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. 🙂
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 Alice’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 “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. 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.