Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Top 10 Victorians


In my last posting about Dickens miscellany, Anbolyn mentioned in the comments that I should read Our Mutual Friend next because the brilliant author Sarah Waters' included it in her top 10 Victorian novels list.  Well, if you've read this blog, you know how much I love lists, so I had to compile my own Top 10 Victorians list!   I think I've reviewed nearly all of these since I started blogging in 2009.  They're ranked, but really close together, since I love them all.

1.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte .  The first Victorian I ever loved, so it has to be on the list.  I reread it again last year in preparation for the newest movie adaptation, and I still loved it.  There's something to be said for a novel that you love in your teens and again years later.

2.  Bleak House -- by far my favorite Dickens novel.  It has everything -- satire, comedy, melodrama, mystery, murder, and one of the first detectives in English literature.  It's a doorstop, but so worth it.

3.  Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope.  The second in the delightful Barsetshire Chronicles.   It showcases  the best of Trollope's delightful arch humor, a comedy of manners in a country parsonage.  But do take the time to read The Warden first;  it's a little slow, but it's short, and Barchester makes more sense if you read them in order.

4.  Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell.  The basis of one of my favorite BBC miniseries ever, just the thing when you've finished all of Jane Austen and are in mourning because she only wrote six novels.  Also includes one of my favorite lines:  "I won't say she was silly, but I think one of us was silly, and it wasn't me."  Priceless!  

5.  The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope.   Another Victorian doorstopper, but fascinating.  It's an extremely timely tale of boom and bust in the Victorian era, with a very familiar Madoff-like character.  It's 100 chapters, but an amazingly fast read.  

6.  Three Men in a Boat  by Jerome K. Jerome.  A very funny picaresque novel in which not much happens.  Imagine if Bertie Wooster went on a boat trip with two equally clueless friends, but left Jeeves behind and took a fox terrier instead.  A lot of digressions and amusing observations on life.  I've read it and listened to it on audio multiple time and it still cracks me up.  

7.  Middlemarch by George Eliot.  It's a little dry at first, but the last 700 pages are really good.  Does that sound strange?  A great story about several families in a country village -- sounds a little like Jane Austen but it also includes social commentary about the status of women, politics, hypocrisy, religion and a whole lot more.  Closer to Trollope than Austen.  

8.  Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.  It has all of Dickens' trademark melodrama and it's a great introduction to his early writing. Also fairly short if you have Fear of Dickens.

9.  The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.  A great page-turner of a thriller, one of the first murder-mysteries in English literature.  It's a Victorian sensation novel, but so much more.

10.  Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.  It's not great literature by any means, but a great page-turning story.  It set the standard for the Victorian sensation novel and has never gone out of print.

Well bloggers, what do you think?  Are any of these on your favorite lists?  Which ones make you want to scream and throw the book across the room?  Which Victorians are your favorites?

27 comments:

  1. As always, I look for Trollope first, and if I just had to pick one I think it would be The Last Chronicle - but I can't argue with any of your list! For me, though, I'd have to include Emily Eden (The Semi-Attached Couple & the Semi-Detached House), Margaret Oliphant (Miss Marjoribanks, or The Perpetual Curate) and most definitely Charlotte M. Yonge's The Heir of Redclyffe.

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  2. I haven't read The Last Chronicle -- I've just started Framley Parsonage and I hope to finish the entire series this year. I also have Margaret Oliphant on the TBR list. But I hadn't heard of Emily Eden, and I very dimly recall Charlotte Yonge! Thanks so much, I'll have to look for both of them.

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  3. I do love a list! So happy to see Trollope and Mrs Gaskell here, particularly as it is Wives and Daughters - one of my absolute favourite books. I loathe Jane Eyre with a passion and Dickens leaves me cold but both Middlemarch and Three Men in a Boat are firmly on my to-read list!

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    1. W&D is my favorite Gaskell too, though I loved North & South. Cranford was okay -- I hate to admit it, but I liked the miniseries better! Still haven't read Mary Barton or any of her other works yet.

      I'm listening to the Three Men in a Boat audio in the car again, it's just as funny this time around.

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  4. This would be a really tough list to make! I wouldn't argue with any of your choices. I might choose David Copperfield as my Dickens just because it is his most autobiographical. But I think Bleak House is so great for its many social and class issues. Honestly, I would probably have to make two different lists -- one for serious Victorian lit and one for sensationalist fiction.

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    1. Two different lists is a great idea, though I'd have to read more sensational fiction. And some Dickens is more serious than others -- I haven't read Pickwick yet but I wonder if it would qualify for serious Victorian.

      I liked Copperfield but the middle just dragged for me, though Aunt Betsey is probably my favorite Dickens character of all time.

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  5. After reading To Say Nothing of the Dog I really want to read Three Men in a Boat!!

