow brick road that is my reading path in life, reading all sorts of lovely (and occasionally not so lovely) books, do I lose a sense of who I am as a reader? Should I not know by now, as my third decade spreads in front of me all sparkly and new, know what books I do and don’t like? Should I give up on experimenting, which can go wonderfully right as well as horribly wrong, with new books and authors be they new-new or new to me and stick to what I know? I don’t think I should, yet how do you get the balance just right?

Maybe what I need to do is accept that we never really know the readers we are and that actually that is the whole fun of it? Over time, maybe, in some point in my life reading the authors that I know and love as well as experimenting with the ones I don’t know but might love will reach a natural equilibrium? Maybe I just need to face the dreaded fact I mentioned earlier that I will never read all the books I want to in life… and get over it, move on, pick up a book and just get on with it?

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Victorian Based Books…

One of my favourite things to read, which Essie Fox’s ‘The Somnambulist’ reminded me of especially after talking with her about it, is a good Victorian novel and yet weirdly I have seemed to have strayed from them in the last few years. I don’t just mean the originals like the wonderful Wilkie Collins who I have binged on in the past (though I have been considering some of his novels I haven’t yet read and as you will see I have been debating trying Charles Dickens again what with his birthday having come and gone) but also the contemporary novels by authors like Sarah Waters and many more. I did have a brief binge on one after reading Essie’s, which I will be discussing tomorrow, but I think once I have finished of the wonderful letters between Nancy Mitford and a bookshop I think it is time to gorge myself on all things Victoriana. I love the dark atmosphere and sense of mystery that the period brings and it seems perfect at the moment as Britain seems to be having a big freeze. I already have three books lined up for the weekend…

‘The Sealed Letter’ is the only Victorian fiction, though contemporary, I have at the top of the TBR so far. I had to get this from the library as I forgot I had lent it to someone and suddenly fancied it. It will be my second and a half read of any Emma Donoghue, I got half way through her short story collection ‘The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits’ when someone selfishly (joking) ordered it for themselves and so back to the library it went. ‘Room’ is obviously her most famous novel but with ‘Slammerkin’ and others it seems Emma likes this period so I am hoping it is good.

The other two books are non-fiction. ‘The Maul and the Pear Tree; The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, 1811’ by P.D James and T.A. Critchley was been inspired read by the fascinating experience that listening to the audio book of Judith Flanders ‘The Invention of Murder’ is proving to be. In the first several chapters I have listened to the case of the Ratcliffe Highway murders and not only how they were the case of the first real serial killer, but also how they changed the way the police worked. I couldn’t get enough and so pulled out this book dedicated just to that and seeing the wonderful P.D James playing a cold case detective for real, fabulous.

‘The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper’ either the official memoirs of Jack or simply the mad ramblings of James Carnac arrived by surprise the other week. I am one of those many people fascinated by this case because of course no one ever found out who Jack the Ripper was – in the case of James Carnac’s writing it could be that he really was him or that he was a bit mad and wrote a very grisly and almost too knowing novel about Jack. I am going to play detective and try to decide the truth, I have ordered a few Jack the Ripper books to read alongside this one. Does that make me a bit morbid having a grim fascination with it all?

Oh and if you are wondering what I will be reading all these on, check out this reading chair (which the books were photographed on) below, doesn’t it look like a wonderfully modern contemporary version of a Victorian chaise longue? It’s very comfy I have many wonderful hours ahead.

I am now mulling over which classic Victorian novel to dip into at some point too. I have some of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s lesser known works, some more Wilkie Collins (and I believe his biography by Peter Ackroyd is on the way) or do I take the plunge into Dickens? After all Susan Hill makes a compelling case on Dovergreyreader today, do visit. What would you recommend? Are you a fan of books set or written in the Victorian era and which are your favourites? You may inspire me.

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Savidge Reads Grills… Jane Harris

The wonder of the internet means that you can do an interview anywhere in the world. So today we are whizzing up through the countryside with Jane Harris, author of ‘The Observations’ and ‘Gillespie and I’ which has become my latest favourite book, with Glasgow as the destination. Whilst sipping on cups of tea, from a flask of course not that train dishwater, and maybe munching on a cupcake or two. Discussing ‘Victorian sensation novels’, second book syndrome, reading, writing and books. So grab yourself a cup of tea too and join us for a natter…

Can you explain the story of ‘Gillespie & I’ in a single sentence?

Thinking of a single sentence to describe this book is quite difficult. I’m tempted to take the Hollywood route and say that it’s “Jaws” meets “The Turn of the Screw” – but with a heart. (Simon can confirm that without their being any sharks or boats he actually knows what Jane means here.)

