The ’60s Live On. The 1860s, That Is

Tolstoy and Dost

As Trump attempts to stir up a civil war in the U.S. to try to get reelected, thoughts turn to…the 1860s. But unlike America’s ghastly president, I’m going to keep things positive by mentioning novels I admire from that long-ago decade.

This theme occurred to me as I continue to read Wilkie Collins’ No Name, published in 1862. It’s a tribute to Collins’ writing ability that one of his lesser-known novels — about two daughters disinherited by law after it’s discovered that their wealthy late parents weren’t married at the time of those sisters’ births — is so good. The author is of course most famous for the scintillating mystery The Woman in White (1860) and the early detective classic The Moonstone (1868) — plus he also penned Armadale (1866), which features one of 19th-century literature’s most intriguing female villains. Quite a decade for Collins.

Collins’ friend Charles Dickens saw one of his most memorable novels — Great Expectations — published in 1861.

Another iconic English writer, George Eliot, started the decade with two of her four best books: The Mill on the Floss (1860), about the complex relationship between a sister and brother; and Silas Marner (1861), about an embittered miser who turns his life around after becoming a surprise parent.

Two masterpieces of 1860s literature, and of literature from any time, came out of Russia: Crime and Punishment (1866) and War and Peace (1869). Written, of course, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy (pictured right and left above). You may have heard of them. ๐Ÿ™‚

Another excellent Russian novel from that time period was Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons (1862), which will fill your quota of nihilism.

Also published in 1862 was Les Miserables, the widely popular classic by French author Victor Hugo.

His countryman Emile Zola came out with the early-career potboiler Therese Raquin in 1868. Not one of Zola’s best novels, but his first good one and his first to attract a lot of interest.

In the science-fiction realm, French novelist Jules Verne wrote Journey to the Center of the Earth (without a GPS) for an 1864 release.

American author Nathaniel Hawthorne penned his last completed novel in Europe — the Italy-set The Marble Faun (1860). Unusual considering that so much of his previous work featured a New England milieu, but Hawthorne had remained in Europe for several more years after serving as U.S. consul in Liverpool during the 1853-1857 presidential term of his college friend Franklin Pierce.

Another American author, Louisa May Alcott, saw her beloved novel Little Women released in 1868.

Oh, and back in England, Lewis Carroll’s Aliceโ€™s Adventures in Wonderland stepped through the looking-glass in 1865.

Your favorite 1860s novels?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started, award-winning โ€œMontclairvoyantโ€ topical-humor column for The latest piece — about a greedy bunch of property owners (including at one least one mega-millionaire) trying to kill rent control in my town — is here.

97 thoughts on “The ’60s Live On. The 1860s, That Is

  1. Right, well, my takeaway message from reading through these excellent comments is to go Russian! This will, of course, require more research! Also to add Wilkie Collins, definitely revisit Zola (not sure there are enough hours in the day) and consider Trollope (I think he’s lounging on a shelf somewhere) and to narrow the Eliot’s down to just one or two probably. It’s so tempting to reread Middlemarch as I loved it, but I didn’t quite finish ‘Romola’ so I maybe ought to commit to that. It’s an historical novel based in the 1500s. I love the idea that we look at the mid 19th Century as a classic time and ‘historical’ and then these authors are looking back even further and writing their own historical novels based on the books they perhaps read! That was perhaps badly explained, but hopefully you got my gist!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sarah, the 19th century (not just the 1860s) was of course an amazing time for Russian literature. ๐Ÿ™‚ And Collins, Zola, and Eliot are so worth reading more of. (I found Trollope’s work good, not great.)

      You explained well the appeal of 19th-century authors looking back at the centuries before them — such as Eliot writing a novel set in the 1500s. (As you know, her other novels were more contemporary or placed decades in the past — such as the 1799-set “Adam Bede.”)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Russian literature – I feel so paralysed by choice. I’ve read very little of it that I don’t even know where to begin! What I have read I’ve really enjoyed – most recently (ha! About 2 years ago) I read ‘Master and Margarita’. What an astonishing story that was! Very happy to receive any recommendations! Currently I have highlighted ‘Anna Kerenina’, and ‘Lolita’ , but should I maybe start with ‘The Idiot’, or ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ …. or somewhere else?

        I hadn’t really considered before that authors of the 19th Century wrote historical fiction – shortsighted on my part. I suppose what I have read of the classics have all been contemporary to when they were written – more or less – and certainly not writing about centuries past. Like us (me!) they perhaps romanticised the past in some way as well!! I appreciate that was quite a sweeping comment and there was tremendous hardship, but there’s something quite pleasantly distracting reading about life in a previous century.

