The Pleasures of Reading Novels from Long Ago

I don’t read as many old novels — pre-1900 ones — as I used to. Not that I still don’t love lots of long-ago books. A number of my very favorite novels are 19th-century ones: Jane Eyre, Crime and Punishment, Daniel Deronda, Moby-Dick, Germinal, Persuasion, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Woman in White, The Portrait of a Lady, The Last Man, etc., etc. But I’ve already read many old novels (though far from all) I’ve wanted to read, and no more old novels can be produced because it’s…um…no longer pre-1900. Whereas, from what I hear, new books are continually being published.

That said, I still like to read pre-1900 novels once in a while. It can be such a pleasure, partly because those books chronicle a significantly different time in terms of culture, societal norms, and so on — though human emotions were of course pretty similar. Plus the writing itself back then tended to be different than modern fiction writing: novels were often longer, often took their time letting the plot unfold, often had richer prose, and often were more descriptive. Heck, they had to be — it made sense to minutely describe places and vistas most readers of that time never visited and obviously couldn’t google in pre-airplane, pre-digital days. On the negative side, sometimes the prose got TOO wordy and convoluted, and pre-1900 was sadly a more patriarchal, more racist time — though things today are hardly hunky-dory.

Anyway, this is a long way of arriving at the fact that I’m currently reading and enjoying a 1869 novel: Lorna Doone by Richard Doddridge Blackmore. The sprawling tale by an author with a sprawling name is by no means my favorite 19th-century work of fiction, but it’s pretty darn good as it tells the story of young John Ridd’s love for Lorna — an exemplary person living amid the Doone clan of mostly criminal types who had killed John’s father. Plenty of political machinations and other stuff also go on in the book, which is set in the latter 1600s but is recounted many years later by an elderly Ridd. (He and Lorna are pictured atop this blog post in one of the screen adaptations of Blackmore’s novel, which of course also inspired the name of a cookie introduced in 1912.)

John is a bit unusual as a narrator. Not especially smart, which he often humbly admits as he recounts his life in the novel, but possessing plenty of common sense and courage and decency. Plus his descriptions of nature — John works on and oversees his family’s farm in England — are exquisite and partly explain the book’s typical-of-the-19th-century length: 646 pages of small type. I have a couple-hundred pages to go.

Blackmore died exactly in 1900 — my arbitrary dividing line between older and newer novels.

Are you someone who likes to occasionally read pre-1900 novels? Why or why not?

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 The latest piece — which includes more on my school district’s unfortunate lawsuit against the local teachers union — is here.

107 thoughts on “The Pleasures of Reading Novels from Long Ago

  1. I am also currently reading Lorna Doone and it sort of reminds me of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon! Gabaldon has a similar writing style! I often only read books written in the 21st century or 19th century work. There is just something about the world not set in a time your familiar with, and as a person who has not grown up in the UK, but has travelled there a few times, sort of a place you are not familiar with, it’s just lovely to read about the Victorian era.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, faex2000!

      I can definitely see some similarities between “Lorna Doone” and the “Outlander” series, which I love. Both indeed have rich writing styles, and they both have UK settings and take place several centuries ago. (In the case of Diana Gabaldon’s series, of course, there is also an American setting and some time spent in the 20th century).

      And I agree with your descriptive words about the appeal of reading long-ago novels in general!


  2. Pingback: The Pleasures of Reading Novels from Long Ago — Dave Astor on Literature | NIEUWBLOK

  3. Howzabout a novella from 1867, Dave?

    As you know, I usually find my latest reading material on the card tables of my pals who sell books on Broadway near Columbia U. Today’s entrant is no exception, and a happy and fortuitous accident. George MacDonald is one of the most influential writers of the British scene till the first half of the 20th century, but he has, for the most part, endured an undeserved obscurity since– an exception being the present volume before me: “The Golden Key”, my copy published in 1967, features MacDonald’s tale for all ages with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, and an afterward by WH Auden. It was the afterward that sold me, I admit– that and the fact I’d been searching the table for something to buy, and this little hardback volume looked attractive and promising.