How did the story come about? Was there anything in particular that inspired you with this novel?

When I was thinking about what to write after ‘The Observations’ I went back to the box in the attic where I’d kept a number of unfinished ideas for short stories (which is where I discovered the beginnings of ‘The Observations’). On one scrap of paper, I found something I’d scribbled years ago: “Artist, 19th century, Glasgow.” This appealed to me – although I’d wanted, after my first novel, to write something contemporary and short. But this historical idea was the one that grabbed me so. . . I went with it. Initially, I had thought of writing something quite feminist, perhaps featuring one of the Glasgow Girls (a group of Scottish female artists of the time) and her struggles to be taken seriously as an artist, but once I began doing my research the story changed direction. It was particularly when I read about a particular court case that the beginnings of a psychological thriller plot began to form in my mind.

It’s a book that you don’t want to give too much away with, so that makes reviewing it and questioning you rather difficult. I think it’s safe to say that the narrator Harriet Baxter is quite a complex lead figure, how did you create her?

You’re right, she is complex and also flawed (as are most, if not all, of my characters). I like flawed characters. I had a lot of fun with Bessy, the narrator of ‘The Observations’, but I knew that in my second novel I wanted a new challenge and so I picked a character who was quite different from Bessy. Instead of an almost illiterate (though clever) Irish girl who is quite garrulous and uncontrolled in some ways, and who doesn’t know the first thing about punctuation, I came up with Harriet who, as narrator, is a highly-educated, very controlled Englishwoman, who is completely anal and who over-punctuates and uses long sentences. I had in mind one or two old ladies of my acquaintance, apparently charming, girlish-voiced old dears, whose polite manners and polish conceal a viper-like wit.

As ‘Gillespie & I’ goes on there are lots and lots of twists and turns, which of course we don’t want to spoil. Yet when reading it there are the subtlest of hints which cause the reader to become engrossed and also rather uneasy, was that a difficult situation to create? How do you know when you are sewing the right, or indeed wrong red herring, seeds of doubt in a readers mind as you write the book?

I was learning all about that sort of technique as I wrote this book and I’m still not quite sure what the answer is. I think partly it’s down to instinct. Of course, I plan everything beforehand, the major twists and turns, but I tended to seed the red herrings and clues as I went along, and kept checking that I wasn’t overdoing it by reading everything aloud. It’s only when the manuscript is finished that you can really tell whether you’ve over or under-done it. I also had a lot of help in this respect from my editor and a handful of trusted readers. As it turned out, in the initial draft, I had been too subtle, so it was a question of going back and making a few things a bit clearer.

I think it’s fair to say that both ‘Gillespie & I’ and your debut novel ‘The Observations’ are quite gothic and have the Victorian ‘sensational’ feel about them, were books by the likes of Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon books that you have always loved or is this just the sort of books you naturally write?

I’m an indiscriminate reader in that I will read almost anything that is set in front of me. As a child, I would read cereal packets if there was nothing else to hand. So I devoured all kinds of books: contemporary, pre-20th century, all the novels my parents left lying around, and everything I could carry home from the library. To be honest, I think it’s an accident that I’m writing this kind of novel. When I started writing, I was coming up with contemporary short stories about my boyfriends and family. It was only in desperation (after almost giving up writing) that I decided to try and write a novel set in the 19th Century, based on an unfinished, lengthy short story which seemed to hold some promise. Luckily for me, that book caught the attention of a publisher. However, having said that, as a child I loved 19th Century novels like Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, The Water Babies etc, and as an adult I still love Henry James, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Wilkie Collins. However, I do wonder if I’ll return to writing about the contemporary. One strand of ‘Gillespie and I’ is set in the early 1930s, which pleases me, because at least I have a toehold in the 20th century.

After the success of ‘The Observations’ did you ever worry about that ‘second book syndrome’ or feel any additional pressure about ‘Gillespie & I’? Was this why there was such a gap between the two?

The only thing that worried me about ‘second book syndrome’ was the fact that, even before I had begun book two, I knew for certain I’d be asked this question by journalists and bloggers and it would be an effort not to betray my irritation. Ha ha! (but true).

