It’s Hard to Err in the Decade of ‘Eyre’

Last week, I discussed the 1940s as a stellar decade for novels. This week, I’ll jump back a century to perhaps an even more stellar literary period: the 1840s. The Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Alexandre Dumas, Honore de Balzac, Herman Melville, James Fenimore Cooper, Nikolai Gogol, early Fyodor Dostoevsky…

The novel as a medium truly came into its own in the 1840s — no previous decade had such a large and varied array of what would become fiction classics.

Let’s start with the astonishing two-year run by Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte. Charlotte’s 1847 Jane Eyre — my favorite novel — is of course the gripping story of an independent-minded orphan who becomes a governess and falls mutually in love with her employer Edward Rochester. Published later that same year was Emily’s Wuthering Heights — a highly original and tempestuous tale of romance, obsession, and cruelty. Following in 1848 was Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the compelling early feminist novel chronicling a woman’s escape from a bad marriage. Anne (Agnes Grey/1847) and Charlotte (Shirley/1849) also wrote other, not-as-memorable novels in that decade.

(Pictured above are Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in the 1939 Wuthering Heights movie.)

For Charles Dickens, the 1840s was his most productive decade — churning out one absorbing novel after another — even as several of his most-admired books (including A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations) would come later. My Dickens favorites from the ’40s include The Old Curiosity Shop (1841), A Christmas Carol (1843), Martin Chuzzlewit (1844), and Dombey and Son (1848).

Another English author, Willam Thackeray, wrote 1848’s Vanity Fair — starring the smart, witty, manipulative, unforgettable Becky Sharp.

Over in France, Alexandre Dumas blazed through the 1840s with novels such as his highly entertaining The Three Musketeers and the riveting revenge saga The Count of Monte Cristo. Both books were finished in 1844 — how’s that for an authorial year? There was also his less-known-but-great Georges (1843), the one Dumas novel that reflected the author’s part-African heritage; and Twenty Years After (1845), the satisfying first sequel to The Three Musketeers.

Another French author, Balzac, penned most of his best novels in the 1830s, but the excellent Cousin Bette and The Black Sheep came out in 1846 and 1842, respectively.

Over in the U.S., Herman Melville wrote several very good semi-autobiographical sea novels in the 1840s before authoring 1851’s extremely good Moby-Dick. They included Typee (1846), Omoo (1847), and Redburn (1849).

Two of James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking” quintet came out early in that decade: The Pathfinder (1840) and The Deerslayer (1841). Cooper did not write the five novels chronologically; for instance, The Deerslayer — which I think is the best of the series — is set from 1740 to 1755 while the previously written The Last of the Mohicans (1826) takes place later (in 1757).

In Russia, Nikolai Gogol’s eye-opening Dead Souls came out in 1842. Fyodor Dostoevsky started his novel-writing career with 1846’s Poor Folk; the masterpieces Crime and Punishment (1866) and The Brothers Karamazov (1880) would arrive quite a few years later. I haven’t yet read Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time (1840).

Don’t worry, next week’s post won’t focus on the 1740s — though Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) and Joseph Andrews (1742) were pretty darn good. 🙂

Your favorite novels of the 1840s?

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 the election and more — is here.

120 thoughts on “It’s Hard to Err in the Decade of ‘Eyre’

    • Thank you, Pradipta! Glad you liked the post! I think a lot of people prefer “Wuthering Heights” over “Jane Eyre” (I suppose “WH” is a bit more original), but the storytelling and plot line in Charlotte Bronte’s novel is just mesmerizing — and more relatable. I like “WH” a lot, too…

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  1. I didn’t realize Jane Eyre was your favorite novel! 🙂 I actually just finished reading that for the first time a few weeks ago. It was pretty good, I could easily see where it would be a favorite. There’s so many great things going on there with the characters, many plotlines I didn’t see coming, and even the atmosphere. Both Bronte sisters are so good at making the landscape and weather a part of their story. And wow didn’t realize Dumas finished both of those books in the same year – I would say Count of Monte Cristo is up there on my favorite novel list. It’s a bit of work to get there, but the payoff is so worth it.

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    • Thank you, M.B.! Nice that you read “Jane Eyre” recently! It’s hard for me to remember my reaction to reading that novel for the first time in high school, but I vaguely also recollect being surprised at some of the plot turns — and enthralled with the book in general, even as it of course had many downbeat moments. So true that Charlotte and especially Emily Bronte were experts at making the landscape and weather almost additional “characters.”

      I was also shocked that Alexandre Dumas finished the iconic “The Three Musketeers” and the iconic “The Count of Monte Cristo” the same year. Mind-boggling. I agree that the payoff in the lengthy “Count” is VERY worth the time spent getting to it.

