victorian literature challenge 2011

Victorian Literature Challenge 2011 – Completion

For the past six or so months I haver been slowly inching towards finishing the Victorian Literature Challenge 2011. I was participating under the “Great Expectations” participation level of  where the challenge was to read five-nine books from the Victorian era. The first six books I finished with extreme swiftness but the last three took more time than I had anticipated because of my new job and everything else.

Anyhow, I have finally managed to finish the challenge. Thanks to Bethany of Subtle Melodrama for hosting this challenge! I enjoyed participating in it very much!

Books Completed:

1. Under the Red Robe. Stanley J. Weyman.

2.  The Diary of a Nobody. George Grossmith.

3. The Country of the Pointed Firs. Sarah Orne Jewett.

4. Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings. Charles Dickens.

5.  Mrs. Lirriper’s Legacy. Charles Dickens.

6. Sailors Knots. W. W. Jacobs.

7. The Phantom Coach and Other Stories. Amelia B. Edwards.

8. Spinning-Wheel Stories. Louisa May Alcott. 

9. Barchester Towers. Anthony Trollope.

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Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope was published in 1857. This is the second book in a series of six books set in the fictitious cathedral town of Barchester, collectively known as The Chronicles of Barsetshire. This is the best known and perhaps the most popular book from the series.

Barchester Towers tells of the ‘upheaval’ caused by arrival of the new Bishop, Bishop Proudie, in Barchester. The new Bishop’s wife and his chaplain’s struggle for power, the many suitors of Eleanor Bold and her family’s anxiety over them, the return of Dr Stanhope and family after an interval of twelve years and much more form the rest of the story.

The book preceding Barchester Towers in the series is The Warden. In many ways Barchester Towers is a direct continuation of The Warden. The main problem faced by the characters in The Warden gets constantly mentioned in BarchesterTowers. It is because of that that this book can be read as a stand alone work. The plot of the first book becomes pretty much clear after it has been discussed from so many different angles so many times.

How Eleanor Bold’s private life goes out of control was interesting to watch. Eleanor and her family do not speak their mind but keep assuming things when clear communication could have cleared everything up. Their anger, egotistical behaviour and refusal to admit mistakes felt real.

Among the characters I found Eleanor Bold, Archdeacon Grantly and Mrs. Grantly to be irritating at times and insipid at others. Mr. Arabin felt one dimensional.

Mr. Harding is a good natured if weak character. Misunderstanding the nature of his favourite daughter and his subsequent reactions are quite apt for a man like him.

There are a bunch of villains in Barchester Towers but most of them are not completely black. They are streaked with shades of grey. Mrs Proudie with her meddling ways gets on most people’s nerves but the one thing she most bullies her husband about helps provide for large family in need. Signora Neroni surprised me. She is instrumental in bringing about many of the changes in the lives of the characters. What she does is apparently for her own amusement but she also brings about good in her own strange way. In the end she ends up playing sort of a fairy god mother to certain characters. Only Mr. Slope can be said to be without any redeeming qualities.

Mr. Slope is simply slimy. He is power hungry (but so is a lot of other people in this book), crafty and calculative. Of course, none of his complicatedly devious schemes bear any fruits but he is left undaunted by his failures.

Bertie Stanhope is the typical happy-go-lucky, ne’er-do-well son of the Stanhope family. His character is nothing novel. Charlotte Stanhope’s character felt wooden.

There are no, as one might say, ‘weak’ female characters in this book. Most of the women do as they please and most of the men in their lives are pretty much bullied into doing as they are told. There is just one man, Archdeacon Grantly, who is somewhat of a bully himself but even there his wife is his equal and his confidante. I found this way of portraying gender relations to be quite remarkable considering this is a Victorian novel. Of course, there are a few smatterings of lines like,

…She had found the strong shield that should guard her from all wrongs, the trusty pilot that should henceforward guide her through the shoals and rocks. She would give up the heavy burden of her independence, and once more assume the position of a woman and the duties of a trusting and loving wife… (Chapter Forty-nine- The Beelzebub Colt.)

But overall the women rule the roost and browbeat the men into submission.

This is one long book. My Penguin Popular Classics edition is more than 470 pages long.

I found Trollope to be extremely money minded. Issues such as who has how much money, who is poor and how they can get some money gets relentlessly examined. The fact that Eleanor Bold is young and pretty pales in comparison to the fact that she is rich. The rush to gain the hand of a rich woman in marriage is unbelievably aggressive!

Generally I love reading Victorian authors. At least three of my favourite authors come from that era. However I have a feeling Trollope may not become one of my favourites. Having said that I don’t dislike him either. I will read more of his books. I already have his Framley Parsonage (the fourth book in the series) on my shelf. Let’s see if I grow to like him better with time.

Overall I found Barchester Towers to be quite satisfactory if a bit tiresome at places.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Spinning-Wheel Stories by Louisa May Alcott

Spinning-Wheel Stories by Louisa May Alcott is a collection of 12 short stories with a perfunctory connecting tale. It was published in 1884.

