Victorian Writers Are Crazy ~ Summer Reads Pt. 2

Hullo-ullo-ullo! Part two. Books. The lighter side of historical fiction.

That, younglings, is what we learn about in today’s lecture. Post. Thing. (For which, presumably, you need someone with intelligence. I rely upon you, dear reader, to make up that demographic.)

~
// The Napoleon of Notting Hill //

by G. K. Chesterton

If all things are always the same, it is because they are always heroic. If all things are always the same, it is because they are always new.


This book is:

-So weird

-Seriously so unapologetically weird

-Just absolutely crammed with philosophical and rhetorical flourishes

-Set in 1984 (and written in 1904)

-Chesterton’s first novel

-Filled with some of Chesterton’s very most disturbing opinions about local patriotism…or at least his opinions about local patriotism taken to their very most disturbing extremes. Frankly I think it’s cool Chesterton had the guts to take his own ideas to their disturbing extremes himself, in his own book. It would be easy to write a story about passion and patriotism being better than apathy. Chesterton wrote one about how even the most uneducated passion, even the narrowest patriotism, even war and death and suffering are better than apathy, because that’s what he actually believes about the evil of apathy.

-Not Chesterton’s most prescient moment, as far as the future course of world events goes. But hey – was George Orwell really trying to predict the horrors of 1984, or was he concerned with the errors of 1948 and where they specifically might lead if promulgated? And was Chesterton likewise more worried about the errors of 1904 and their promulgation than what society would really look like in 1984?

-Beautifully written. Oh my goodness.

-Not predictable AT ALL. At least not for me. Also surprisingly dark. Just…such a unique piece of fiction.

-Graced by a chapter called “The Two Voices,” which starts out…mmm, well, I won’t spoil it in case reading it blind is as cool an experience for you as it was for me. But it’s gorgeous. “To each man one soul only is given; to each soul only is given a little power…”

When the chord of monotony is stretched most tight, then it breaks with a sound like song.

// An Ideal Husband //

by Oscar Wilde

This play is hilarious, and also a little bit insightful into Human Nature & suchlike items, and also Lord Goring is hilarious and I love him.

// Lady Windermere’s Fan //

by, once again, Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde is so DRAMATIC I love it

Then he writes beautiful stuff like this:

Lord Windermere: Child, you and she belong to different worlds. Into your world evil has never entered.

Lady Windermere: Don’t say that, Arthur. There is the same world for all of us, and good and evil, sin and innocence, go through it hand in hand. To shut one’s eyes to half of life that one may live securely is as though one blinded oneself that one might walk with more safety in a land of pit and precipice.

// The Canterville Ghost //

[GUESS WHO IT’S BY]

So Oscar Wilde really knows how to nail an aesthetic. And a tonal transition, because the change from the first part of the story (where a wicked old ghost tries desperately to haunt an American family who just aren’t scared of him) to the second (where Victoria strikes up a friendship with him and does some stuff to help him out) is seamless. One minute I’m giggling at the poor ghost’s exasperation, and a few minutes later I’m…not. Because I didn’t expect things to go all sweet and lovely and tragic on me. But it works really, really well.

And it’s funny. Very funny.

// Betsy Was a Junior //

by Maud Hart Lovelace

I don’t know what to say about this other than that it’s a Betsy-Tacy book so it’s just lovely?

I adore the simplicity of these books. Slice-of-life stories can be so interesting, when you have good characters and historical detail.

And Tacy. Tacy makes everything better.

// Betsy and Joe //

by Maud Hart Lovelace

No thank you. No me gusta. Nein, danke.

I don’t read Betsy-Tacy books to be stupidly sad over dumb love triangles or dumb teenagers’ dumb decisions, and I especially don’t read them to become disenchanted with dear old Joe.

But I do not find his pride an attractive character trait.

At ALL.

#TeamTony

// The Corinthian //

by Georgette Heyer

I like when Heyer writes romances about two just kind of normal, good people. She’s really good at it, and her humor doesn’t suffer for it, and it’s much pleasanter than trying to ignore that this guy I’m supposed to not be disturbed at him getting together with the heroine is an actually horrible person. I don’t exactly read Heyer for the romance (cuz I’m a curmudgeon), but it can be hard to get over (*coughs ungently in the general direction of These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub, especially Devil’s Cub*).