    “The Golden Key” then languished on the TBR pile for many months, but it’s a slender thing, to be consumed (the first time) within an hour, or two at most, so one day this Fall I took it in hand. It’s a fabulous feat of storytelling, involving a journey through the bowels of a fantastic sort of earth by a young boy and girl, traveling together, then each on their own, till they meet at last on journey’s end, having seen, like Howard Carter, many ‘wonderful things’.

    CS Lewis said of MacDonald, “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him. But it has not seemed to me that those who have received my books kindly take even now sufficient notice of the affiliation. Honesty drives me to emphasize it.”

    MacDonald was a friend of John Ruskin, Walt Whitman and Henry Longfellow, a mentor to Lewis Carroll (whom he convinced to publish his Alice stories), admired by and an influence on JRR Tolkien and on GK Chesterton who cited “The Princess and the Goblin” as a book that had “made a difference to my whole existence”,in showing “how near both the best and the worst things are to us from the first… and making all the ordinary staircases and doors and windows into magical things.”

    And me, Mr. English major, had somehow never heard of the man. I don’t know if it would help me to learn I am not alone in my former ignorance.

    The quotes above derive from wikipedia:

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank lockdown, for sending me back to books so thick they scared me off ? –
    Lorna Doone ? Already next on my list, before reading this great post. 186 ? 0r 2021, in what is officially the most thinly populated region of England ?
    Daniel Deronda ? Return to this often – and had a ‘ Frankfurt’ encounter myself.

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    • Thank you, Esther! Great observation, drolly stated, that the lockdown has given us more potential time to read and reread!

      Yes, “Lorna Doone” feels so rural. It was quite a shock when John Ridd spent some time in London.

      I hear you about “Daniel Deronda.” After I read it, I returned to it often, rereading a number of its memorable, powerful, sad, and inspiring passages. George Eliot’s final novel turned out to be an amazing swan song.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dave, you have the most marvellous knack of generating brilliant topics of conversation. I love all the exchanges in the comments as much as I love reading your post.

    As you know, we differ on Jane Eyre 😉 but I am in lock-step with you on the merits and pleasures of reading pre-1900 novels. I am currently immersed in Trollope’s Dr Thorne, having stumbled across the Trollope Society’s Big Read project. I think (hope) that they will continue to work through the Barsetshire books. I am new to Trollope but am absolutely loving all the social and political details – A story behind The story! Here’s a link in case it is of interest

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    • Thank you for the kind words, Liz! I’m also really loving the conversation in the comments area, as always! And one element of interesting conversations about books is differing on what we think of some of them. 🙂

      Wonderful that you’re currently immersed in Trollope! As I also noted in my exchange a ways below with “ThoughtsBecomeWords,” I need to read more of Trollope one of these days.

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  6. What a great topic, Dave. I hardly know where to begin.

    I feel like all I’ve read recently is old books (I agree that 1900 is the cut off 🙂 ). I re-read Great Expectations over Christmas, and then started Vanity Fair. Then I read a bit more Vanity Fair and a bit more, then a little bit more, and now I’m about a third through! Well, no, I’m exaggerating, but I am finding it slow going, and more than a little tedious.

    So, to diversify my reading, I joined a classics book club. I’m currently reading The Red & and The Black by Stendhal. I’d never heard of it before, and I must admit, it’s making Vanity Fair feel like a 150 page YA book in comparison. Being that the classics book club will probably have me reading big old books each month, I’m not sure how I’ll fit in anything more modern. But I will find a way. Between Stendhal and Thackeray, I’m losing the will to read!

    Of course, the obvious question would be why am I persevering? Why join a book group that will inflict pain? And sure, some of my least favourite books have been big old things that I’d rather forget. But my favouritist books of all time are also big old things including Crime and Punishment, Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities, Jude the Obscure, and many others. And unfortunately, there’s only one way to find out if I’m going to love or hate it…

    As far as I know, nobody writes old books anymore, and yet my list keeps growing. I stumbled on a BBC list of big old books a while back, and I felt like if I could read all 100, then I’d be done with them. But I read Crime and Punishment and then there are four new Dostoevsky’s on my list! Same goes for Eliot, Hardy, etc.

