Monday, May 30, 2011

Victorian Lit

On to Part 2:

The Semi-Attached Couple and the Semi-Detached House by Emily Eden--Actually two novellas in one book. "The Semi-Detached House" is a fairly typical slightly sentimental Victorian story about a newlywed couple setting up their first home. However, what makes it memorable is the contrast of pairing it with "The Semi-Attached Couple," which is a darker story about a couple on the verge of separation that probably never should have married in the first place.

The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crofts--The manuscript for the book was just recently discovered and published in 2003 (read the introduction about finding the manuscript, which is pretty interesting itself), and is possibly the first novel written by an African American woman in the United States. The story follows a slave and her biracial mistress as they flee north when her mistress' identity is discovered.

Wilkie Collins--Collins is often credited with crediting the mystery novel, but he's often ignored when talking about the Victorian greats, which is a shame. His stories are very easy reads, and was one Victorian male authors who could create very believable three-dimensional heroines and was critical of the sexism they faced.
No Name--After their parents die, two sisters find out they were illegitimate and their inheritance passes to their uncle, who turns them out of the house gleefully. One sister will go to any means necessary to get revenge and get their inheritance back.
The Woman in White--A woman escapes from an asylum, and winds up with two sisters--one of the sisters and the escaped woman look identical to each other. Lots of intrigue, mistaken identity, secret brotherhoods, amnesia, etc.

Anthony Trollope--Another author that maybe isn't mentioned enough. Given my choice between Trollope and Dickens, I'd chose Trollope every time (but then, Dickens and I have serious issues). Although Trollope is more conservative than Collins in his views, his female characters are similarly developed, and much more developed than Dickens'.
Palliser novels--There are six novels total in the series and deal with politics and life in society, the politics part sounds dull, but quite honestly it is interesting, and it's more to do with the life of a politician and member of Parliament, rather than politics itself. They follow several characters and families, but one noble family in particular, a duke and duchess in an arranged marriage who are extremely unsuited for each other, but trying to make the best of it. The novels in order: Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, The Eustace Diamonds, Phineas Redux, The Prime Minister, The Duke's Children.
Miss McKenzie--An older woman used to being ignored by everyone inherits a decent fortune, and suddenly has several suitors and is the center of attention.

Elizabeth Gaskell--Gaskell is becoming more popular with some recent successful BBC adaptations of her novels, and I think she's always been a staple in Great Britain, but I think she's not given enough attention over here in the States.
Ruth--Scandalous in its day for featuring an unwed mother who was not raped, coerced or forced. Of course, she does spend the rest of her life atoning for it. Still, worth reading for the sympathetic portrait of a "fallen woman."
Wives and Daughters--After her father remarries, a daughter has to deal with a shallow selfish stepmother, and a beautiful sophisticated stepsister. A small caveat, Gaskell died before she finished the book--she left notes on how she intended to finish it, and she was probably only a chapter or two away from the end. Don't let that deter you.
North and South--A young woman moves from the rural south to a factory town in the north, and tries to adjust while learning about unions, working conditions, the owners (and having one fall in love with her...).

The Lamplighter by Maria Susanna Cummins--Follows an abused and neglected orphan after she is taken from the streets at 8 by kindly strangers as she grows up and moves through society. (This was the second best-selling novel in the 1850s behind Uncle Tom's Cabin and caused Nathaniel Hawthorne's jealous bitter remark about how "America is now wholly given over to a d—d mob of scribbling women." Oh Hawthorne. Maybe if you weren't so darn dour, people would have bought your books.)

Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore--a historical novel set in the 1600s during the end of Charles II's reign. A rural county is plagued by a large family of robbers, and the hero's father was killed by them. Yet in Romeo and Juliet fashion, he falls in love with a daughter of one of the band. Her family hates him because his father supposedly killed one of the robbers before he died.

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