Tag Archives: 19th Century Literature

The Island of Doctor Moreau, H.G. Wells

The Island of Dr Moreau, H.G. WellsThe Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G.Wells

First Published: 1896
Pages: 143 including afterword (Paperback)
Form: Novel

Rating: 4.5/54.5/54.5/54.5/54.5/5

A terrifying, prescient portrayal of a scientist trying to create a new super-breed, The Island of Doctor Moreau was described by H.G. Wells as an ‘exercise in youthful blasphemy’.

Edward Prendick, the single survivor of a shipwreck, is rescued by a vessel carrying a menagerie of savage animals. Soon he finds himself stranded on an uncharted island in the Pacific with the strange vivisectionist Dr Moreau, whose experiments have led him to break the laws of nature, turning beast into man with horrific results.

A short but absolutely excellent novel. H.G. Wells is one of the founding fathers of science fiction and The Island of Doctor Moreau is one of those early  blends of science-fiction and horror that (like the best of both genres)  also offers an uncomfortable insight into human nature. A bit like Frankenstien but without the tedium, and better paced. Continue reading

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North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell

North and SouthNorth and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

First Published: 1854-5
Pages: 544 including afterword (Paperback)
Form: Novel

Rating: 3/5 = I liked it3/5 = I liked it3/5 = I liked it3/5 = I liked it3/5 = I liked it

Elizabeth Gaskell’s compassionate, richly dramatic novel features one of the most original and fully-rounded female characters in Victorian fiction, Margaret Hale. It shows how, forced to move from the country to an industrial northern town, she develops a passionate sense of social justice, and a turbulent relationship with mill-owner John Thornton.

North and South depicts a young woman discovering herself, in a nuanced portrayal of what divides people, and what brings them together.

So I guess the best way to succinctly sum up my feelings on this book is to repeat what I told my mum when she asked how I was enjoying it: ‘the TV adaptation is better than the book, and the story is better than the writing’. Continue reading

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The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre DumasThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Translated by Robin Buss

First Published: 1844-5
This Translation First Published:
1996
Pages: 1276 including notes  – plus introduction (Hardback)
Form: Novel

Rating: 5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it

A beautiful new clothbound edition of Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo of wrongful imprisonment, adventure and revenge. Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantes is confined to the grim fortress of the Château d’If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and becomes determined not only to escape but to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. A huge popular success when it was first serialized in the 1840s, Dumas was inspired by a real-life case of wrongful imprisonment when writing his epic tale of suffering and retribution.

From Penguin.com – no blurb on clothbound editions

Eeeeeh! Well it looks like 2013 is shaping up to be a good reading year. Not only have I liked pretty much everything I’ve read so far but I’ve discovered a new favourite. When I say that I loved this book, I really mean it. I can’t say it’s my favourite because picking a single favourite is too hard, but it’s definitely among the books  that I would take to a desert island or save from a fire. It’s got everything; revenge, wrongful imprisonment, murder, duels, bandits, drug-fuelled hallucinations, treachery, buried treasure… you name an adventure trope and it’s probably in there – as well  as one of the most scary anti-heroes/anti-villains in fiction. It’s a book that’s so high on melodrama and absurd plot twists it could easily become ridiculous, but it’s so utterly compelling that it never does. At approximately 1250 pages long, it never felt like a slog, in fact it practically zipped along and I’m actually a bit sad to have finished it. Continue reading

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Les Misérables, Victor Hugo

Les Misérables, Victor HugoLes Misérables by Victor Hugo

Translated by Julie Rose

First Published: 1862
Translation Published:
2008
Pages: 1330 including notes  – plus introduction (Paperback)
Form: Novel

Rating: 5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it

Sensational, dramatic, packed with rich excitement and filled with the sweep and violence of human passions, Les Misérables is one of the greatest adventure stories ever told. It is a novel peopled by colourful characters from the nineteenth century Parisian underworld; the street children, the prostitutes and the criminals. In telling the story of escaped convict Jean Valjean, and his efforts to reform his ways and care for the little orphan girl he rescues from a life of cruelty, Victor Hugo drew attention to the plight of the poor and oppressed. Les Misérables is a masterful detective thriller, a comic, and a tragic story of romance and revolution and, ultimately, a tale of redemption and hope.

