Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Me vs. The Victorian Novel

I tried reading Persuasion.  I really did.

I am aware that I have blind spots in my education, and I feel more than a little bit of anxiety about the fact that I haven't read everything that I wish I had.  Consequently, when I have some time to read, I go to the bookstore and deliberately head straight for those dark alleys where I feel the most lost and insecure.  Sometimes I find something I love (The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, The Remains of the Day), and sometimes I struggle through a book I don't enjoy (Hard Times, The Autobiography of Malcolm X).  And sometimes I just give up.

Look at that cover of Persuasion.  Now imagine me reading it.  Better yet, imagine me reading it in the waiting room of a Jiffy Lube on Poplar Avenue while I am getting my oil changed.  Now, I'm not the world's most masculine man, but when the cover of your book looks like a nineteenth-century Kotex advertisement, you know you're off to a bad start.  I got through about five pages that day at the Jiffy Lube, unable to concentrate on a word I was reading, and I eventually jammed it in my back pocket and pretended to watch Judge Judy until my car was ready.  

At least I have a manly car, I'll have you know.

I came home and fixed the problem with the cover.  Now this is a book any man would be proud to be caught reading.


But even with my new manly cover, I soon petered out on Persuasion and put it down.  You beat me again, Jane Austen!

Austen is not the only Victorian novelist I struggle with.  Below is a list of "canonical" Victorian novels cribbed from some professor at Columbia.  Of this entire list, I have read the following:
  • Wuthering Heights (9th grade, hated it.)
  • Hard Times (Hard Times is not even on this list?  Are you kidding me?)
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  (I read this in grade school, and I'm pretty sure I enjoyed it.)
  • Dracula (I read this one summer during my undergraduate days and gave up with about 5 pages to go.)
  • The Picture of Dorian Grey (Did I finish this one?  I'm not sure.)
  • The Importance of Being Earnest  (This counts?  Really?  Then this is my favorite of them all.)
Anyway, that is a pretty poor showing for the list that follows.  And that's really all I have to say about my struggle with the Victorian novel.  I have no solution, no excuse, and no explanation for why I dislike something that my peers and friends enjoy so much.  




The Canonical Victorian Novels
by the English Department at Columbia University


Austen, Jane 
— Mansfield Park
— Emma
— Persuasion
Brontë, Charlotte 
— Jane Eyre
— Villette
Brontë, Emily 
Wuthering Heights 
Bulwer-Lytton, Edward 
Paul Clifford 
Collins, Wilkie 
The Moonstone
Dickens, Charles 
The Pickwick Papers
— Oliver Twist
— David Copperfield
— Bleak House
— Little Dorrit
Disraeli, Benjamin 
Sybil, or the Two Nations
Eliot, George 
Scenes from Clerical Life
— Adam Bede
— Middlemarch
— Daniel Deronda
Gaskell, Elizabeth 
Mary Barton 
Gissing, George 
New Grub Street
Hardy, Thomas 
Tess of the d'Urbervilles
— Jude the Obscure
Martineau, Harriet 
Deerbrook
Meredith, George 
The Ordeal of Richard Feverel
Oliphant, Margaret 
Miss Marjoribanks
Stevenson, Robert Louis 
— The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 
Stoker, Bram 
Dracula
Thackeray, William Makepeace 
Vanity Fair
Trollope, Anthony 
Barchester Towers
— Dr Thorne
— The Way We Live Now
— Autobiobgraphy
Trollope, Fanny 
The Widow Barnaby 
Wilde, Oscar 
The Picture of Dorian Gray
— The Importance of Being Earnest 



6 comments:

  1. I've read most of the books on this list and can safely say you should stay away from them.

    I did recenly read Treasure Island and thought it was lots of fun. If you ever stumble upon de Quincy's Confessions of an English Opium Addict or Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner you might enjoy those. Otherwise, probably best to leave the Victorians alone.

    Have you ever tried Tom Jones?

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  2. I personally enjoy most Victorian novels/novelists; however, I cannot stand Dickens at all.

    If you find yourself dying to read another, I'd like to suggest Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, not the one on "the list."

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  3. Hate to be a poindexter, but technically Austen is not a Victorian novelist. She's a Georgian one.

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  4. PS I think she'd totally be into "Last Caress"

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  5. And I don't care if Columbia disagrees with me!

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  6. That cover is amazing. Who helped you with that? Also, you have a very manly car. Give Jekyll and Hyde a try.

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