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  2. Dave , yes I remember you always say that “Jane Eyre” is you all time favorite novel. Hard to imagine that Charlotte’s 1847 Jane Eyre is more than a century old and what a wonderful classic.
    Together with all the Bronte sisters.
    Here is a clip about ten years ago, as I have watched it a few times
    SStarring starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

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  3. You have a nice list of memorable books. First up is Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. I really liked that one. Read it some time ago. You mention Balzac. Is it Honore’ de Balzac? I haven’t heard of him but it may be an interesting read later on down the road. I do have one I can mention and that is Stephen Cranes Red Badge Of Courage in 1895. Great read it was. I’m going to backtrack a little bit from one of your other posts and want to mention Louis-Ferdinand Celine – a book entitled Death On The Installment Plan. Have you heard of him and or the book. Read it some time ago. It’s considered black humor. When I mentioned Bukowski and the number of books I have by him, it’s had by him. Lost all my books a good while ago, but I’m in the process of getting some of them back. Who says one can’t start all over and make out better without buying new books. I found a great site called thriftbooks.com of where you can by either used or new books. it’s a great site. So that’s a plug for anyone looking for books. Completed the read of Radclyffe Hall’s – The Well Of Loneliness. A spectacular read!

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    • Thank you, Don! “Wuthering Heights” is definitely one of THE novels of the 1840s.

      Yes, it’s Honoré de Balzac. A REALLY good writer. My favorite novels of his are probably “Le Père Goriot” (“Old Goriot”) and “Eugenie Grandet.”

      Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage” was indeed memorable, and impressive that it was written when the author was in his 20s (he died at age 28).

      I wasn’t familiar with Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s “Death On The Installment Plan.” Sounds really interesting!

      Good to hear that you liked “The Well Of Loneliness” a lot! I definitely want to read it!

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  4. What a lively thread and theme, Dave! Between Dickens, Poe and Gogol, I’ll choose Dickens every time. I notice David Copperfield began in 1849 in serial form…so I elect that one. But honestly my nostalgic favorite of this era is Jane Eyre, since identifying with her was inevitable. The best film version, IMHO, was perfectly cast with Ciarán Hinds and Samantha Morton 🙂

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    • Thank you, Mary Jo! I totally agree about the comments! Literature from the 1840s stirs a LOT of interest and many emotions.

      Great mention of how “David Copperfield” squeezes into the 1840s even though the entire/finished novel wasn’t published until 1850! A tremendous book.

      I think I’ve read “Jane Eyre” about a half-dozen times, but not in about a decade. One of these days I must get back to it again. 🙂 And that 1997 movie version sounds terrific!

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    • Thank you, vanaltman!

      True — Jane came thisclose to leaving England with St. John Rivers. Rivers was basically a cold man, and had a colonial mentality, but I found him to be mixed as a character rather than a villain.

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      • St. John Rivers had uses for Jane, especially Jane the trainable helpmate. But he had no burning romance in him, being all in on missionary business.

        He, as a character, was most impossibly yet conveniently situated to the author’s purposes, existing in the novel as a sort of earnestly insipid place-holder till plot twists and conferred riches allowed Jane the freedom of her heart. He is no villain; he is no Rochester either.

        Had Jane only expired alone on that windswept frigid heath, the novel might have made its way at least toward the top of my favorite pile. But she didn’t, and from that moment, the novel, in my estimation, descends into a ticking-off of wishes for its indomitable narrator that the author believes (and probably, correctly) her readers would like to see realized between its covers.

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        • True, jhNY. As you note, Rivers was not romantic at all; he was in love with the idea of being a missionary.

          The part of the novel after Jane leaves Rochester is indeed not as strong. (As a matter of fact, the first time I read the book was via an abridged edition a high school teacher assigned that actually left out that entire part of “Jane Eyre”!) But I still found the latter part of the book compelling. And, heck, Jane had to be somewhere/do something for a while before the dramatic conclusion. Not sure any publisher would have accepted the novel if things ended with Jane dying outside in the cold.

          Still, you make some good points!

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  5. No doubt, a fascinating time with fascinating Masterworks. Thank you, dear Dave, for this amazing trip.
    I had an eye on Victor Hugo but it seems that he wrote some poems in this decade as I do not know of them. Have a great time 🙏👍

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  6. I had to hunt through some lists to find an 1840s novel you hadn’t listed and that I’ve read. Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Dana fits the bill. I remember liking it a great deal because the vivid depiction of the life on board a sailing vessel.

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    • Great mention, Liz! Thank you! I haven’t read “Two Years Before the Mast,” but it’s definitely a classic — with a classic title. I just googled the book, and it seems to be considered a memoir — perhaps a partly fictionalized memoir? Herman Melville’s 1840s novels certainly took that kind of hybrid approach.

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  7. All I can add to this, Dave, is that last night I participated in an online fund-raising trivia contest and my team won because, in a tie-breaker at the end, I knew that John Tyler was the veep who replaced William Henry Harrison as president in 1841 when Harrison died soon after taking office. All of which sounds like historical fiction from the 1840s.