Here’s the long answer. I don’t think I felt any additional pressure for the second book. I think writing books is hard enough anyway. The first one was hard. The second one was hard. They’ll all be hard, in different ways. My first novel took me 12 or 13 years -four years in total of writing with about nine years of just lying in a box (that’s the novel, not me), so I’ve done the second book in less than half the time. The gap between the two was four years (The Observations was published in 2006 in the UK, and I submitted ‘Gillespie and I’ at the end of 2010). Both these novels are 500 pages long: that’s twice as long as the average novel, so it follows that it should take twice as long to write them. Four years divided by two is two years. The received wisdom is that a writer should be turning out a book every two years. If you look simply at page count, I’ve done that. Besides, I could have produced a book within two years, but it would have been a much worse book. In my opinion, the book is everything; some arbitrary deadline is nothing. Better to have a book that I’m proud of – a book that gets reviews like the one you gave ‘Gillespie and I’ yesterday (for which MANY thanks) – than a book which is undercooked or less ambitious.

Both of your novels seem perfect for adaptation, have there been any discussions of this, can we look forward to them on the screen?

‘The Observations’ was optioned for television but nothing has come of that so far and I believe the option may now have expired so it’s available again. I’d love to see an adaptation of ‘Gillespie and I’. I was particularly impressed by the recent TV adaptation of ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’. I had been dreading the series as it’s a favourite book of mine and I was worried they’d make a hash of it but I think they did a fine job. So, we’ll see what happens.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? How long have you been writing for?

I always enjoyed writing compositions at school, but nobody in my family was a writer, I didn’t know any writers and it just didn’t seem like a career option. In my secondary school the careers guidance woman told me that hairdressing was a safe bet. I had to take my exam results to the assistant head and ask him if they were good enough to go to university, because nobody was pointing me in that direction. It turned out my results were good enough, and so I went to university and took English and Drama as my main subjects. I loved reading literature, but got rather sidetracked into theatre and drama (the English Department at Glasgow was so dry and old-fashioned in those days that it put me off reading for years). So it wasn’t until years later, when I was 29, that I began writing in earnest, and that only happened because I was stranded in a country where I didn’t speak the language, knew virtually nobody, and had no TV and hardly any books and no money, nothing to distract me, apart from a pen and some pieces of paper.

Which current contemporary authors do you really rate?

Anne Tyler. William Boyd. Jonathan Franzen. Sarah Waters. Michel Faber. Barbara Vine.

What is your favourite ‘guilty pleasure’ read?

Well, I do love leafing through my collection of back-copies of “Hustler”. Not really. Seriously though, I don’t think I have a guilty pleasure read. I love reading Victorian ‘true crime’ stories, such as the Madeleine Smith trial – perhaps that counts?

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?

I begin work early, as soon as I wake up, which can be anything (under normal circumstances) from 6am onwards. I work all day, that is, I sit at my computer all day, although sometimes I’ll delete more words than I write. For the last novel, I tended to begin the day by editing what I’d done the previous day. I always read the work aloud as I write. Every few paragraphs, I’ll pause and read it back. Sometimes, I go outside and look at the garden for a breath of fresh air, but I hardly ever leave the house. I like things to be neat, so tend to tidy up the room if it’s looking too disorganised. I read a book during lunch or, if my husband is working at home, we eat together, chortling, while watching an episode of Seinfeld. Laughter is important. A chuckle at lunchtime and a chuckle to end the day (night-time chuckle is currently the fabulous “The Trip” with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon). I rarely work beyond 6pm, though I will sit at the computer fiddling about on Facebook and Twitter in between bouts of writing and at the end of the day. When writing a novel, I require satisfaction-guaranteed TV in the evening, in order to cleanse my brain, so am a fan of all the most wonderful shows like The Apprentice, Masterchef, Great British Menu and America’s Next Top Model. Having spent all day in the 19th Century, trying to juggle plot and characterisation and voice and sentences, I require something to take me into a different world entirely. Plus, I can’t really go out much while writing as I find it too distracting, with the result that I’m a bit of a happy hermit.

How relevant do you think book blogging is to the publishing industry? Do you ever pop and see what people have thought of your book or is it something you avoid at all costs?

Book blogging seems to me to be increasingly important. I think that readers and book-lovers have found a real community online in sites such as yours, a place to share opinion and hear about what people whose opinions they respect are reading. I am as much of a book fan as anybody, so I do surf sites to track various books (but after I’ve read them – I hate knowing too much about a book or film before I experience it for myself). As for my own books, I can’t help but read reviews. I know that it’s possible not to (which is the route my husband takes, as a film-maker) so I do believe those people who say they don’t read reviews, but I, for one, can’t help it.

Which book, apart from your own, would you demand Savidge Reads and readers run out and buy right this instant, a book you would call your favourite?