    Ok, I’ll stop now before this becomes Tolstoy like. I’m starting to think it might be a good time for me to read my first P.G. Wodehouse though!

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    • Thank you, Susan! Glad you liked the topic and post! And wonderful (potentially) that you’re now in a classics book club.

      Interesting about “Vanity Fair.” It’s also not a huge favorite of mine when it comes to 19th-century literature, but I basically liked it overall — especially the depiction of Becky Sharp. I hope your future classics book club reading is less painful and more to your liking — along the lines of old novels you love such as “Crime and Punishment,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” and “Jude the Obscure.”

      LOL — your quip “As far as I know, nobody writes old books anymore.” 😂

      Ha again — your P.G. Wodehouse reference. 🙂 He IS a bit on the lighter side compared with the authors and novels you mentioned, but well worth reading. I loved his Jeeves stories.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I went on a Stendhal jag a few short years ago: “The Red and the Black”, followed by “The Charterhouse of Parma”, then on to “Lucien Leuwen” (unfinished but well worth a read), and then on to “The Life of Henry Brulard” (an unfinished autobiography), and finally to “On Love”, in which the author exhaustively and exhaustingly defines and discusses his theories regarding love, including his famous concept of crystallization).

      I regret not a minute of my time with Stendhal, save the last book listed, which I think might have been edited to pamphlet size without much loss. In fact, “The Charterhouse of Parma” may be the only book I’ve read three times ( in three different translations, one of which includes Balzac’s letter of praise for the book, and another, Stendhal’s grateful reply).

      Happy to see a fellow reader of Stendhal!

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      • Three reads for “The Charterhouse of Parma”? Impressive, jhNY! It’s definitely an interesting novel. What an amazing run of 19th-century French authors starting with Stendhal — Balzac, Dumas, Hugo, George Sand, Flaubert, Zola…


  7. Lorna Doone is a book I loved as a girl. I remember struggling to read it with the aid of a dictionary. I loved it so I persisted. I read quite a few classic books, not all pre-1900 though. Favourites are Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Scarlet Letter, and, my absolute favourite, A journal of the plague year by Daniel Defoe.

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    • Thank you, Bill! Definitely a pre-1900 classic (I’ve read it twice myself) that was in some ways a sprawling novel of its time and in other ways more modern (its use of vernacular, its relatively enlightened views on race, etc.).

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jennifer! Such great authors you mentioned! I’ve read most of the novels by the Brontes, Hawthorne, and Eliot, and some of the Hardy ones.

      “Silas Marner” is a terrific, moving novel — and unlike a lot of 19th-century books in one sense: it’s fairly short. Have you read it?

      I share your love of also reading modern fiction; it’s great to mix things up.

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  8. I’ve never managed to read as many pre-1900s books as would satisfy me, and one of my goals for this year is to tackle some of the classics. Though not strictly pre-1900, I did read Willa Cather’s ‘Song of the Lark’ last month, and adore her vivid landscape descriptions, which are still captivating today

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    • Thank you, Tom! It can be hard to find the time to read a lot of the fiction we want to read. 😦

      I’m an admirer of Willa Cather’s work, and “The Song of the Lark” is definitely one of her better (and longer) novels. I also greatly enjoyed her “My Antonia,” “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” “Shadows on the Rock,” etc. You’re right that her landscape descriptions, of the Great Plains and elsewhere, are quite vivid.