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    • Historical fiction-y indeed. 🙂 Congratulations on winning the trivia contest, Bill! That’s some impressive knowledge you displayed. “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” I guess William Henry Harrison missed out on most 1840s fiction… 😦

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    • An elderly neighbor died up the street from me in Raleigh NC when I was 8– 61 years ago– and her relatives pitched a great many of her possessions to the curb for pick-up. A scavenger even at that tender age, I found therein a Harrison campaign medal for the 1840 election– Harrison on the obverse looking caesaresque, hair swept forward, in full uniform, and on the back a log cabin and cider barrel with the legend ‘Hero of Tippecanoe’ above. Somewhere, I’ve still got it.

      There’s a man who should have worn a hat.

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      • Wow — jhNY! What a spectacular find! Can’t believe something that old and historic was thrown out before you grabbed it. And Harrison should have indeed dressed warmer, and given a shorter speech. He was not a young man (68 at the time).

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    • Thank you, Shehanne! Very glad you mentioned Poe! Although his only completed novel (“The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”) was published in the 1830s, he wrote MANY stories and poems in the 1840s. “The Pit and the Pendulum” is a riveting tale.

      I agree about that “Wuthering Heights” photo. I’ve actually never seen the movie — yikes! But I’ve seen the video of Kate Bush singing “Wuthering Heights.” 🙂

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      • Oh, I was raised on old movies. Way back in the 20s and 30s Dundee apparently had the highest amount of cinemas per head of pop, I think in Scotland, if not the UK–truly throw a stone hit three cinemas and my parents had been great cinema goers. They never missed a repeat on the TV. Also even when I was growing up there were tons, from the swammy palais grands of the Gaumont and the ABC to the ‘they just about paid you to come in’ corrugated iron flea pits, so we went a lot. My friend to this day and I were big movie buffs. This one is, again, of its day, where we are asked to believe that Laurence Olivier who was all of 30 at the time is 15, and Cathy, despite being a Yorkshire lass, would have been perfectly at home in the Royal Shakespeare Company ( I far prefer Charlotte Reilly’s take on Cathy in terms of accent) and like so many other adaptations of this book, it mainly covers the first half. But it is still a good, sterling, adaptation in terms of the script, performances, music, sets, etc.

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        • Wonderful that Dundee was such a movie mecca, Shehanne! I enjoyed your descriptions of the grand and not-so-grand venues.

          And while I haven’t seen the 1939 “Wuthering Heights” film, I can see that Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon were far from ideal for their roles, even though they (especially Olivier) were accomplished performers. Same with Joan Fontaine as the title character in the 1943 “Jane Eyre” movie — she was too good-looking for the role, with Orson Welles a somewhat better fit as Rochester. Also, getting back to Olivier, many consider Heathcliff to be partly a person of color, which wasn’t acknowledged cinematically until a much later screen adaptation.

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          • I know. Merle Oberon who was biracial meantime plays Cathy. obviously with Jane Eyre they were just not for putting a what we call awfie bonnie person NOT, on the screen, any more than they were going to put a darker skinned Heathcliff.

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            • Amazing that Merle Oberon had the career she did — during that all-the-good-movie-roles-went-to-whites time — given that she had some South Asian and Maori heritage. But that heritage was apparently at least partly hidden. Even worse during that period for black actors, of course, who mostly had subservient roles if they got roles at all. Imagine how great it would have been if someone like Paul Robeson had played Heathcliff in the 1939 film!

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              • My da met Paul Robeson once when he came on tour in Scotland and he came to speak and have a tea and biccies with the local trad union delegates. I have the ticket with his autograph. He was a great man. And you are so right re Merle Oberon. She did really well to have the career she did. it should not be necessary to say what I just have but that these was these times. I do smile at Oliveir playing Heathcliff. Apparently they offered the role of Isabella to Vivien Leigh. She told them straight she would play Cathy or nothing. Then she bagged Scarlett O’Hara.

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                • Fantastic that your dad met Paul Robeson, Shehanne! I know Robeson spent a good deal of time in the UK. And to still have his autograph! He was indeed a great man.

                  It’s possible my wife’s late father, who fought in the Spanish Civil War as part of America’s Abraham Lincoln Brigade, met Robeson — who visited anti-fascist troops in Spain.

                  Unfortunately, the only time I got to “meet” Robeson was at his open-coffin wake in New York City in 1976. 😦 I covered his death for the campus newspaper of Rutgers College, of which Robeson was a 1919 alumnus.

                  I’ve heard about that “Wuthering Heights” situation re Vivien Leigh (who of course was in a relationship with Olivier at the time, before their marriage). “Gone With the Wind” ended up being quite a “consolation prize” for her! 🙂

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                  • Indeed. Still doing the rounds etc Oh and being controversial. Unfortunate but still a story to dine out on that you covered that wake. I think I read somewhere that he’d done various stage shows in London and studied there which was why he also spent much time in the UK, It was interesting in that I had written a gap filler piece on that autographed ticket for a history mag I edited at that time and then one of the other women involved in that, she unearthed aa program from that tour so it was good to put it all together. I hope your wife’s late father met him. he most certainly got around the world

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                  • I have a little cardboard-cover book here of some rarity, titled “Peekskill: USA” by Howard Fast. My edition was published by The Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, in 1953, and sports an intro in Russian(!). Fast is most famous as the blacklisted writer of “Spartacus”.