The family has gathered at grandma’s home for Christmas. But a snow storm has all the young ones cooped up in the house. To pass the time grandma teaches the young girls how to use a spinning wheel that they found in the attic. Also, 12 stories with a healthy dose of morals are told. The 12 stories are namely Grandma’s Story, Tabby’s Table-Cloth, Eli’s Education, Onawandah, Little Things, The Banner of Beaumanoir, Jerseys; or, the Girl’s Ghost, The Little House in the Garden, Daisy’s Jewel Box and How She Filled It, Corny’s Catamount, The Cooking-Class and The Hare and the Tortoise.

The connecting tale is present at the first part of the book, then it disappears the midway through and reappears once again towards the end. I found this lack of continuity jarring.

The stories are for the most part very sugary. I am very fond of old classics but even I think that these stories are old fashioned. Some like Grandma’s Story, Tabby’s Table-Cloth, Eli’s Education, Onawandah are really way too sugary.

Some of the stories are pretty good. I enjoyed The Little House in the Garden and The Hare and the Tortoise. Others like Little Things, The Banner of Beaumanoir, Jerseys; or, the Girl’s Ghost, Corny’s Catamount and The Cooking-Class are okay stories. Daisy’s Jewel Box and How She Filled It I found kind of irritating.

Spinning-Wheel Stories has not aged well. Read only if you are a fan of Louisa May Alcott or of classics in general. Otherwise, I do not recommend this book.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Phantom Coach and Other Stories by Amelia B. Edwards

The Phantom Coach and Other Stories is a collection of horror stories by Amelia B. Edwards.

Amelia B. Edwards (1831 –1892) was a prominent Victorian English author, traveller and Egyptologist. Edwards was well known for her ghost stories. In her later life she more or less abandoned her literary career in favour of her career as an Egyptologist. She had co-founded the Egypt Exploration Fund (now the Egypt Exploration Society) in 1882 and the University College London has the Edwards Chair of Egyptology named after her.

My edition of The Phantom Coach and Other Stories contains altogether six stories, The Phantom Coach, An Engineer’s Story, A Service of Danger, The Story of Salome, Was it an Illusion? and How the Third Floor Knew the Potteries.

I had read the first story The Phantom Coach in an anthology as a child and thought it was really scary. After the re-read, I still think it’s pretty good. But too much time is spent on dwelling upon other non-ghost related things like the boring evening the protagonist spends with his elderly host.

An Engineer’s Story is an irritatingly melodramatic story. In it a materialistic woman is the cause of the rift between two best friends.

A Service of Danger is a predictable story but overall pretty okay.

The Story of Salome is once again predictable but not terrible. The ghostly presence is a tad more prominent in this story.

Was it an Illusion? is somewhat gruesome. The main incident disturbed me.

The last story How the Third Floor Knew the Potteries is a half baked tale. It feels as though the story is an unfinished draft of a story.

The problem with most of the stories is that they are almost all ordinary stories with a ghostly presence tacked on as an afterthought. Their rambling nature doesn’t help either.

The stories are terribly predictable. With each and every story it is obvious from the very first page what the conclusion is going to be.

As a fan of vintage horror and a Victorian lit enthusiast, I was really looking forward to reading this horror collection by Edwards. My memory of The Phantom Coach had made me pick this book up. But The Phantom Coach and Other Stories is sadly disappointing. Definitely not up to my expectations.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sailor’s Knots by W. W. Jacobs

W. W. Jacobs (1863 – 1943) was an English short story writer & novelist. He mainly wrote stories about sailors and the marine life. Humour was his favoured genre. But his most renowned story remains the macabre horror story The Monkey’s Paw.

I finished the short story collection Sailor’s Knots by Jacobs a while ago. I read another one of his short story collections, The Lady of the Barge and Other Stories, last year. It had the horror classic, The Monkey’s Paw in it. I had quite enjoyed The Lady of the Barge and Other Stories. I picked up Sailor’s Knots because it contains another one of Jacobs’ famous horror short stories, The Toll-House, in it.

Sailor’s Knots was published in 1909. This collection includes twelve short stories, Deserted, Homeward Bound, Self-help, Sentence Deferred, Matrimonial Openings, Odd Man Out, The Toll-House, Peter’s Pence, The Head of the Family, Prize Money, Double Dealing and Keeping Up Appearances. All of the stories, except for The Toll-House, are light-hearted and humorous in nature.

Most of the stories in Sailor’s Knots feature accounts of the village life, sailors and life at the sea.

I’m sadly disappointed at this collection. Sentence Deferred was the only story that I found to be clever and funny. Odd Man Out, Peter’s Pence and Keeping Up Appearances were okay. The horror story The Toll-House was only mildly scary.

On the bright side, this is an extremely short book. The short stories are truly short. Most of them don’t go beyond even ten pages.

Overall, Sailor’s Knots is not as enjoyable as I thought it would be. A rather unsatisfactory collection of stories.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.