Gosh, that’s a hard question as I’m not sure I have a single favourite book. I’m assuming that all Savidge Readers will have read Great Expectations, so I might have to plump for The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, which is still up there for me as a work of genius. (Simon is slightly embarrased to say he has not read Great Expectations, Dickens escapes him – oops!)

What is next for Jane Harris?

I’m reaching the end of writing some short stories, a bit of a break from writing novels, and about to turn my thoughts to a new book. Don’t want to say too much now as I believe you can talk a book away.

***

A big thank you goes out to Jane Harris for taking part in this. I was very excited and interestingly so was she, there is mutual appreciation in the air. You can visit Jane’s website here to find out more. Oh and if you fancy winning a copy of ‘Gillespie and I’ then simply scroll a little further down… after having left a nice comment here of course.

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Aurora Floyd – Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon is the eight novel I have been reading for my Sensation Season. I didn’t notice until today that I am well over half way through and I know I will miss it when it’s done and dusted. It’s actually made me feel much happier that I chose to reduce the amount and have several sensation novels to read in the future other wise I would feel quite bereft. It’s been a season of much Wilkie Collins, who has fared better and better officially becoming one of my favourite authors. Mary Elizabeth Braddon wrote another of my favourite books of all time; will Braddon become one of my favourite authors after reading another of her novels?

Aurora Floyd confused me slightly at the start until I realised the opening chapter wasn’t actually about our heroine, though whether that’s a justifiable label for her is debatable during the book, and is in fact about her mother. Once the tale of Aurora herself starts we head into sensation territory with a big secret that Aurora carries.

Now though the blurb on the back of the book gives everything away (why do publishers do this), I don’t want to. Suffice to say that once happily married, after quite a turbulent set of proposals and suitors, the past comes back to haunt Aurora as she nestles happily married to John Mellish, a character I adored, and becomes a lady of the country. What the blurb doesn’t give away is though the secret becomes revealed a murder takes place leaving a wonderful whodunit suddenly and the whole feel of the book changes once more. I am saying no more but its brilliantly written and amateur detectives amongst you will revel in it like I did.

I will admit that I did struggle with this book to start of. Whilst by the end I understood the need for Aurora’s heritage to be shown, at the beginning it seemed an irrelevant chapter and I wont lie it did throw me into a small confusion, in fact the first few chapters did as everything gets set up very quickly before a hundred and fifty pages of gentle hinting and romantic interludes which didn’t thrill me. It was the last 170 pages or so that made the wait worthwhile as the twists and turns I wasn’t expecting suddenly came to light and then I could barely put the book down.

I will also admit that the plot in many ways isn’t too differential from what you may have already read in Braddon’s earlier sensation classic Lady Audley’s Secret although this novel has more of a whodunit feel in many ways. I do think that Braddon’s writing improved with this novel, I didn’t think it was bad before as you know I loved it, but the characters seemed to walk off the page that much more with this one. The evilness of Mrs Powell and Steven ‘Softy’ Hargreaves was wonderful and the fact she actually went into their heads as well as Aurora’s made for fascinating reading and touched on social stigmas too.

Reading this back I sound like I am disappointed with this book and that’s not the case. I don’t think it packs the punch that Lady Audley’s Secret did as after a flurried start it goes very calm before the climatic ending which could put people off. I wavered a few times in the middle and had some ‘oh this is hard work’ moments but never enough to give up reading to the end and thank goodness for that. It just goes to show how and ending or the last 100 or so pages can utterly change your opinion of a book and I am thoroughly glad I persevered. I am looking forward to reading more Braddon with ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ in a few weeks time, I must read Madame Bovary first though as apparently there are parallels! Next week it is the infamous Wilkie Collins classic, and one of my favourite novels, ‘The Woman in White’.

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Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon

So now we are already onto the fifth of the sensation season (a page I really need to redo along with my favourite reads as Waterstones selfishly revamped their site and my pictures have all gone wrong) reads and this week it was Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon a book that I read five years ago and almost instantly became one of my very favourite books of all time. I don’t often re-read books and so there was the worry that five years on a very different me is reading the book, would I like it so much second time round or could this shatter my illusions of the book for good?

Lady Audley’s Secret caused a lot of controversy when it was first published amid the Sensation period in the Victorian times. Initially scorned by reviewers, critics and the press at the time the public disagreed and it became a huge success despite being labelled immoral. The book opens with the poverty stricken but incredibly beautiful governess of a small town doctor, Lucy Graham, marries the wealthy widower Sir Michael Audley.

All is well and happy until the arrival of Sir Audley’s nephew Robert and his friend George Talboys. The later who has not long come back from Australia where he has made his fortune hunting for gold though once back finds the wife he left behind has died. However the new Lady Audley refuses to see Robert and his friend and then suddenly George vanishes from the house leaving a mystery as to why.