                    The book is a first-hand account of a 1949 riot in Peekskill NY on the occasion of an announced Paul Robeson concert in that town, a benefit for the Civil Rights Congress,which ended in violence and mayhem on the part of local right-wing white folk, with the cooperation of local law enforcement, and complete with a cross-burning, rock-throwing and assault by baseball bats. 13 people were seriously injured. The concert was postponed, and later another was held without incident. Applications from Peekskill citizens for membership in the KKK, according to wikipedia numbered 748– AFTER THE RIOT.

                    Few people today know much of anything about this riot, but whenever one mentions Peekskill in a group, somebody always seems to think there’s something iffy about the town, but cannot say why. This is why.

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                    • Thank you, jhNY! Well said and well described. I learned about the infamous Peekskill right-wing riot in a couple of Robeson biographies I’ve read. Law-enforcement does too often look away or join in when it comes to attacks on progressives. If I’m remembering right, Pete Seeger was also on the bill for that concert with Robeson.

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          • Dundee may boast of its movie houses, but the little city I grew up in was noted for having the most churches per capita in the whole USA.

            The town where I attended college was noted for having the most bars per capita.

            There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

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              • I’ve seen a bar/laundromat, and I saw “The Phantom of the Opera” with Lon Chaney at St. John the Divine a few blocks from my apartment, but no liquor was served. And no communion wine either.

                Reminds me, though, of the first female Black millionaire’s complex of shops under one roof in Indianapolis ID. The whites in town were intent to maintain strict segregation, and as a result, few theaters, restaurants or movie houses were open to to Blacks, so Madam CJ Walker, who made her fortune manufacturing and selling beauty products to Black women, opened up a huge place wherein those entertainments and pleasures were available to her people.
                A’leia Walker, her daughter, was a significant patron of Black artists, active in New York during the Harlem Renaissance.

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                • Yes, some buildings have seen interesting multi-uses. Great examples, jhNY! And that’s fascinating information about Madam CJ Walker and her huge complex in sadly segregated Indianapolis!

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        • Thank you for the comment, jimhoguemyfairpointnet! Yes, I really need to see the 1939 “Wuthering Heights” film. I guess I’m not much of a movie watcher. 🙂 And great that Leo Carroll was your godfather! I did see him in several others films, including a few Hitchcock ones.

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  8. What a deliciously full decade and you capture the essence in you brilliant title: “It’s Hard to Err in the Decade of ‘Eyre.’” I just finished reading Wuthering Heights, which confirmed without any doubt Emily’s brilliance. It was not an easy read and I can see why it was not fully embraced at the time of publishing for Emily went where angels fear to tread. She took on the topics of illiteracy, child abuse, mental health, the legacy of abandonment and favoritism, power over, and the aftermath of PSTD. There was some redemption at the last but by the time I read the entire book, I was exhausted., These topics are well-known and are discussed in our current reality – not in Emily’s time. I thought that I had read Wuthering Heights in University, but I now realize that I took a short cut and watched the movie with Anna Calder Marshall and Timothy Dalton (1970) which was about a romance. I would heartily recommend Wurthering Heights just to meet up with Emily Bronte. Another wonderful post, Dave!

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    • Thank you, Clanmother! Glad you liked the post and its title!

      You’re so right about the brilliant “Wuthering Heights” being a sobering, disturbing, challenging novel that discussed many things that were not usually discussed in that time. (I like the “where angels fear to tread” phrase you used in your eloquent comment.) Even as “WH” was also an emotionally compelling novel with its weird relationships and other elements that keep readers glued to the pages. A book that was incredibly ahead of its time in certain ways.

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    • Wuthering Heights was a favorite of mine in high school. I’ve read it several times, including in a graduate literature seminar, now I think about it. Our professor gave us free rein for the paper, so I rewrote the ending as if there were no God. I titled it “Heathcliff in a Godless Universe.” I’d forgotten all about that paper!

      I remember going to the Richford Drive-in with my mother and a friend of hers to see the 1970 movie. My memory of the movie has faded with time, but I vividly remember the car my mother’s friend drove: an old brown Studebaker with a faulty exhaust. We had to ride with all the windows down to avoid getting asphyxiated.

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    • A hard book to read, WH, yep, in that I found no one in it very likeable, and the narrator a tricky tale-teller indeed. I would have greatly preferred no such redemption in the last few pages. It feels forced– a nod to convention in an otherwise unconventional book, but without it, I doubt WH would have made it into print.

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      • Nelly Dean was a bit annoying, wasn’t she? She was a “humble” maid who have great influence over the households. But throughout the book, we could only see the story through her perspective. A very interesting way to write a book.