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        • Thank you for the great follow-up comment, Sarah!

          Certainly a LOT to choose from in 19th-century Russian lit. My favorite is the riveting “Crime and Punishment.” I found “The Brothers Karamazov” to be a bit uneven, but when it’s great it’s unbelievably great. As for Tolstoy, I also love some of his novellas, such as the pretty shocking “The Kreutzer Sonata.”

          “The Master and Margarita” is indeed an amazing read!

          One 19th-century master of historical fiction was of course Sir Walter Scott, who I know many have mixed feelings about but I’ve found his novels very compelling.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks for your thoughts about Russian literature! Much appreciated. I’ll have a look at those. I like the idea of a novella of course…

            Just been reading that Baz Luhrman has acquired the rights (presumably movie) for ‘The Master and Margarita’….

            Sir Walter Scott – a Scottish national treasure! I started ‘The Pirate’ some time ago and, yes, you’ve guessed it, I never got round to reading more than a few pages. I should really finish something by him…I do find some of these authors a little dense. I’m currently reading ‘The Turn of the Screw’ and think that the story might perhaps have been half as long if he got straight to the point. However, my interest in it has now been piqued because of the, quite frankly, shocking subversive undertones. I hope my imagination is not getting the better of me here!

            Liked by 1 person

            • You’re welcome! Reading Tolstoy in novella form is definitely less time-consuming. ๐Ÿ™‚ And he’s really great at that length, as he also is in LONG books.

              I’d love to see a Baz Luhrmann version of “The Master and Margarita”!

              Haven’t read Scott’s “The Pirate,” but I loved novels of his such as “Old Mortality,” “The Heart of Midlothian,” “Ivanhoe,” “Rob Roy,” and “Quentin Durward.”

              I admire Henry James’ work, but he can often be too subtle or too wordy or something. ๐Ÿ™‚

              Liked by 1 person

  2. In a bid to compile a list of 50 classic books I stumbled upon another of your excellent lists whilst looking through some blogs posts!

    Youโ€™ve mentioned a couple of my favourites already – Therese Raquin and Alice. Iโ€™m tempted to read the Wilkie Collins you mention. Did enjoy โ€˜the woman in whiteโ€™ but thought it a little drawn out…but, if memory serves, there was a reason for this…? I know it was published in serialised format and so I suppose authors can keep on writing until told otherwise!! Quite tempted to reread โ€˜little womenโ€™ as well.
    I shall enjoy looking through the comments tomorrow to find some more inspiration.
    In the meantime, just digging into the recess of my brain (I.e. goodreads!), I note that another book I had planned to reread is โ€˜Romolaโ€™ by George Eliot. It might make my list.

    Another rich decade for literature!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sarah!

      Wilkie Collins does indeed tend to write long — and the serial format was undoubtedly one reason for that, as you note — but I find him worth the effort. As we might have discussed before, one of his strengths was creating memorable, three-dimensional female characters — not a given for a number of 19th-century male authors.

      I haven’t read George Eliot’s “Romola,” but I can’t imagine her writing a novel that wasn’t excellent!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave, French novelist Jules Verne wrote Journey to the Center of the Earth is such a classic , funny you added without GPS.
    ย Louisa May Alcott, ย Little Women released in 1868.was made into a classic Movie last year. I have not read it and also have yet to see the DVD released of the movie. Received several awards.
    ย Lewis Carrollโ€™s Aliceโ€™s Adventures in Wonderland , is one of my favorites, I still have the book, I might get it out and reread it.

    The Country is going through such turmoil with the passing of RBG, we have yet to see the liar, conniving trump and his peons manipulating everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe! Many of Jules Verne’s novels are such great reads.

      “Little Women” has definitely attracted various moviemakers over the years, but I’ve never seen any of those films. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      I own the “Alice” books, too! I should also reread them someday.

      The death of RBG was absolutely devastating. Because of her passing in of itself, and because Mitch McConnell is of course trying to ram through a far-right replacement in an election year when he wouldn’t allow the Senate to vote on President Obama’s Scalia replacement in 2016. MM makes even hypocrites blush.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the link, donfrancisco45. It seems like the comment you linked to tries to defend the indefensible. Trump has been an atrocious president — botching the response to Covid, leading to many more cases (including my older daughter) and deaths; separating Latinx families at the border (my younger daughter is from Latin America); fanning racial divisions after white police killed unarmed Black citizens; denying climate change that has worsened hurricanes and wildfires; denying many credible allegations of sexual misconduct; calling soldiers “suckers” and “losers”; telling more than 20,000 lies (according to The Washington Post’s fact-checker), etc., etc.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Esther! You may certainly have “Silas Marner” and its title character. ๐Ÿ™‚ I love that novel, too. Silas was indeed badly wronged, but the latter part of George Eliot’s book is indeed a balm during this pandemic.


