Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Victorian Overload?

I don't know if anyone actually notices my little "Currently Reading" box on my blog sidebar, but if you do you may realize I have been reading Daniel Deronda for more than a month now.  This book just seems like it's taking forever.  It started out really well, but now I'm stuck at about page 370.  I've been trying desperately to hit the 400 page mark, and I just keep falling asleep or getting distracted.  I'm not sure if it's me or if it's the writing.  I'm not sure if I can blame it on George Eliot -- I loved Middlemarch once I got past the first 100 pages, and I thought Silas Marner was good even thought it was slow for such a short book (I actually listened to it on audio and I read it when I was walking the dog).

I've read three other Big Fat Victorian books so far this year, and I've had the same problem -- I usually seem to get stuck about halfway through, and it's hard for me to get motivated to finish them.  Is it just me, or is this a persistent problem with 19th century novelists?  Does anyone else notice that they tend to drag in the middle?  I wonder if it's an issue with serialization, or if it's just those particular authors, or just these specific books.  I haven't read any Trollope lately but I don't remember that problem with either Barchester Towers or The Way We Live Now.

It was probably a mistake to even start this book -- seriously, I just finished Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens; and earlier this year I completed Charlotte Bronte's Villette and The Three Musketeers by Dumas for online readalongs.  So those combined with Dombey totaled about 2000 pages, not including endnotes.  

And it gets worse -- I'm scheduled to start Germinal by Emile Zola for my Classics Book Group and one of my other book groups is discussing North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell in August!  That's another 1000 pages or so!  What the heck was I thinking?  

I suspect my problem is that I just belong to too many book groups, and I'm tempted by too many readalongs (Both Villette and Three Musketeers had been sitting around the TBR shelf for several years, and I really wanted to finish them.)  Daniel Deronda was for my Jane Austen group -- of course I hadn't finished it in time for the discussion which was two weeks ago.  (In my defense, only one person in the group actually finished it.  One person watched the BBC adaptation, and nobody else read it.) 

Bloggers, I need your advice -- should I stick with Daniel Deronda or move on to something else?  Does anyone else get discouraged halfway through a Big Fat Book?  Or am I just trying to read too many 19th century novels too close together?   


  1. This is why I often skip big fat Victorian novels all together--they often seem so daunting and they just take so much time to read! The younger generations seem to be classified as having short attention spans, and maybe that's true. I certainly do! I have to wonder if maybe it is the serialization that's an issue.

  2. I love a good Victorian novel, but right now I'm so overwhelmed with everything that the idea of reading one of those chunksters moves me to tears due to fright...! If it's taking you that long to get into it, I'd probably drop it...hate to admit it, but I probably would!

  3. I think they drag, but you know I'm not a huge fan of 19th century lit in general. Dumas just KILLS me. I've never read Daniel Deronda so I couldn't say whether you should continue or not...

  4. I love Victorian lit, but I'm finding that it's hard to enjoy in this particular season of life. Too much busyness taxiing kids here and there so that when I sit down to read, it needs to be something shorter. (Because when I finally sit down, I tend to nod off - especially in this awful heat we are having! :) ) Also, fat books aren't good for lugging to the pool. So, I've set mine aside temporarily.

  5. Reviews by Lola -- I think I've read most of the shorter Victorian novels, so I'm left with the long ones. Maybe I should just think of DD as a serial and take my time. If I alternate with shorter books it might not be so daunting.

    Coffee and a Book Chick -- DD started out really well and I actually was reading at a pretty fast clip at one point, about 100 pages a day in the beginning. I've just gotten bogged down and I have a vacation coming up. It might be good for an airplane but not really a relaxing read by the pool.

    Amanda -- I'd be really afraid of Germinal if you hadn't said it was a fast read. I thought Belly of Paris was pretty fast so I'm not as worried about Zola.

    Susan -- I agree, big fat works of literature are tough going in the summer. A couple of years ago I took An American Tragedy to the beach. Not a good choice!

  6. I am stuck in the middle of Gaskell's Gothic Tales - so I can empathize. I think the key is to not read too many in a row, and to read something completely different in between. That seems to re-set my attention span.

  7. I love Victorian literature--especially Anthony Trollope, Wilkie Collins, and Charles Dickens. And I've loved all the Elizabeth Gaskell I've read. But you do have to be in the right mood for it. And if you feel pressured or forced while you read, then it takes the joy out of it. So if you're feeling too stressed by it, you might want to put it aside for now and try again later.

    North and South is one of my favorite, favorite books! A true comfort read!

  8. I love a Victorian novel!! But, I feel it's important to read when you're in the right mindset for it. Example? I read Pride and Prejudice (forcing myself) -- and hated it. I read it again a year later and loved it.

    Read Daniel Deronda when it gives you pleasure -- not to check it off the list. And if it never feels like the book for you, you will have used the time you'd have spent in misery, in some other book. Because there are far too many out there to spend time in misery. :-)

  9. Daniel Deronda is my least favorite Eliot. I loved Middlemarch and Mill on the Floss, but DD didn't really do it for me. But maybe if you go back to it when you aren't reading so much Victorian Lit. If I were reading as much as you were at one time, I would feel overloaded for sure.