    Also, I SWEAR I'm finally going to read Middlemarch this year - it's been sitting on my shelf for far too long! Great list :)

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    1. Three Men in a Boat is a hoot -- I'm listening to it in the car for the fourth or fifth time and it's still hilarious. I may have to just buy my own copy, I keep hogging it from the library. It's the Naxos audio version which is just brilliantly narrated by Martin Jarvis.

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  6. When the title of this post showed up in my reader, I zoomed over here to see if you had included Trollope. Good, good. I'm with Lisa on Last Chronicle. This is a great list. Still need to read Jerome, though.

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    1. I'm so flattered that you had to zoom over! Thanks! I'm really looking forward to Last Chronicle. As soon as I finish Zola I'm definitely getting back to Framley Parsonage so I can finish the series.

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  7. Great list - I've read and loved most of these! Barchester Towers is my favourite of the Barsetshire books so far, though I still have the final two to read so that could change.

    Have you read Three Men on the Bummel? I've just finished reading it and it was very similar to Three Men in a Boat, but maybe not quite as funny.

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    1. I still haven't gotten to Three Men on the Bummel! I also own Diary of a Pilgrimage which describes a trip to Germany for the Passion Play. It's still waiting on the TBR shelf but might be a nice break from some of the other Victorian doorstoppers I need to finish.

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  8. Fantastic list! Everything on here I already love, or is on my TBR list.

    I also love The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. It's a tragically underread novel. Anne is often overshadowed by her sisters, but I think both of her novels are fantastic contributions to literature in their own right.

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    1. I did like Tenant but I still haven't read Agnes Grey. Also on the TBR shelf. I should really pay attention to the shorter books -- why do I keep overlooking it for those 800 page Victorian monsters?

      And you'll note the absence of Wuthering Heights, which I loathed. I didn't like Villette much either, not too excited about Shirley or The Professor.

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  9. I love lists, too! I'm glad you contributed your own Top 10 Victorian Novels list because it's always fascinating to see the differences in taste between readers. I like Jane Eyre + The Woman in White, but haven't completed any of the others (I will finish Middlemarch someday). I would have to add Tess of the D'Urbervilles to my list - it is one of my favorites.

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  10. I found Middlemarch slow for the first 100 pages, but after that I was hooked and loved it. I still haven't gotten into any of her other works. I didn't care for Tess but Return of the Native is a must-read this year, I've heard it's wonderful.

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  11. After reading this I tried to come up with 10 of my own and I'm not sure I've read all that many that I've liked! I do love Jane Eyre, Dorian Gray, The Woman in White, The Return of the Native, Lady Audley, Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and a couple other Hardy books. I guess I really enjoyed The Lost Stradivarious and Silas Marner both, though I'm not sure either would be a "favorite."

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    1. I was wondering which ones you'd like best! I haven't heard of The Lost Straidvarious so I'll have to look for it. And three of yours are on my list. Great Expectations was tied for 10th, but I had two others by Dickens so I took it off.

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  12. Oh, and apparently Jekyll and Hyde. I didn't realize that counted as Victorian until I read it on another's list of top 10 Victorian novels. That would definitely be iwth my favorites.

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    1. That's practically 10! And did you ever read Dracula? That counts also.

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  13. I am glad you said Middlemarch gets going in the last 700 pages.I must be nearly there now and have had to force myself to stick with it so I will keep going.I love the other books you list in this blog.

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  14. Middlemarch really does turn out well. Those first 100 pages were dry, but it's worth sticking with. I did get stuck halfway through Daniel Deronda, so I don't know if I'll give Eliot another chance. But I did love MM so I should give her another try.

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  15. I remember that BBC series of Wives and Daughters - I bought the TV tie-in edition soon afterward, with Justine -- and Francesca Annis on the cover. It's a wonderful book, isn't it?

    Agreed also about Jane Eyre and Woman in White. What I love about this is that so many of the people on this list - Wilkie Collins, Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell - were such good real-life friends.

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    1. Yes, and Gaskell was a good friend of Charlotte Bronte also! She was specially asked to write Bronte's biography after Charlotte died.

      I don't think Trollope cared much for Dickens, though -- there's a character mentioned in The Warden called Mr. Popular Sentiment, which is a jab meant for Dickens.

      I loved that BBC adaptation -- I'd never actually heard of Wives of Daughters but my husband looked in my Acorn Media catalog and chose it for my birthday gift, which still impresses me because period dramas are not his thing at all. He got big points for that!

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  16. Glad to hear that Three Men in a Boat is one of your favorites! It is on my Classics list and after reading the blurb, I can't wait to read it.
    Beth :-)

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  17. The Woman in White is one of my favourite books too. I'm reading Bleak House and I see it's very famous and well-regarded among most book-bloggers. I'm glad I chose it.

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  18. Everyone should read The Count of Monte Cristo. A tale of revenge and redemption.

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