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        • Excellent points, jhNY and Clanmother! Interesting how unconventional books often need just a little bit of convention to attract a publisher and readers. And one indeed has mixed feelings about Nelly Dean in the novel’s mostly unlikable cast. Still, she was a bit more normal than many other “WH” characters, so she was useful as a vehicle through which to view the weird goings on.

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          • I read somewhere that the Bronte sisters listened to the stories told by their maid, Tabby Ackroyd (not certain if that is spelled correctly) who told them stories of dark deeds, hauntings and fairies. This makes it reasonable to assume that Emily thought Nelly Dean would be the perfect narrator. And as you noted so astutely Dave, the one with common sense in all of the chaos.

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            • Rebecca, fascinating to think about the possible influence of the Brontes’ maid on the sisters’ writing! I wasn’t aware of that. You are very knowledgeable!

              And, yes, doings in “Wuthering Heights” can be so hard to believe that a (relatively) believable narrator was needed to make things seem at least somewhat plausible.

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              • Dave – I read the “forward” and found the info on the maid. I agree with you that reading forwards after reading the book is a very good thing – gives structure to frame the story, but doesn’t influence our personal interpretations as we read.

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                • Ah, Clanmother, a logical place to find that kind of information AFTER reading or rereading a novel. 🙂

                  “…gives structure to frame the story, but doesn’t influence our personal interpretations as we read” — very nicely and accurately stated!

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  9. Hi Dave – well, you really are spoiling us with these wonderful lists! After a little investigation it seems that I have ventured rarely into the 1840s. I love Zola…Gaskell…Elliot….but they all wrote in the latter half of the 19th Century. Vanity Fair – what a wonderful read that is! My love of French literature is represented in your list by Dumas and Balzac – which I’ve dipped into all too briefly. I’ve read the Brontes, but so many years ago it may as well have been in the 1840s! Probably worth revisiting I should think. And then Dickens. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with him. I live in Dickens’ Country and so it’s hard not to be reminded how much the area influenced his writing. I teach English and A Christmas Carol is on the curriculum. Don’t tell anyone but the more I read it with my students the more I like it. And the Russian authors have been mentioned. I really, really should and will. They sit on my book shelves a little neglected for the time being. Thank you for bringing some more classics to my attention!

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    • Thank you, Sarah! I’ve enjoyed doing these decade lists, but will try not to become too dependent on them for blog content. 🙂

      Great that you teach English! I guess when one does that there’s a good chance Dickens will be part of the curriculum!

      “I’ve read the Brontes, but so many years ago it may as well have been in the 1840s” — ha! Funny line! 🙂

      Re your mention of Russian authors, it’s impossible to read everything…

      I also love the somewhat-later George Eliot and Emile Zola, who of course started their novel-writing careers in the 1850s and 1860s, respectively. Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” “Daniel Deronda,” “The Mill on the Floss,” “Silas Marner,” and “Adam Bede” are absolutely tremendous, with so much psychological insight. And I’ve read and enjoyed eight Emile Zola novels, with my favorite being “Germinal.” I’ve only tried one Elizabeth Gaskell novel, “Cranford,” which I thought was well done.

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      • The wonderfully dark and disturbing Therese Raquin by Zola is one of my favourites, although am slowly picking my way through Nana, which I’m enjoying immensely. ‘North and South’ by Gaskell was an excellent read. Gosh. So many books. You are right, it’s impossible to read everything.

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        • “Therese Raquin” is definitely a “potboiler,” Sarah!

          I love the way the same characters appear in a number of Zola’s novels. For instance, Nana is of course the main character in “Nana” but is also a secondary character in “The Drinking Den.”

          Thank for the mention of “North and South”! I’ll read that when I try Gaskell again.

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            • You’re welcome! In Zola’s twenty “Les Rougon-Macquart” novels (the series was named after the extended Rougon and extended Macquart families), many of the characters were related and a number of them appeared in more than one novel. For instance, Nana was the half-sister of three brothers: Etienne (who stars in Zola’s “Germinal”), Claude (who stars in Zola’s “The Masterpiece”), and Jacques (who stars in Zola’s “The Beast in Man”). I think Zola got the idea for this approach from what Balzac did in his “La Comédie Humane” novels and stories.

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    • Dave, I won’t start my own comment thread as I can’t actually add to this week’s topic, but since Sarah has already gone off topic, I’m not the one breaking the rules 😀

      I’m glad to see Emile Zola discussed here. I’ve nearly finished Germinal, being my first go at Zola. What a fun and cheery book in these trying times! I thought about mentioning it a couple of weeks ago when you were talking about Trump (watching his downfall actually will be fun and cheery). It’s more than a little sad how relevant the novel is. Sure, we’re not killing ourselves in mines, but it’s appalling how much of the world’s wealth is controlled by a few privileged people. The juxtaposition of the rooms stripped of everything, and the mansion just down the road is so wonderfully shown by Zola. But depressing as it is, I’m going to keep my optimism hat on and assume that by the end of the book, the rich guys realise the error of their ways and there’s suddenly an abundance of food and nobody has to work themselves to death anymore. Right?

