To celebrate getting a first in my undergraduate degree and simultaneously getting accepted on my Victorian Literature Ma course, I thought I would discuss my favourite books from the period. I am lucky enough to study a period of literature that I’m so passionate about, and I wanted to share that with you in the form of some recommendations. To save repeating myself, I won’t mention the obvious ones (such as Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd because I’ve talked about them so much already).
Let’s get into it…
Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White:
I read this sensation novel way back in February, but it has stuck with me ever since. It opens with a chilling encounter between Walter Hartright, a drawing teacher, and a ghostly female figure on a moonlit road. Forthwith, Walter is drawn into a terrifying world of intrigue, crime, disguise and insanity as he tries to save his pupil Laura from the sinister plans of Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco.
I just remember being completely drawn into this story. Despite the narrative being slow, I couldn’t get enough. It’s a large novel, but the way Collins framed and wrote it made it seem like a breeze. I think it developed at a brilliant speed, and the climax was written brilliantly. The characters were beautifully depicted, and you couldn’t help but love the bad guys. Marian Holcombe is, without a doubt, my new favourite Victorian heroine. A must read!
Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley:
It wouldn’t have been a Bookish Byron post with a Brontë making an appearance, now would it? Although Jane Eyre is my favourite novel, I think Shirley is actually better. It’s set during the Luddite uprising in Yorkshire. Men’s livelihood are being threatened by the constant growth of industry, thus causing tension in society. Running alongside this narrative is the story of two women: Shirley Keeldar and Caroline Helstone.
Through these two women, Charlotte explores the psychological depth of love, and the quest for identity. Shirley is very much concerned with the Woman question: is there life for women beyond the domestic? I loved the social critique scattered throughout this narrative, especially towards the different classes. The perfect Brontë read for anyone!
Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South:
As many people have observed, this is very much a social take on Pride and Prejudice. It follows Margaret Hale, an middle-class woman whose forced to move from London to the industrial city of Milton. She witnesses the brutal reality of the industrialisation through the contrast between the wealthy employers and downtrodden workers. The novel follows Margaret’s growing understanding of this relationship, and shows a sensitive reaction to this pivotal moment in history.
North and South had everything I love in a Victorian novel: a thoughtful discussion of class relationships, an actual relationship that was hindered by many notions and factors that dominate contemporary society, industrialisation and the impact this has on the working-class, and an interesting array of complex characters who guided the novel in the best way. I would highly recommend!
Charles Dickens’ Hard Times:
Hard Times, unlike a lot of Dickens’ work, is a very philosophical novel. It’s set in Coketown, a Northern industrial town with its blackened factories, downtrodden workers, and polluted environment. This is the soulless domain of the strict utilitarian Thomas Gradgrind and the heartless factory owner Josiah Bounderby. However, human joy is not excluded thanks to ‘Mr Sleary’s Horse-Riding’ circus, a gin-soaked and hilarious troupe of open-hearted and affectionate people who act as an antidote to all the drudgery and misery endured by the ordinary citizens of Coketown.
I thoroughly enjoyed the satirical approach Dickens adopted when commenting on English society, especially when detailing the social and economic conditions of the era. I’m also somewhat biased about this book. Dickens was inspired to write this after visiting Preston (which is very near my hometown), he named one of his characters Stephen Blackpool (Blackpool being where I’m from) and another Mrs Pegler (which is my last name) – so read.
George Eliot’s Silas Marner:
Silas Marner was my first Eliot novel, and I think it’s the best to start off with. It’s relatively short, detailing the life of Silas Marner, one of the few linen weavers left in the rural area. After being falsely accused of stealing funds and subsequently being turned out of his hometown, Marner moves to Raveloe to become a bitter recluse; that is until he stumbles across a child who has accidentally wandered to his house whilst her mother lies dying in the snow. An action that changes his life forever.
Eliot is brilliant at writing stories about a close knit community, and how this can be detrimental to people’s lives. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between womanhood and class that dominated the novel, especially concerning the fallen woman. I would definitely recommend to those wanting to read Eliot but don’t know where to start.
…and that’s it. These are my top five Victorian Literature reads (excluding Jane Eyre & co). I hope you enjoyed this post, as I enjoyed revisiting some of my favourite stories. I will keep you posted about my Ma course, and will definitely bring you reviews of all the Victorian novels I read.
What’s your favourite Victorian read? I’d love to know!
Thanks for reading, Lauren X
6 thoughts on “Victorian Literature Recommendations:”
You have made us very proud. I’m sure you’re going to love your MA and have a fulfilling career xxxx
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The Woman in White and Hard Times are both on my uni reading list for next year/September…have to admit I’m a bit daunted by them, but seeing them recommended is comforting at least!
I was too, but I couldn’t get enough of them when I started reading them! Hope you enjoy 🙂
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Great recommendations. I’ve read all of the except Shirley and Slias Marner. If Silas Marner is anything like Middlemarch I’m in for a treat. The Woman in White is one of my very favorite books, I’m actually finishing up a reread of it right now. I also read Hard Times last month and love the lessons Dickens teaches Gradgrind byth books end.