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  9. After having read your convincing description of “Lorna Doone” and that of other followers, I really had to write it on my list. I, for myself, though, for example of the “Elefant Man” by Ashley Montagu, which showed to clearly how handicapped people of the 19th century London had a absolutly deplorable life. And this behaviour was not only there, I also remember that misbuilt childred were kept within the house in our surrounding, because parents were ashamed of them! One of the other books, which I remember as important for me is “The Pilgim’s Progress” by John Bunyan, about a journey from the destructive world-to heaven, transformed into imaginative literature. I just opened my book and saw the following sentence underlined:The said Christian to Hopeful, Let us not stir a step, but still keep on our way. Maybe I should also reread this book!
    Many thanks for your challenges, Dave:)

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    • Thank you, Martina! I think you would enjoy “Lorna Doone,” but I understand the issue of LONG to-read lists. It’s so hard to get to even a small portion of what we want to read. 😦

      I haven’t read “The Elephant Man,” but I know of it — and it is indeed heartbreaking how people with disabilities were treated back then. Not that things are ideal nowadays, but they’re at least better in a number of countries.

      I haven’t read “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” either; definitely a classic. Did you find it readable, or a difficult read still worth reading? That’s certainly a beautiful quote you cited.

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      • Thank you very much, Astor, for your kind comprehension, but I am also quite sure that I would love Lorna Doone’s adventurous life in Devon and Sommerset, regions which I love.
        The film “The Elefant Man”by David Lynch is maybe better remembered!
        I cite a paragraph of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” to give you an idea of the way it was written:
        Christian. I am glad, my brother, that thou didst withstand this villain so bravely; for of all, as thou sayest, I think he has the wrong name: for he is so bold as to follow us in the streets, and to attempt to put us to shame before all men; that is to make us ashamed of that which is good; but if he was not himself audacious, he would never attempt to do as he does, but let us still resist him: for notwithstanding all his bravadoes, he promoteth the fool, and non else.The wise shall inherit glory, said Solomon, but shame shall be the promotion of fools. (I like this, promotion of fools!)
        The book was published 1678 so we come across the language of the time, but the essentiel things in our lives seem to have remained very similar!

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  10. Hi Dave. First and foremost, I’m going to have to add Lorna Doone to that ever expanding list! Secondly, I do love a pre 20th Century novel. For me, and for many others I suppose, it’s a form of escapism. I’m not suggesting for a moment that things were better, because clearly they weren’t, but I derive a certain amount of comfort from dipping into these books. Plus, as you mention, for those history buffs out there, there’s an awful lot of social history to be learned.
    Something I’ve been giving some thought to recently is how on earth these authors handled these sprawling narratives. I have spreadsheets and apps at my fingertips and still lose track! On a sort of side note, I was reading about Austen’s editing process. Even though she didn’t leave many first draft transcripts it turns out that dialogue was her strength. Fewer edits were made to the interactions between the characters. I like to imagine that she witnessed some of these exchanges taking place or perhaps they were responses that she’d like to have made after the event. We’ve all been there – come up with that killer line a week later! But in any case she was the queen of plotting, I believe and knew where her story was going from beginning to end.
    I’ve just finished “Black Narcissus” so may have to find a decent translation of a Dostoyevsky and crack on with that now!

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    • Thank you, Sarah, for your very interesting 4:38 AM comment!

      You’re right — pre-1900 novels can offer escapism and comfort. Life was indeed often not great back then, but there’s something about being immersed in a different time and place for MANY pages that can temporarily transport us from our lives. Plus one can learn a lot, as you note.

      And an excellent point wondering how authors back then handled/organized their sprawling narratives in those analog/not-digital days. Especially amazing for those writers whose work was being serialized, requiring them to make things up as they went along.

      Last but not least, FASCINATING information about Jane Austen’s writing process. I had no idea!

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      • Martina, I didn’t know Margaret Atwood hand-wrote her first drafts. Wow! I love her work, as I think we’ve discussed. I suppose that must be in large part a generational thing. (As is also the case with those authors, such as Cormac McCarthy, who still use a typewriter.) I wonder if any young authors who grew up using computers hand-write first drafts.