      Coming up soon on my re-read list is Great Expectations which I’ve read two or three times, but it’s a favourite Dickens of mine and I’m greatly looking forward to revisiting it.

      And after that, I’ll be reading Vanity Fair for the first time. I’ve had lots of fun with modern fiction this year, but it’s great to be getting back into some classics again, so thanks to both you and Sarah for mentioning them 🙂

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      • Hi Susan. These posts are like wonderful rabbit holes aren’t they! The comments about Zola are encouraging me to revisit his work. I do hope you enjoy ‘Vanity Fair’. Becky is a memorable character and probably eclipses Elizabeth Bennet in some ways. That was the ‘on topic’ comment and now to break the rules a little more…You mentioned the T word and politics. I watched ‘Citizen Kane’ for, probably, the first time yesterday. My word. How relevant! The rise and fall, the politics, allegations of voting fraud….uncanny. I’m looking forward to the release of ‘Mank’ in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, back to the classics!!

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        • Hi Sarah,

          I hope it was obvious that my broken rules accusation was tongue in cheek? I don’t know if you’ve followed Dave for a while, but I know he encourages any chatting about literature, and chatting about other things too.

          I’ve really enjoyed Germinal though it’s hard to say why. When I tell people what I’m reading, and what it’s about, it certainly doesn’t sound riveting. I think what’s most grabbing me about it is the inevitability. And yet, despite it being very predictable, I’m still hopeful that all of these wonderful characters live happily ever after.

          I’m currently re-reading Gone With the Wind and falling in love with Scarlet all over again. And that’s making me even more excited about Vanity Fair as I’ve heard a lot about Becky – and not all of it good – yay!

          Criticising the T word is a favourite hobby around here 🙂 I’ve not seen Citizen Kane before. I don’t really watch a lot of movies, but I guess that one is a must see? Maybe I should put it on my list. The good thing is my movie list is MUCH shorter than my book list, but as movies take away from my reading time, I tend to avoid them.

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          • I have been here for only a short while, but do enjoy reading the on/off topic comments….and of course contributing – relevant or not! Rules are there to be broken, surely…

            Zola can be quite dark reading material and that sense of inevitability just carries you along! I like the naturalist style of writing that emerged around the mid 1800s, although I imagine there may well have been earlier proponents of this. Balzac perhaps and many others I imagine?

            I’m currently working my way through a Christmas Reading Challenge (am trying to tackle some Victorian Ghost stories right now), but am constantly distracted by a huge compilation of letters written by the Mitford Sisters, which wasn’t on my original list of books To Be Read…oh and another (pleasant!) distraction is reading other people’s very interesting blogs and contributing to the comments 😉

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            • I really enjoyed reading your conversation, Susan and Sarah. Yes, Zola’s work tends to be quite dark, including “Germinal.” He allows some happiness here and there — usually earlier in his novels — but not a lot. I guess that’s part of his realism and naturalism. The rich take advantage of the not-rich, bad things happen to people, etc. 😦

              Hope you enjoy “Vanity Fair,” Susan! I should reread it sometime. Haven’t read it since college. I still have the copy on one of my bookshelves. Sarah, I agree that Becky Sharp is an even more memorable character than Elizabeth Bennet in certain ways. Any protagonist complex enough to be partly unlikable can certainly add to the reading appeal.

              And, yes, humor and tongue-in-cheek thoughts and off-topic comments (often not that off-topic 🙂 ) are welcome!

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                • The Victorian custom of reading ghost stories aloud around the fire at Christmas gave rise, I think, to the many written in the period– there was a ready-made audience, and many publishing outlets for them– though the interest in spiritualism probably also figured in more than a little. So it’s only natural, or at least coincidental, that we might turn to uncanny tales once the weather turns cold. I am enjoying my ghost story collection– it’s “The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories”, and a fat one, so I think I am guaranteed a few hours of fearful pleasure yet.

                  Also, you might consider Stendahl, writer of the “The Red and the Black” and “The Charterhouse of Parma” for another early example of realism in French literature. Balzac was among the few to recognize his genius during his lifetime– and in keeping with the week’s theme, “The Charterhouse of Parma” missed the 1840’s by merely a year– 1839.

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                  • It hadn’t occurred to me the link with the interest in spiritualism and the popularity with ghost stories. But so obvious of course! There was certainly an overwhelming popularity judging by the number that were published. I’ve almost finished my smaller collection. Just a couple of longer stories to go. Only one of the 13 (so far) has been truly spine chilling. I wonder if your collection is a little more spooky than mine? I know we perhaps have different expectations nowadays. I shall review my little collection in due course.
                    I have the Stendahl novel ‘the red and the black’ sitting untouched on a book shelf somewhere….I shall get that on the TBR pile…I have ‘Old Goriot’ to go back to as well, which I’m quite looking forward to. I haven’t read Balzac before but have enjoyed what I’ve read so far.
                    In the meantime do enjoy your Oxford collection and I wonder if you can enjoy it along with the appropriate Dickensian snowy weather!!

