Tag Archive for 1800s

Book Review: The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope

The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope Much too long a book for so little to happen in it.

Book Review: New Grub Street by George Gissing

New Grub Street by George Gissing

I struggled with this book a little at first, especially when I had a hard time liking some of the main characters. Most of the men in the book were quite unpleasant or even despicable in some way, whereas the women seemed more interesting to me, as they struggled to be independent of and respected by the men in their lives.

The story focuses on a number of people with some connection to writing or publishing in some form. Some of them are struggling to do good work, while others just want to gain some notoriety. I found some of the “industry” issues interesting, as a few might as well be happening today (the idea of writing shorter, easier to read pieces for a less attentive audience, for example).

I did have a hard time seeing this as happening in the 1880s though, mainly because the writing style seemed a little more modern to me, at least compared to other works from this time. I kept thinking they were in the 1900s at the very least, or perhaps a little later. I also kept making comparisons between some of the characters and those in The Forsyte Chronicles (Alfred Yule and Soames Forsyte, Jasper Milvain and Michael Mont, etc.).

The writing style, although it felt a little more modern, was a bit of a slog at points. The dialogue between certain characters felt extremely formal and overdone, and not enough like natural language. And some of the philosophical tangents were a bit dull and heavy-handed.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting, albeit not very uplifting or happy, book, but I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I’d hoped to. But I think I’ll still look into some of Gissing’s other books, after this initial introduction.

Book Review: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

This is the first Gaskell book that I’ve read, but I’m not sure why I kept reading as long as I did, as it wasn’t really a very enjoyable book. It was overly long for having so little happen, and every little thing felt drawn out and it sometimes got a bit repetitive, due to all the overly detailed descriptions and build-up. And yet, there was still more to come, except that the author had died before writing the rest!

Beyond the length being an issue, the biggest problem was that the characters felt more like paper dolls than real people. It seemed like the author danced around really defining them, getting too caught up in the overly wordy writing style to make them seem like actual humans. A lot more telling than showing.

It also didn’t help to have the regular reminders that the story took place some years before it was written, though the author contradicted herself or dated things incorrectly on multiple occasions (as the included endnotes pointed out). Not to mention the annoying overuse of “tête-à-tête!”

Perhaps some of her other works are better written, but this one certainly hasn’t made a great initial impression on me, especially after having recently read works by Dickens and Trollope.

Book Review: Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope

Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope

The first Trollope novel I’ve read, this book kept making me think back to Dickens’ Bleak House, which I read at the end of last year. Both deal with a major legal case, though each very different in nature.

It may not be a fair comparison, but I definitely preferred Bleak House, for the style and overall feeling of the story. Orley Farm felt too drawn out for much less of an overall story — though it certainly had some of the same complexities — and it didn’t have the cozy feeling Bleak House had. I didn’t feel all that attached to most of the characters, who didn’t seem quite as well developed or defined, and my interest in the story waned as it dragged on.

Book Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

This book is obviously an attempt to emulate the lengthy and intricately detailed novels of the Victorian era, like something Dickens would have written (Bleak House came to mind as I read it). Unfortunately, it falls far short of that mark, and instead was just overly wordy, repetitive, and slow-moving, without feeling like there was much substance.

The plot progressed very slowly, structured through constant flashbacks that awkwardly shifted from one character to another without furthering the plot very much at all. It often felt like felt like something that would have taken a minute in real life was drawn out of several pages, with much repetition. Conversations between two people would have them repeating the same phrase back and forth, or the inside thoughts of one character would be repeating and rehashing what was just detailed by the narrator or said by someone else.

Ultimately, the biggest problem was that all this detail felt like it was lacking proper substance to it. It was all just fluff, like being giving an airy ball of cotton candy when you’re hoping for a rich piece of dark chocolate to really bite into. Even if you try to savor the experience of wading through all those wordy passages, in the end, you don’t feel like you really got much out of it, despite all the effort.

I do appreciate what the author was trying to do, especially her efforts to make the language and style fit the time period. The book just didn’t quite work though, and it felt like I was reading the transcript of some sort of interactive, immersive video game, with rather heavy amounts of hand-holding, rather than a great work of historical fiction.

Book Review: In Chancery by John Galsworthy

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy A continuation of the Forsyte Chronicles, I think I liked this one a little bit less than The Man of Property, but it was still enjoyable. I missed some of the characters from the previous book, but there was still plenty of drama to keep things interesting. I do wish there were more of Irene’s perspective, rather than treating her as a thing of beauty and not a whole person (which I think was one of Virginia Woolf’s criticisms of these books).

This series continues to be a bit of a guilty pleasure, as it’s a rather richly done — and engrossing — soap opera. The historical tidbits interspersed throughout make it more interesting and help make the time period more vivid.

Book Review: The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett

The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett I’m not sure why I kept reading through to the end (or very near it). It was slightly interesting at first, but then it just dragged on…and on… and on. I hoped it would pick up or do something to redeem itself later on, but it never really did. I only wish I’d stopped reading earlier on…

Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë I seem to be in the minority here, but I could just not get into this book and I really didn’t like it. I tried to give it a chance, reading about 95 pages in all, but I couldn’t go on any longer.

I think part of the problem was the stodgy language, especially when trying to imagine it coming from a 10-year-old, as Jane is at the beginning of the book. Even given the time period, I can’t imagine a child speaking like that.

Also, I felt like the author kept hitting me over the head repeatedly with the major themes of the book. Jane is too easily overcome by her emotions, ok I get it. Religion, god, religion, ok, got it. A bit of subtlety, please.

The pace was also strange. First, there’s a a good amount of time spent on 10 year old Jane, showing us her childhood. Something seemingly major happens, and then suddenly, without much reaction or showing the impact of it, we’re suddenly jumping ahead eight years? I can only imagine how this keeps up later on.

Book Review: Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Bleak House by Charles Dickens Phew! I managed to finish the whole thing! I think this was the first Dickens novel I read in full, at least that I can recall, and it was quite an experience.

It’s a hefty tome, especially in terms of the often weighty language and cast of characters. (I wish I’d taken notes or had a list of who’s who to refer to as I read along. Though sometimes it seemed like there were only 30 people in England at this time, and they all knew each other.) I often had to reread passages to grasp was what going on, or go back to a previous chapter to remember if I’d seen a certain character before, and I’m sure I missed some clever coincidences or small events that played into the bigger story.

Despite all this, I did enjoy reading it, though I feel I’d need to reread the whole book to really see all that was going on, and to appreciate the writing more fully. Maybe someday.

Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula by Bram Stoker I’m pretty sure I read this back in high school, but as I started to read it just before Halloween, I realized I had completely forgotten everything about it. It has a good dose of creepy and thrilling elements, though it’s a bit plodding in parts, what with all the journal entries and exclamations of “oh, what brave men!” Some of the characters’ actions were a bit baffling, and they felt like they were written that way to fit in later plot points. (Why on earth would they keep Mina out of things, right after saying how great and smart she was, with her “man’s brain?” And then see what happened as a result!) That said, it’s still a good book, and a classic, at that.