Robert being the good and true friend that he is decides he must find out what has happened to his friend and becomes amateur detective discovering more about his friends past and that events and people at Audley Court may have some connection to the mystery. That’s all I shall say on the plot as to give any more away would ruin the book (makes giving book thoughts on sensational fiction so difficult).

I do think, and if you have read it or once you have you will also hopefully agree, that the plotting is just incredible. Ok so there are some moments when you have to suspend disbelief, could a letter actually travel slower than a person one year and faster the next to suit the tale its sensation fiction. I do think this book does have one of the most thrilling and gripping chase scenes as the villainess and the hero race to get to the same destination, brilliant. It thoroughly pleases me that the public opinion over rode the critics opinions of this absolutely wonderful book or it could easily have been lost forever and that simply wouldn’t do!

Did I love the book as much the second time round? Yes of course I did, I don’t see how anyone could fail to love what I think is one of the most sensational of sensationalist novels. I did notice I was much more critical second time around and for a while wasn’t sure the motives in the book were quite explained or made sense (without giving a huge part of the book away I cant comment on that further) and yet in some ways I was even more lost in the book than I was the first time round especially in the chase scenes which I wasn’t expecting and found very interesting.

I do wonder if as I get older I get more cynical? As everything being tied up just so and so delightfully, though a wonderful ending, left me wanting something a little darker but still for me one of my all time favourites. I wonder if the same will be said for The Woman in White when that gets a re-read in a few weeks time!

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Filed under Books of 2009, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Penguin Classics, Review, Sensation Novels

Sensational September… And A Sensational Season?

So though we are actually nine days into September now I am finally launching ‘Sensational September’ (apologies for the lateness being abroad and the Man Booker read-a-thon pushed things back a bit) a theme for the blog that I came up with a while ago. Now if you are thinking “what on earth is Simon on about” then hereis the definition of a Sensation Novel. Some of these books, such as Wilkie Collins ‘The Woman in White’ and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ as well as books that they have inspired such as Jane Harris’ ‘The Observations’ and Susan Hill’s ‘The Woman In Black’ are some of my favourite books and the late Victorian era is one of my favourite in history so how could I not love them all, and well why not try? I have been wanting to read more classics and I think these are great classics that sometimes get overlooked.

Penguin had already kindly sent me a selection of the Wilkie Collins they print and a lovely new copy of Lady Audley’s Secret, when I came back from holiday I discovered this had been delivered (well dumped by Royal Mail way before I left into the shop next door – who thankfully are very honest)…

A Promising Parcel

Inside I could see a hint of something sensational peering out at me through the paper…

A Sensational Find Inside

And then it was like all my Christmases had come at once. Thanks to the lovely people at Oxford University Press who saw my previous post and had themselves wanted to get involved in some way.

More Sensation Novels Than a Man Can Handle

And so had sent me some Wilkie Collins (Basil, The Dead Secret, Man & Wife, Poor Miss Finch, Hide & Seek) and more Mary Elizabeth Braddon (The Doctors Wife, Aurora Floyd) and what is considered the mother of all sensation novels ‘East Lynne’ by Ellen Wood.

Now that brings my total of Sensation Novels upto a total of 14 (I bought No Name myself a few weeks ago as I just couldn’t not) and thats not including some of the other fiction from the era (‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde) up until the present day (Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale) that were inspired by these novels. I hadn’t counted on just how huge the sensation novels are, most weighing in at 500-600 pages+ which will make great reading, but reading all that in a month… might be a slight push.

So I am now working on a Sensational Schedule so that should you want to join in, and I so, so, so hope you do, then you can. I am thinking of doing the big reads over weekends on Sensational Sundays very like when I tried to do the Sabidge Reads Big Weekenders, and then a smaller one midweek on Wednesday, though you can’t make a good alliteration based title out of that, ha! Mind you thats only a few weekends, maybe I should make Autumn a Sensational Season? I will pop the schedule on the blog today… I may make a new page actually! Can you tell all the excitement has thrown me?

So will you be joining in? Are you a fan of Sensation Fiction? Have you not read any but are intrigued? Which modern day books do you think have a sensational feel about them or have possibly been inspired by them? Which sensation novels should I simply not miss? All your thoughts as ever very, very welcomed! Am now off to delve back into Wilkie Collins ‘The Haunted Hotel’ which is my first read of the theme and already I am loving, and to mull over just which Sensation books to read when?

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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?

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