  4. Hi Dave,

    Iโ€™m just about to start reading Germinal which I know nothing about, except that itโ€™s on one of my lists. I wasnโ€™t even sure what period it was written. I thought nineteenth century, but then I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye that said 1940s or โ€˜50s. But being that youโ€™ve mentioned Zola here, either Germinal was written mid nineteenth century, or he had a really, really long career!

    I get excited starting books that I know nothing about. The Woman in White was another book that I did that with and what a delightful surprise. Crime and Punishment is definitely a fave too. Now I know what terrific company Zola was in, Iโ€™m even more excited to get to his novel.

    Being that my GPS often has trouble finding my street, Iโ€™m thinking theyโ€™d be pretty useless at the centre of the Earth anyway ๐Ÿ˜‰


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    • Thank you, Sue! The 1885-published “Germinal” is my favorite Zola novel — and that’s saying something. There are about a half-dozen of his novels that I found to be VERY compelling.

      Ha — if the 1840-born Zola were still around in the 1940s and 1950s, he’d be…Z-old-a!

      “Crime and Punishment” in general fiction and “The Woman in White” in mystery fiction — doesn’t get much better than that.

      LOL, your GPS comment. ๐Ÿ™‚ Plus I’m sure GPS devices were rather primitive in Verne’s time. Probably a real person perched inside them providing the voice…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Do the myriads of Civil War memoirs I’ve read count for this week’s topic? ๐Ÿ™‚ They took place in the 1860s even if most were written a little later haha. If those books taught me anything, it’s that we don’t want another one of those Civil Wars! And I do love Alice in Wonderland, that story has always had a very charming appeal to me, perhaps because a lot like Alice I dreamed up entire imagination worlds when I was young. While I haven’t read “War and Peace,” I have read Anna Karenina, and War and Peace is on my list. And I might shock some people here when I say that “Little Women” doesn’t rank high on my favorites list of classics. I think I just really didn’t like Amy. Lol. I’m glad the modern-day adaptation made her a little more likable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, M.B.! Well, I’ve always thought that some of the best memoirs read like novels. ๐Ÿ™‚ And there’s so much potential drama in any book about the Civil War — which, I agree, we don’t want to see again. Unimaginable carnage.

      Kids can definitely put themselves in the shoes of Alice as she embarked on her amazing adventures!

      I liked “Little Women” a lot, but there are certainly many 19th-century novels I liked better. At least Amy was ranked in the top four of March sisters. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I wish I remembered the book a little better, Dave, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. ๐Ÿ™‚ I did go through something of a Wilkie Collins phase, many years ago, The Woman in White being my favorite.

    I’ve been making my slowly through the Barsetshire Chronicles. When I worked at a bookstore *many* years ago, I had a colleague who particularly liked them and that’s how they came onto my radar–currently I’m reading the fourth book in the series, Framley Parsonage, which was published in 1860!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sheila! I totally understand about not remembering books better; I often have to read Wikipedia plot summaries to remember more details about novels I read years ago. I still have quite a ways to go in “No Name,” but it is absolutely holding my interest. And, yes, “The Woman in White” has to be the best Wilkie Collins novel. Brilliantly clever mystery, a great villain (Count Fosco), a strong/non-stereotypical-for-the-1800s woman character (Marian Holcombe), etc.

      Glad you’re enjoying your Anthony Trollope reading — and that there’s an 1860s element. ๐Ÿ™‚


      • “Salammbo” came out in 1862, Flaubert’s historical novel covering the generation of Carthaginians before Hannibal, and quite the departure from the affairs and concerns of the Bovarys. When I read it, I had no idea that the book adhered quite closely to the scholarship of his time, as well as Roman accounts, and wrongly figured he had taken all kinds of liberties in the service of making a thrilling, violent and exotic tale.

