Thursday, June 19, 2008

The 2008 List: The Stuck in 19th Century Britain Collection

Since I’m still in this rut of reading 19th century female authors, almost to the exclusion of everything else, I figured I’d share some suggestions, but without cluttering up the rest of the list.

Belinda by Maria Edgeworth. Edgeworth is known as the “Irish Jane Austen,” and some consider her works comparable to Austen. Not quite true. But this was a nice, entertaining read if you like the genre.

The Grand Sophy (and dozens of other titles) by Georgette Heyer. It’s embarrassing to admit how much I have LOVED these books, but in my defense, Heyer has been sanctioned by both Michael Dirda of the Washington Post and A.S. Bayatt. Put it this way: If you like Jane Austen and other 19th century romantic literature, try Heyer. They are not as rich, but they are fun. Her writing is consistently good – she almost never “phoned it in.” She wrote in the 20th century, but mainly about the 19th. The stories are formulaic but clean and humorous and known for their accurate historical tidbits. (She was a historian). I’m into happy endings in 2008, and Heyer’s books deliver.

Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant. The protagonist’s character is amusing -- her only expressed desire upon coming home from school and her grand European tour is to be "a comfort to her dear Papa." With a strategic sense that rivals great generals, she sets about taking over the society of her little town. It’s a lot of fun if you like 19th century provincial "small ball."

Middlemarch by George Eliot. I finally read this book over the winter. I am not sure it’s a beach book – it might be winter reading – but it’s an absolute masterpiece. And there’s a BBC miniseries!

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Not to be confused with North and South by John Jakes. This is the British North and South, about changes in Britain during the industrializing England of the mid-19th century. It’s a love story, a family story, a social commentary. And if you like it, there is a fantastic miniseries. (No really… I mean FANTASTIC miniseries.)

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England by Daniel Pool. Fun facts about life in 19th century England.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. This is a great book, but it’s unfinished (she died while writing it). I tell you that, because the Wiki entry says “it was not quite complete, and the last section was written by Frederick Greenwood.” That makes it sound like he FINISHED IT. But he just adds something on about how he thinks she might have ended the book. I mean, it practically ends in the middle of a sentence. But it’s STILL good, and (once again) there is a terrific BBC miniseries with a wonderful (made-up) ending. The book’s about a girl whose father remarries rather hastily. She gains a difficult step-mother and step-sister in the process, and the book chronicles their relationships.

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