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      • Yes! I hadn’t thought about the serialised stories. Wasn’t “Crime and Punishment” published over the course of a year? I seem to recall that “Therese Raquin” by Zola was in serial form and he published 4 chapters at a time, leaving a some sort of cliffhanger at the end of each block of writing. Having to pull it all together AND keeping the momentum going! Are people still publishing like that nowadays?
        I wish these authors had the foresight to document their writing process in full though. It really would save so much time scrambling around the internet looking for these little snippets of information! 😀

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        • Yes, Sarah, the serialized form seems so difficult. Not being able to write the whole thing, and then edit and rewrite, before the public sees any of it.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if Dostoevsky and Zola did some serialization, though I don’t know for sure. Also, I’m not aware of any author going the serialization route these days, but there may be some.

          It would have indeed been nice if more pre-1900 authors documented their writing process, but I guess they were too busy doing the actual writing. 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

  11. I read some of these books in high school too, and suspect I didn’t appreciate them as much as if I’d been older. On the other hand, at least I read them. And it was certainly the practice then to include a lot of peripheral material that the author found interesting. Someone mentioned Tolstoy’s works, and of course Hugo’s Les Miserables is full of excursions into a number of areas not related to the characters or plot. I think it’s helpful for writers to read these books, if only to see that they are worth reading even though they are so different from present day writing.

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    • Thank you, Audrey! I hear you — some classic novels are just not going to be appreciated when read in high school as much as when read or reread later. Certainly the case for me with novels such as “Moby-Dick” and “The Scarlet Letter.”

      And, yes, so many excursions in older novels. Sometimes tedious, but more often fascinating.

      Last but not least, I agree that it’s important for authors to read all kinds of books. It definitely can help them see what to avoid and what to use (in a different form, of course). Sometimes, the influence of that reading becomes fodder for the subconscious rather than more direct fodder.

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        • Thank you, Audrey! 🙂

          The subconscious is a wondrous thing. I’ve found — when writing books, blog posts, columns, or whatever — that thoughts often travel from my brain through my keyboard fingers in ways I didn’t plan or expect.

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  12. The best thing about reading classic novels is that it’s the closest thing to a real time machine. It’s interesting to compare the past and present and see the differences in how things changed. Also, it seems like the rules for writing were more lenient way back when. As far as I’ve read, info dumps were once acceptable. People actually had attention spans back then. It seemed like authors were not pressured to crash-boom-bang, make the first few lines of a book exciting, too hook an antsy Reader’s attention. I just finished reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men, and apparently, authors didn’t have to go by the five act, or three act structure. The author herself said in the book that this story has no plans. It was just a book about things that went on at a boys’ boarding school. Very cute, warm and fuzzy book though.

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    • Thank you, Bia! Really well said! “The best thing about reading classic novels is that it’s the closest thing to a real time machine” — love that line. 🙂

      You make a great point that certain writing “rules” hadn’t yet hardened pre-1900. (Though of course some later novelists pushed or are pushing boundaries when they can.) And SO true that attention spans are lesser these days among many readers. Current authors, if they want to have a chance to be widely read, have to keep that in mind whether they want to or not. Plus some of those authors keep in mind how their novels might translate into screen adaptations, which of course weren’t an option during Louisa May Alcott’s lifetime and earlier.

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      • The next couple or so chapters after chapter 1 were a little dull. Then once more pioneer day adolescent mischief and mishaps started happening, the Book was just so cute, in that old fashioned, wholesome sort of way. Now I’m reading Good Wives, which is adorable.

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  13. My answer to the question you posed is I should, but I don’t, the main reason being time. I have too many contemporary novels, short story collections, and poetry collections that I’ve bought and still need to read. I expect my reading habits will change once I retire.

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  14. I’ve been reading most if not all of the books you and your respondents mentioned as old books, Dave, thus so from a very young age, as both my parents were ardent readers, their influence was the motivator. As detective stories were among my early favourites the one among the many that yet stands out is Edgar Allan Poe, considered the inventor of detective fiction. Also in the old books catagory, as a scribbler of poetry I need not elaborate on his masterful poetry fame i.e. The Raven. i In any event your mention Lorna Doone gives me the oppertunity to go back to read, said old books, which I have just ordered. Thank you Sire, always worthwhile reading your articles!

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    • Thank you, Jean-Jacques! Sounds like you have a wonderful reading history (and future)! A great thing to have had both parents be avid readers.