        Then again, I had no idea that Flaubert had bestirred himself from France and ventured into North Africa, at one point, helping to clear away the sands obscuring everything but the heads of Ramses The Great at Abu Simbel.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Does anyone remember the fabulous book, Lorna Doone, by English author Richard Doddridge Blackmore which was published in 1869? It was a romance involving a group of historical characters and set in the late 17th century in Devon and Somerset, particularly around the East Lyn Valley area of Exmoor. In 2003, the novel was listed on the BBC’s survey โ€œThe Big Read.โ€ Doddridge had difficulty in publishing Lorna Doone, but other writers thought highly of the book: Margaret Oliphant, Robert Louis Stevenson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Thomas Hardy.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Clanmother! I’ve heard of “Lorna Doone” — perhaps partly because there are cookies of that name ๐Ÿ™‚ — but have not read it. Have you? If so, did you like it? As you note, that book has had some high-profile fans!

      Interesting that some novels that authors have trouble getting published turn out to be quite successful. Doesn’t always speak well for the judgment of major publishing houses…

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      • It was a rollicking adventure of feuding families set in a time of transition. There are plenty of twists and turns. I first heard about the book from Don who read it twice when he was in his teens. I must revisit the book again and have just found it on Audible. It is 27 hours long so it is not a quick read. Two issues come out in the book that are relevant for today. 1) Rural vs urban life and values 2) The rise of the middle class vs the aristocracy. I agree – publishers do have remarkable lapses in judgment, which I am certain has much to do with economic considerations. Oh, this is another excellent discussion, Dave – does high-powered marketing bias our choice of reading? So many great discussions come from your posts!

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        • Sounds like a great/deep novel, Clanmother! Love the way you described it! Now on my list. ๐Ÿ™‚ As I also mentioned to bebe in this comments area, I keep getting error messages when I try to reserve books from my local library for curbside pickup, but there is talk the library might have a limited reopening to actually go inside in the not-too-distant future!

          Yes, so much of book publishing is about economics. And I do think marketing can affect our reading choices to some extent. I’m not swayed often, but sometimes I succumb. ๐Ÿ™‚ Interesting topics of discussion you brought up!

          Liked by 3 people

    • I’m compiling a list of 50 classic books to read as part of a challenge over the coming years and there are, of course, so many to choose from as this 1860s compilation demonstrates!

      I’ve got, on my list already, Mrs Oliphant’s book ‘Miss Marjoribanks’ (good Scottish name, pronounced Marchbanks which, I believe, has a connection to Robert the Bruce’s daughter…?). I heard the book serialised on the radio a while ago and it sounded like it could be worth a read.

      Slowly working my way through the comments here whilst I get some inspiration….don’t mind me….

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Totally off topic Dave…so disgusted with trump and what is happening around the Country. Tomorrow I am planning to go to the Library and find a book I don’t know what.
    Finally I finished John Grisham`s “Camino Winds “, loved it although crowd pleasing.What happened in Camino Islands after some years with a hurricane hit hard with disastrous wreckage.
    Then there is a little Lee Child sort of murder mystry.

    You would like it as well as some characters would be familiar to you.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. You have picked an excellent decade. How about Can You Forgive Her (Trollopeโ€™s first Palliser novel) to add to your already stellar list? I re-read and very much enjoyed Silas Marner last year. It was one of my set texts at school so of course I absolutely hated it before coming to it again as an adult. Education wasted on the young and all that ๐Ÿคฃ

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  10. You’ve pretty much covered the greats of this decade, Dave. I’ll add “House of the Dead,” “The Idiot,” “Notes From Underground,” and “The Gambler” all by Dostoevsky and “Our Mutual Friend” by Dickens. Quite a few outstanding novels published by these two authors in the 1860s!

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Mary Jo! Great additions from those two iconic authors!

      There are just three Dickens novels I’ve haven’t read, and “Our Mutual Friend” is one of them. I did read Dostoyevsky’s “House of the Dead,” which was very compelling but felt more like a nonfiction book than a novel. It was of course very autobiographical in recounting some aspects of the author’s own prison term.

      Liked by 3 people

    • I will second that, Mary Jo. Dostoevsky was supremely inspired for more than one decade but he was probably the most prolific in the 1860’s, probably out of financial necessity. Once his young stenographer became his wife (and nursemaid, dealing with his epileptic outbursts) he was able to turn out stories and novels at a much more rapid speed.

      On the other hand, Dickens was on a downward slope. ‘Our Mutual Friend’ was his last completed novel before his death. He left behind the fragment ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ after his passing.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Excellent points, Brian! Dickens definitely lost some steam after “Great Expectations,” and there were multiple stellar Dostoyevsky works in the 1860s — also including 1861’s “The Insulted and the Injured.” Of course, that author ended with a flourish with his last novel: 1880’s “The Brothers Karamazov.”

        Liked by 3 people

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