Monday, June 04, 2012

A Victorian Celebration: Commencement

It's here! It's here! Graciously hosted by Allie, A Victorian Celebration is a two-month reading event focusing on the era that I love best. As I've slowly been recovering from the horrid reading rut, the arrival of the Victorian Celebration couldn't have had better timing. Bring on the Dickens, the Eliot, the Wilde!

There are loads of tidbits I'm hoping to share with you during the next two months: why I adore the Victorians, some fantastic authors that have been largely forgotten by the reading public in recent years, fantastic film adaptations set during Victoria's reign, the cultural legacy of Victorians outside of literacy and more.

I love the passion of Jane Eyre, Charles Dickens's gift for caricature and the brilliant witticisms of the incomparable Oscar Wilde. I can't read too much about repressed sexuality and the griminess of nineteenth-century London. But there's so much more to the Victorians than this small handful of authors and hackneyed stereotypes. The Victorians provide a veritable goldmine of intriguing knowledge: the deeper one digs for treasure, the more gems one finds. I'm excited to share parts of my Victorian journey here -- a journey that I think will last a lifetime.

Meanwhile, I wanted to document some of the texts I'm hoping to dig into for the event. I may not get to all of these, or I may simply change my mind about what I want to read. Nor will I be exclusively reading from this time period for the next two months either. Still, a list will hopefully help me to stay focused when every Victorian book on my shelf calls to me -- they dominate my humble little library and it's easy to become a bit confused when trying to decide on just one

Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant

Margaret Oliphant is a prime example of a Victorian author who has fallen by the wayside. A prolific writer, she was reportedly a favorite of Queen Victoria. This novel about a young girl who sweeps into her father's house to rule the roost (and, by extension, the community itself) after he mother passes away is a book I've been wanting to read for a while.

Plays by Oscar Wilde

Hail to the master of the epigram! 

Oscar Wilde plays just glow, in my opinion. He somehow convinces me that all of life's difficulties can be resolved in two hours if one would just make the effort. The parties, romance and humor don't hurt either. Having read his two most popular plays, I want to read Lady Windermere's Fan and/or A Woman of No Importance.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

People tend to characterize Victorian fiction by its lengthy tangents (read, 800-plus pages) on poverty, suffering and death. But the truth is the Victorians fully embraced stories of fantastic adventure, particularly in the later years of the century. I've read (and loved!) such texts by H. Rider Haggard, but I haven't yet experienced the more popular tale of life on the high seas by Haggard's contemporary Robert Louis Stevenson.

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

In sensation fiction, deliberately provocative subjects such as adultery, madness, bigamy, murder, etc. receive a melodramatic treatment -- as if the subject matter itself wasn't dramatic enough! Although books in the genre were bestsellers during the Victorian period (especially in the 60s and 70s), critics condemned many of these texts as literary tripe. Only recently have Lady Audley's Secret, novels by Wilkie Collins and others been introduced to the canon.

Short Fiction by Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell rocks. She just does. Though they are drastically different, both North and South and Cranford are included among my exclusive list of favorites. But I'm dying to explore the mass of short fiction she left behind. From novellas and short stories to her Gothic Tales, Gaskell produced a vast array of literature beyond her novels.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool

I'll be perusing these insights on nineteenth-century life as I read my selected works of fiction. Contextualizing the literature by gaining a better understanding of the times always enhances the reading experience for me. 

 I think that's more than enough to get me started on this long-awaited event. Now where to start? That's the tricky part. Which Victorians will you be reading during June and July? How's it going so far?

If you'd like to join the fun, go here for details. Happy Reading!


amanda @ simplerpastimes said...

What a wonderful group of books to select from! I wouldn't know where to start myself, although I'm intrigued by the Oliphant title, if for no other reason that it's lesser known.

I'm hoping to read some of the early Sherlock Holmes stories and perhaps Cranford for the Celebration. Not sure that I'll get to anything else--I'm afraid I've over-committed my reading this summer!

Cat said...

A lovely variety of books to choose from. Margaret Oliphnant is new to me but sounds interesting enough to check out her work. Lady Audley's Secret I'm about to begin reading....should be fun!

Fanda said...

Wow, great list!
I've been curious with 'What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew'. Can't wait to read your thoughts about it..

Jillian said...

I've read that Jane Austen/Charles Dickens book! (Before I started blogging.) I'm currently reading Anne Bronte's Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I hope you have an awesome Victorian Summer!! :)

Diana said...

Amanda: I sympathize with committing to too much reading. I had to step back from that because it was so overwhelming. I'm hoping that less pressure and structure will help me to read more.

Please share your thoughts on Cranford if you do read it for the event. It's one of my favorites!

Diana said...

Cat: I look forward to reading your thoughts on Lady Audley's Secret. Hopefully we both end up loving it.

During my Master's I thought more about all those Victorian writers that contemporary readers have more or less forgotten. I'm trying to read more from this lost literature -- and hopefully find some new favorites!

Diana said...

Fanda: Me too! I've had it lying around for a while now but always get distracted when I pick it up. I'm quite easily distracted -- it can be a bit of a curse sometimes.

Diana said...

Jillian: Ah, Tenant. How I adore that novel. Hyperbole alert: I could sings its praises forever! I really think you'll love it.

How was the Daniel Pool book, by the way? Did you like it?

Adam said...

What an interesting list!

Aside from the Wilde, I haven't read any of these; to be honest, I can't say I've even heard of most of them.

I'm really looking forward to reading your thoughts on these. Maybe some new books will make their way onto my TBR list (not that it needs any additions - ugh!)

Violet said...

Hmm, well, I struggle a bit with some of the Victorian writers, Gaskell in particular. Although her work did improve and North and South is a fine novel, she's still a bit moralistic and sentimental for my taste. Wilde was a total genius, but reading his work always makes me feel sad about the way he ended up due to those vile Victorian homophobes. I liked Lady Audley's Secret a lot. I've had the Poole book for years and find it handy to dip into when I want to verify facts, such as when it would be appropriate to use the barouche or the landau. :) I read Treasure Island when I was a kid and wanted to be a pirate SO badly, but yeah, I later found out that wasn't a viable career choice. I haven't read Margaret Oliphant, but I want to now. Miss Marjoribanks sounds like a good place to start.

Hope your reading goes well and you get out of the dreaded slump. I've been wallowing myself for a while, but have decided to just read my own books instead of trying to read what others are reading or joining in readalongs, etc. It seems to be working so far. :)

I have quit Twitter, by the way, but I hope we can keep in touch.

Caro said...

What a wonderful list! I can't wait to see what you come up with during this event. As someone whose knowledge of cinema is modest, to say the least, the list of film adaptations sounds wonderfully intriguing.
Have fun reading!

Diana said...

Adam: I hear you! Additions to the TBR list are both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it's so exciting to constantly be discovering new authors and new titles.

On the other hand, it feels like I will never catch up. Not enough hours in the day!

Diana said...

Violet: I didn't know you had quit twitter! I thought you were just taking a much needed cyber-break. At least I can follow your blog updates.

I love that you wanted to be a pirate. I suppose you still could if you really wanted to. ;)

Diana said...

Caro: Now I'm feeling the pressure to come suggest some good adaptations! ;)

But seriously, nothing makes me feel more secure and cosy than curling up with a blanket and watching a beloved literary adaptation at home. It's the best pick me up on down days!