      I share your fandom of Edgar Allan Poe’s pioneering C. August Dupin detective stories (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” etc.). They are excellent! And masterful is indeed the word for “The Raven” and much of Poe’s other poetry.

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  15. I read Lorna Doone in high school. That’s been so LONG ago now, that I don’t remember much about the plot. I do remember that I feel sad for some reason when I think about that book, like I feel sad when I think about “How Green Was My Valley”. Can you tell me why, Dave?

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    • Thank you, lulabelle! I haven’t finished “Lorna Doone,” so I don’t know if it will end sadly or in a more upbeat way. But there are definitely some downbeat aspects to the novel — including really bad behavior on the part of some characters and some heartbreaking animal deaths during an historically harsh winter. So those might be possible reasons for the melancholy feelings the novel evokes for you. Happy times in the book, too.

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  16. Great post! Yes, I dabble and my most recent was “The Barchester Chronicles” by English author Anthony Trollope set in mid-1800s fictitious English county of Barsetshire. Full of village tittle-tattle, great scenery and beautifully written characters.

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  17. One of previous neighbours where we sued to live, who was not much into reading at all, really liked Lorna Doone so much he called his younger daughter Lorna. I like the doorstop size sprawl of old books. Yes, they can get tedious, Tolstoy’s God knows how many pages devoted to Russian farming methods in Anna Karenin for example. But then again they were describing things many people hand’t seen or had no knowledge of. A great post and happy reading.

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    • Thank you, Shehanne! The ultimate compliment to a novel: naming one’s child after a character!

      I agree about the appeal of the “doorstop-size sprawl” of old books, and also agree that there can at times be some tedium amid that. Another example would be the “Moby-Dick” chapters where the plot and characters temporarily disappear to be replaced with facts about whales and whaling. But, as you note, this was information at a time when information about many things wasn’t easily available.

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  18. I’m so glad that you enjoyed Lorna Doone. Don agreed with your word “sprawling” and that John was a young farmer with a good deal of common sense that ends up happily ever after. Which brought to mind something that I wanted to do some research on: the penny dreadful, a 19th-century publishing phenomenon, which was published weekly. I understand that they were originally called ‘penny bloods’ before being renamed in 1860s. They were narratives of adventure, initially of pirates and highwaymen, later concentrating on crime and detection. When we think of literature, we think of the “greats” – the Brontes, Jane Austin, Jack London, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle etc. Any yet, perhaps there is something great that came out of these stories because they entertained and created an opportunity for writers to enter the publishing field that had never had the opportunity. It would be very interesting to go back in time to see the transition of writing and journalism. Something to consider… And now, I digress (you knew that I would, didn’t you?). Ever since our podcast about why should we read books that we never read, I’m looking into DC Graphic novels by Neil Gaiman. I have never read him before and I know I’m heading into a place where angels fear to tread. YIKES!

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    • Thank you, Clanmother — and Don! So many 19th-century novels were “sprawling,” and “Lorna Doone” is certainly one of them.

      I’ve definitely heard of “the penny dreadful” — what a name! — but I know little about that publishing phenomenon and don’t remember ever reading examples of it. (I assume they must be collected in some books.) It’s true that there’s always LITERATURE and tabloid-y writing — with some writers gravitating from the latter to the former, as you noted.

      I’ve only read two Neil Gaiman novels (not his graphic novels) — including his most famous, “American Gods.” I liked “AG” a lot, though I didn’t LOVE it.

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    • Rebecca, my dear friend, I do indeed love your enthusiasm, and closing line of angles fear to tread has an exclamation mark of Yikes! that is second to none. A true artist who knows how to make use of words for colouring. You are a refreshing read. Thus so I thank Dave for giving you the platform to do so!
      I would remind that the greats, as in the lady greats you mention. in the begining had not an easy time to get published and had to struggle even to the point of one taking a man’s name to do so, because it was not proper for ladies to aspire to publish.