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            • You’ll love it around here. Dave writes the best blog on the whole internet. But yes, it does eat into our reading time, and often adds to our TBR!

              I don’t know why I like dark books. I love Thomas Hardy for the same reason. I understand why they don’t appeal to a lot of people, but I can’t put them down. I can’t say too much about writing styles of any century as it sounds like you’re much more knowledgeable than me. I pretty much go ooh that looks pretty, and I read it, and I like it or I don’t 🙂

              Victorian ghost stories sounds amazing. I hope you keep us posted about what you’re reading?

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              • My knowledge about writing styles is really very scant. I pick up bits of information here and there, but nothing really of any substance, and then try and piece it all together! So yes, if I likes it, I reads it…

                And dear Thomas Hardy. I should give him another go and perhaps I will…I find him quite difficult to read, although I do quite like his poetry. I’m rather fond of Robert Browning and so perhaps Hardy ticks the same boxes? Do you have a particular Hardy favourite to recommend?

                And just between you and me I’m finding these Victorian Ghost stories very difficult to keep me engaged. I’m not a horror aficionado – gothic or otherwise – but they do seem to be missing the usual, even basic, conventions (ahem….not that I could do any better). However, there was one written by our friend here, ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ by Mrs Gaskell, which ticked all the boxes!

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                • Sarah, I’ve also had mixed experiences with ghost stories. Among the authors who I think did those kinds of tales best was Edith Wharton. I read a collection of her ghost stories a few years ago and was VERY impressed with the majority of them.

                  Thomas Hardy is indeed often dark, Susan. Not one of my favorite authors, but some of his novels are pretty compelling. “Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” “Jude the Obscure”… I’ve never read his poetry, Sarah.

                  Dark novels, when done right, can somehow be cathartic or something, even as they depress the hell out of the reader. I’m currently experiencing that with William Kennedy’s excellent “Ironweed,” which I hope to finish today.

                  And thanks so much for the kind words about this blog, Susan! The comments are an enormous part of that. 🙂

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                • Sorry to hear that you’re struggling with your ghost stories. I’m a couple of chapters into a re-read of Great Expectations and feel like I’ve stumbled into a horror story with some strange guy hanging around some headstones. I’d forgotten how creepy it was.

                  I enjoyed Hardy’s Tess but it is depressing as hell. Far from the Madding Crowd has such a strong female lead, and yet I had trouble with some of Hardy’s sexism. Jude the Obscure is full of irredeemably broken people, and is so depressing that it makes Tess seem cheery, and yet I LOVED it! I’m not really sure why. I’m not sure if it’s because Jude was my third Hardy and so I was ready for the depression? But I do recommend it. I reckon if you can’t love that one, then maybe Hardy will never work for you. I didn’t realise Hardy had written poetry, and sadly, it’s something that I struggle to read so I’ll have to pass but I’m glad you like it.

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                  • Thanks for the Hardy recommendations….I think 😀 … I’ll add Jude to my TBR pile. Hell! Why not? It may make the Real World feel less depressing!!
                    I’m persevering with the ghost stories….in fact the book is at my right elbow now, as I check the news….check Dave’s blog….reply to you….look at the weather….ha! that’s commitment for you!
                    ‘Great Expectations’ is rather wonderfully gothic. Estella is such a great product of Miss H. Do enjoy your reread!

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                    • And as a PS, not a million miles from where I live is the church that features the graves that inspired Dickens description in the opening chapters. Here’s the link to the website if interested coolingchurch.org.uk

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                    • Wow — fascinating website, Sarah! Thanks! And I like your wry reason for reading an ultra-depressing novel (making the depressing world seem less depressing in comparison).

                      Susan, continue to enjoy your reread of the compelling “Great Expectations”! Yes, Dickens could masterfully do creepy in addition to dramatic, poignant, funny, etc. As for Hardy, I’m trying to think if ANY 19th-century male author wasn’t sexist, at least to some degree. 😦

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                    • I think, with the best will in the world, it would be quite tough to find something that wouldn’t be considered sexist nowadays (ever?). Even novels that have women by omission perhaps says something – Jekyll and Hyde springs to mind as women only appear as fainting maids or trampled children. Although that may well be because it’s alluding to homosexuality…. As some sort of defence though there are many strong, memorable female characters from the 19th Century created by male authors, even if some do descend into caricature – Lady Bracknell, Miss Havisham, Becky Sharpe, Madame Bovary…as a cheeky aside I wonder what sort of relationship these authors had with their mothers…all very Freudian 😉

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                    • So true, Sarah — whether it’s male writers in the 19th century, 20th century, or today. Some of course are better than others; in addition to what you aptly mentioned, I think Wilkie Collins’ depiction of women in his 1860s novels “The Women in White,” “No Name,” and “Armadale” was better/less sexist than most of his author contemporaries, but still a bit problematic here and there.

