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 
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 
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 


  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?

  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."

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

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

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

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