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      • Dear Jean-Jacques, this year I have pledged to read books that I would never have considered reading. The adventures continue without leaving our homes. No jet lag when you move through the world of words. Hugs to you and Marianne!

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      • So unfortunately true, Jean-Jacques, that a number of long-ago women writers took male names or gender-neutral names to increase their chances of getting published. The Bronte sisters, George Eliot, George Sand… Heck, even a modern-day phenomenon to some extent, as when J.K. Rowling used initials rather than her given first name for the “Harry Potter” books.

        And I totally agree that Rebecca (Clanmother) is always a joy to read — in her blogs, here, and everywhere!


    • I was reading up on penny dreadfuls just the other day, Rebecca. I also read about penny stinkers at the Globe theatre in London and a tuppenny hangover. Did you know the expression hangover came from the first charity shelters for men in London. You could sit on a bench and hand over a rope to sleep for a price of tuppence. For three pennies, you could sleep in a penny coffin. I thought it was all very interesting.

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  19. I’m about to start my 3rd George Eliot novel (Silas Marner) thanks to your recommendation of her works! I absolutely loved “The Mill on the Floss,” something I avoided like the plague when I was a young woman. Tolstoy, Dickens, Dostoevsky, the Brontës and many others were all great authors too. I love the challenge now of reading older language and grammar styles, as well as lots of description and the inner dialog of characters. They seem more immersive and exercise my brain in a different sort of way from some newer novels. But that’s just the passing of time, I guess. In the pre-1900’s those novels were the vernacular no doubt. They probably wouldn’t even recognize the English language of today. I like to switch between novels from different eras and not get into a rut. But all told, nothing beats a great story, no matter the writing style.

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  20. Good post Dave. There are a couple of books I’ve read around 1900. Neither one I’ve read before. Both were good reads. First up is Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Notes From The Underground. He really had a good understanding on the psychological aspects. I really liked – The Dream Of A Ridiculous Man. It was a short read. Next up is Jack London’s – Call Of The Wild. I just enjoyed how he was able to create from a dog perspective. I do have – White Fang. It’s a longer read but I’ve yet to read it.

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    • Thank you, Don!

      I’ve liked almost every word Dostoevsky wrote — with “Crime and Punishment” one of my four favorite novels by any author. He did indeed have an amazing grasp of human psychology.

      Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” is a GREAT novel, as is “White Fang” — sort of a reverse-mirror image of “Wild” as far as plot goes. Both very intense books.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. I think I developed an early affinity for pre-1900 stories through exposure to Classics Illustrated and epic/historical films. The most memorable early books I read–Tom Sawyer, Little Women–were, unsurprisingly, set in the 19th century, which I still contend is the golden age for the novel. Some of it is escapism into an earlier era in which customs of behavior, dress, and culture were radically different from anything we’d classify as modern. And yet, human nature was the same. The archetypal epic novel is like a full meal of gourmet food. I’m speaking of what I consider to be the best novels of that century by people such as Dostoevsky, George Eliot, Victor Hugo, Balzac, Tolstoy, etc. As you alluded to in your post, they were serving the function of all our visual media of today as well as informing us of the psychological states of mind or characters and dealt with nuance and ambiguity that are more difficult to depict through visual media.

    Liked by 5 people

    • VERY well said, Brian, and many great points! Thank you! Great observation that Classics Illustrated editions and certain films helped inspire kids to become avid readers of novels. And I agree that the 19th century was the golden age of the novel, even as there were of course some great works of fiction before and many great works of fiction after. And, yes, a novel can often convey more than visual media.

      Liked by 4 people

    • Don especially liked Lorna Doone for its adventure style. Lorna Doone goes to the idea of theme that I have been thinking of late, Dave. It has a subtle Romeo and Juliette idea running through the narrative. I am delighted that you are enjoying the book!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you again for suggesting “Lorna Doone,” Clanmother, and glad Don is a fan of it, too!

        Blackmore’s novel is kind of a slow build, but I’m now totally immersed and really eager (or perhaps dreading?) to see how things will play out.

        You’re right that there’s a part-Shakespearean element!

        Liked by 2 people

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