                      And, yes, an important point about the omission thing. For instance, living author Cormac McCarthy is excellent, but has very few women as main characters.

                      Great comment! And that Freud reference is food for thought!

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                    • Thanks so much for that link, Sarah. I had no idea that church existed in daylight! I’m a big fan of both Estella and Miss Havisham, but of course, Pip hasn’t gotten there yet. And I generally read more than one book at a time so it will take a while, but it (hopefully) means that I get less distracted by things like the weather. Though it doesn’t always work that way.

                      I hope it didn’t sound like I was overly bothered by Hardy’s sexism because I’m not. He lived in a pretty sexist world so it’s not surprising that made its way onto the pages. I just found it a little distracting in what was otherwise a pretty good novel. And Bathsheba Everdene is actually an awesome character. You know, for a woman 😉 Sexism by omission also doesn’t overly concern me. Write what you know right? It would make sense to me that Cormac would feel more comfortable writing male characters, and I’d MUCH prefer to have no women in a book rather than badly written ones. Stephen King’s IT and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History are modern novels that I felt had unforgiveable sexism in them. But maybe that’s just me.

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                    • I do agree with you about your comments about women in books. I think we’re all so attuned to it now but it shouldn’t detract from the enjoyment of reading – a classic or otherwise. The worst thing that could happen is for a book to be censored. We know how that all turns out! That was quite a leap there but in any case I’m looking forward to reading Hardy with renewed perspective – which is perhaps what I’ve been lacking.

                      I read The Secret History many many years ago. I seem to remember enjoying it but couldn’t tell you a thing about it now!

                      And dear Dickens. It’s hard not to be reminded of his presence around here. I’ll show restraint in overwhelming you with links to various places but do look up on wiki, if you get a chance, ‘kings school Rochester and satis house’ – it may be of interest.

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                    • “I’d MUCH prefer to have no women in a book rather than badly written ones” — you may have a point there, Susan!

                      And it’s nice to counter novels by sexist authors with the reading of novels from authors (usually but not always women) who are not sexist. Such as Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Zadie Smith, etc. They may deliberately create sexist characters here and there, but they’re not sexist themselves.

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                    • I agree, Sarah — one should still read great novels even when they contain some sexism, racism, etc. While at the same time being aware of those unfortunate elements — which to some extent were “of their time” (but of course that doesn’t totally excuse them).

                      I liked Donna Tartt’s later “The Goldfinch” much more than her “The Secret History,” but that debut novel was pretty good in its way even amid its problematic aspects.

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                    • I think you’re absolutely right about how we should approach literature. We’re in an unfortunate situation ‘over here’ where the government has made some blanket ban on teaching about anti-capitalism in schools (which, as I understand it, has now lead on to a wider debate about other things, but to be honest, my brain just switches off whenever I hear about some new edict the government is implementing, so I may have put my own spin on this!). Where does it end? Does it mean we can’t talk about socialism or Marxism (and how many books written in the 19th Century have those very themes at their heart? Hmmm….I’d wager that Dickens could be a contender here….). Would it have an implication as far as literature is concerned? I suppose the point is it’s all about balance. And it’s got to be good for the soul to be a little provocative 😉

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                    • That IS an unfortunate situation, Sarah. There is a LOT to be criticized about capitalism (certainly capitalism’s excesses), and that should be taught. And, yes, it’s good to see that kind of criticism in novels with strong social-justice elements — whether it be Dickens’ work, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” or novels by living authors such as Isabel Allende.

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                    • Exactly! No ideology (or ‘ism’) should be allowed to escape criticism, albeit, one would hope, something that should be allowed to be done in a constructive way! And some excellent authors there to prove the point!

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  10. “A Christmas Carol” by Dickens.
    Being in holiday spirit coming is earlier this year and that’s a good distraction. I plan to watch my favorites film versions of this famous story. Albert Finney starred in a wonderful Oliver Twist type musical version. George C. Scott was dark yet vulnerable and moving. Plus I’m a huge fan of the songs and story depiction in Mister Magoo ‘s Christmas Carol with the voice of Jim Bacchus who played the wealthy castaway on Gilligan’s Island.

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    • Thank you, Michele! Yes, so many screen adaptations of “A Christmas Carol”! The only one I’ve seen was the 1951 movie starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge. Great acting by him, and a great film version in general.

      “Gilligan’s Island” was such a silly yet memorable TV show. 🙂

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  11. Good evening Dave, wau, you really give us a lot of homework!:) Your list is full of great novels. Due to the fact that we are approaching Christmas Carol, I would choose Christmas Carol, which gives many advice, especially on greediness. I think to this thought should be given more space in our world! I have seen The Brothers Karamazov in the theather before Corona. I very much like the rusion authors, but also Dumas and his The Count of Monte Cristo. My friend has just asked me, if I would read “Les miserables with her”. It seems to just have about 1000 pages!! Do you want to join us?Have a very good week. Very best regards Martina

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