  10. I loved Daniel Deronda, but I remember slogging through the first 200 pages or so. I am a major Eliot freak--my Nook's name is Eliot--so of course I would recommend finishing. But if you're not in the mood for it, save it for another time. Maybe it's a winter book?

  11. Maybe you've just read too much Vic Lit this year? I love Victorian novels & I usually don't find they drag, but I had trouble with Daniel as well. I loved Middlemarch & Adam Bede but found Daniel & Silas a real slog. Sometimes I think it can be the serialization. A perfectly good 300pp novel was forced to be dragged out to 800pp for serialization or to satisfy Mudie's preference for 3 vol novels (so they could loan out one book to three people at a time). I usually find I don't read two of the same type of book in a row because I have so much to read & love reading so many different types of book that I rarely read two non-fiction or two mysteries in a row. Maybe, too, you're feeling pressured by challenges & readalongs & should forget about them for a while even though they're tempting.

  12. I did a Gaskell, Eliot and Dickens course at university so I can sympathise. When I had bought all of the books I realised what I had signed myself up for and was horrified at the prospect. However, it was totally worth it!

    Daniel Deronda is actually one of my favourite Victorian novels and I think it's heaps better than Middlemarch - persevere and you will be rewarded I promise!

    Though sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. I try and intersperse heavy period novels with lighter books to keep me from feeling too bogged down. If you're not in the mood you won't get as much from a novel as you would otherwise....so despite the fact I think Daniel Deronda is fantastic and worth sticking with, forcing yourself through it won't allow you to enjoy it!

  13. maybe take it 10 pages a day. Just a little bit. I read my first Trollope like that. IT was on an ereader. It took a long time and it was only when I finished that I found it was really 900 pages!!! Surprise!

    I haven't read Daniel Deronda, so sorry to hear it's not doing much for you. I have Mill on the Floss on my soon to read TBR.

  14. I cannot easily read fiction from the same time period consecutively. If I read a Victorian novel I have to follow it with a contemporary novel, or one set in the 1950s, or Roman, anything but Victorian.

    And some books you really have to be in the mood to tackle. I'm still waiting to feel up to reading Vanity Fair (it'll probably be in the Autumn)

  15. It is a difficult one to call. However I have got bogged down in a large book before and I flit onto something so opposite to my reading that it gives me new vigour for the large book!

    I have to confess I am rather lacking in the 19th Century Book department and when I read how much you have read just this year alone I admire you greatly.

  16. You definitely should take a break from the Victorians - maybe you will return to poor Daniel afterwards with sharpened zest!

  17. Put me down a voting Daniel Deronda - not so great. Victorian novels have a pacing all their own. They do take time. But Daniel Deronda is probably not Eliot's best to say the least.

  18. Lisa May -- I am really ready for a break. DD will have to take a back seat until I finish up some French-themed reading, preferably more contemporary.

    Becky -- you're right, if I force reading, it takes the joy out of it and makes it feel like homework. I am really looking forward to N&S, I just loved Wives & Daughters.

    Jillian -- I can't imagine hating P&P, it's one of my all-time favorites. It's one of my comfort reads.

    Brenna -- I read Mill on the Floss in high school for a report junior year, and ended up hating it. I'm sure it was because it was homework and I ended up having Fear of Eliot. I was absolutely avoiding Middlemarch but when I finally read it I loved it.

    Shelley -- I thought the first 200 pages were great! And I think it would be a perfect winter book, but, sadly, we have no winter here in south Texas. It feels weird to read all these novels about gloomy English weather when it's hot and sunny here -- too hot!! I wish I was reading them somewhere cool and green. Like Scotland!

    Lyn -- I think you're right, it's too many Victorians too close together. And I really think some classic writers could have used more editing. Like Theodore Dreiser -- I thought American Tragedy was Tragically Long, needed an editor. And Tolstoy!

    Booksnob -- I was going to sign up for a Dickens class in undergrad until I added up the page amounts, which was about 2500 pages in 11 weeks (plus all my other classes). I took Tolstoy instead which was basically War & Peace and one other novella, so it was only about 1200 pages. Still took forever.

    Rebecca -- I can't imagine reading an entire Trollope novel on an e-reader! I have to turn the pages and have a bookmark so I can see how far along I've read.

    Tracey -- I have been trying to break it up with other styles and periods. I've been reading a lot of P. G. Wodehouse and other short stories, and I'm still sick of it.

    Jo -- I've kind of been on a Victorian binge lately, I have about 20 unread novels on my TBR shelves, and most of them are more than 500 pages. A lot of them are closer to 800. I don't know if I'll ever finish all of them!

    Anachronist -- I think a break is definitely in order, at least from the English novels. I have some Zola and he's quite different.

    CB James -- I loved Middlemarch so I'm not going to give up on DD just yet. I'll take a break and then start up and do maybe one chapter every day.


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