I was first introduced to Les Misérables, without knowing it, through my music centre’s ‘easter camp’ – three days of learning new music pieces for brass band and being forced to sing in a choir with the lame woodwind and string kids – when I was about six. We sang ‘Can you hear the people sing’ while marching up and down the school hall. It’s a memory my mother is very fond of bringing up while bursting into laughter and was the only time I ever enjoyed myself in any choir (and my mum persuaded me to try a lot of choirs, apparently oblivious to the fact that I am so tone-deaf that the conductor always had a quiet word with me after a few sessions to request I either mime or take singing lessons) but I had no idea, until years later that it was part of anything bigger than a cool song about French martyrs and/or slaves with drums. Continue reading

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Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

First Published: 1818 (posthumously)
Pages: 301 including afterword (Hardback)
Form: Novel

Rating:5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it

Northanger Abbey is the story of Catherine Morland, an enthusiastic but naïve girl intent on becoming a heroine like the one she has read about in popular novels. Searching for romance and adventures worthy of her favourite works of fiction, she becomes ever more entangled in an authentic world of manipulation, greed, and disloyalty. This is one of Jane Austen’s earliest and most varied works. It contains fascinating insights into her life as both a reader and a writer, and is as imaginative and entertaining as the Gothic novels it sets out to lampoon.

Probably my favourite Austen. A re-read for an online book group, but a book I’ve been meaning to reread for a while anyway. It’s the least polished of Austen’s novels – the pacing feels a bit off in the second half and the ending feels quite rushed – so I was originally going to give it either four or four and half stars to reflect that, but actually, flawed as it is, I can’t help absolutely adoring it.

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Celtic Fairy Tales and More Celtic Fairy Tales, Joseph Jacobs

Celtic Fairy Tales & More Celtic Fairy Tales, Joseph JacobsCeltic Fairy Tales and More Celtic Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs
Illustrated by John D. Batten

Publisher: Senate (Random House)
Pages: 552  (Paperback)
Form: Short Stories

Rating: 3/53/53/53/53/5

Passed down through the centuries by generations of story-tellers Celtic folk tales have all the magic, excitement, humour and romance that any audience could wish for.

This collection combines two volumes of Celtic tales first chosen a hundred years ago by Joseph Jacobs, an authority on the folklore of the world. Determined to find the most authentic versions of local stories, he included only those which had been related by speakers of Scottish and Irish Gaelic, Welsh and Cornish. Now rewritten to appeal to the widest possible audience, they offer a wide-ranging cross-section of Celtic culture, from the Irish tragedy of Deidre to the Scottish ghost story of the Sprightly Tailor. Their variety is charmingly captured in the different styles of John Batten’s black-and-white illustrations.

A welcome reflection of the true heritage of Britain and Ireland, this delightful collection of forty-six tales will bring hours of pleasure to readers of all ages.

I actually read these stories in two different editions. I started with the Collector’s Library edition  of Jacobs’  Celtic Fairy Tales before realising that they had cut all Jacob’s original annotations and end-notes. Purely by chance I then I discovered this rather dusty copy hiding in the spare bedroom, spotted that it had all those end-notes and also contained Jacob’s follow up More Celtic Fairy Tales, and did a bit of a book swap. The Collector’s Library edition is undoubtedly the more attractive book – this one is pretty old, has awkward page numbering that starts over again at 1 halfway through, and that annoying thing where illustrations are followed up by a blank page even in the middle of a story – but for me having access to Jacob’s notes on each story was more valuable than how pretty the book was.  Sometimes in fact those notes were more interesting, and in several cases rather longer, than the stories they were about – though I didn’t always agree with some of his comments. Probably not something that matters to a lot of readers, but if you’re interested in the provenance of the fairy tales it’s def worth checking out if the edition you pick up contains these end-notes or not.

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The Aspern Papers AND The Turn of the Screw, Henry James

The Aspern Papers and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Introduction by Anthony Curtis

Publisher: Penguin Classics
Pages: 270 (Paperback)
Form: Novellas

Rating:

The two tales in this edition, The Aspern Papers and The Turn of the Screw, reveal at its finest James’s genius for creating a world out of a single incident and charging it with unforgettable dramatic tension.

A story of ‘spoils and stratagems’, The Aspern Papers is set in a crumbling Venetian palazzo, where an old woman treasures up some letters sent to her by the great American poet Aspern. When a zealous literary historian arrives and attempts to prise the letters from her, he finds his charm, ingenuity and morals stretched to breaking point.

‘It is a most wonderful, lurid, poisonous little tale,’ wrote Oscar Wilde of The Turn of the Screw, James’s most puzzling and controversial work. In the story of a governess newly in charge of two small children, haunted by ghosts, our imagination is miraculously set free to conjure up terrors never precisely named, or explained.

This is (hopefully) going to be a pretty short review as I’m only going to focus on The Aspern Papers. Anyone interested in my thoughts on The Turn of the Screw, I already reviewed it here but essentially my thoughts boil down to ‘overrated and underwhelming’. The Aspern Papers, thankfully, was a story I got on a lot better with – though to say I actively enjoyed it is probably going a bit far. It was interesting and far more thought-provoking and challenging than I found The Turn of the Screw – more on that later – but I still found elements of it incredibly irritating. Continue reading

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