Fortunately, like I said, the romance in The Corinthian was unexceptionable, kind of cute or whatever, and I was able to laugh without qualms.

I’ve also decided I admire Heyer’s ability to juggle plot threads without ending in a grand crash almost as much as her character work.

// The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde //

by Robert Louis Stevenson

“…I was conscious of…a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul.”

I hate that I knew the plot twist beforehand. What possessed you, Stevenson, to write such an iconic book that everybody practically gets spoiled for it before they get a chance to read it?

Oh well, it was still good. Kind of like The Master of Ballantrae: not quite my literary cup of tea, but it’s Stevenson so it’s good. (That’s just how that works.) And I like this better than Ballantrae, because…it’s well-crafted (if you hadn’t been spoiled), and the atmosphere never falters, and it’s a fascinating concept, and in the last few pages it finally came together for me and I gave a proper, involuntary, horrified shudder. Well played, Mr. Stevenson.

(“An unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul” – I LOVE that phrasing, also)

// Betsy and the Great World //

by Maud Hart Lovelace

Betsy may have graduated high school, but she still falls in love left and right – having, in this book, no less than four love interests. (Betsy, darling.)

She HAS matured, though, and I love her just as much as ever.

And it’s truly one of my favorite literary experiences I’ve had, experiencing Europe just before the crash, along with a Midwestern American girl like me who wants to live there so she really knows it, not just travel and see the sights – and who makes friends and finds joy everywhere. The fact it’s based on the author’s real-life experience makes it ten times better, and I think that’s perhaps why it feels so rich and authentic? Despite being such a simple, fast-moving story.

There’s also London, hanging out in London, being part of a group of English people as the Great War begins for them, the scramble of booking a ride home, and the joyful ending.

And, of course, the bathtub incident.

And just…Oberammergau. I was so worried the Passion Play wouldn’t still be a thing, maybe one of the World Wars stopped it or something (or I’d have heard of it), but no, it still is. And that’s awesome.

~

And that, my children, is that. Go forth, read A Christmas Carol, and hang tinsel upon the evergreens. And maybe try to think of something besides socks to get your dad for Christmas – but that’s hard, so if you need to put it off till next year that’s okay. What have you guys been reading? Do you deeply enjoy the works of disturbed Victorian writers? (I’m beginning to suspect that I rather do.)

Author: sarahseele

A Christian, cat owner, college kid, and writer. Fond of stories. Fond of rain.

12 thoughts on “Victorian Writers Are Crazy ~ Summer Reads Pt. 2”

  1. I’m not all that keen on ghost stories, but The Canterville Ghost sounds hilarious.
    Someday I will finish my Stevenson collection. Someday I will read The Master of Ballantrae and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
    … I actually AM getting my dad socks for Christmas. It’s what he likes, and he gets them specially ordered.

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    1. I’m not keen on them either (at all), but it is indeed hilarious!
      Oh, that’s great. And, you know what, I’ve been thinking about making my dad socks for Christmas too, actually? I know he’d like it. Socks made or specially ordered are much more of a good, fun gift than just going to Walmart and getting any old socks, I think.

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  2. Okay, I think I MUST read Oscar Wilde. After reading Megan’s reviews on his books and now this, there must be something good about his writings. I’ll admit that I hadn’t heard of him, previously.

    Also, G.K. Chesterton is so great. I recently read “The Ball and the Cross”, which was my first Chesterton read and now I’m a true fan. 😉 I agree- his writing is beautifully written, yet so unpredictable in every chapter. I don’t know how he managed to surprise the reader in almost every chapter.

    I haven’t been reading a whole lot. *looks at college and finals week coming up* However, I started rereading the Chronicles of Narnia a while back and I finally finished “The Horse and His Boy” yesterday. It’s great to be back in the world of Narnia as an adult. After this post though, I want to go back and visit Betsy Tacy.

    I really do enjoy these mini review posts, Sarah. Keep them coming! You’ve inspired me to do a post on the small amount of books that I read over summer because I leave my followers too often.

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    1. Ooh, you hadn’t heard of Oscar Wilde??? There is definitely something about his writing!! He has, 1) a great gift for being hilarious (exemplified especially in his plays), and 2) quite the talent for turning a BEAUTIFUL (and usually also heartbreaking) phrase (exemplified in his short stories).

      Welcome to the Chesterton fan club!! It is awesome to hear that about The Ball and the Cross; I haven’t read that one yet, and I’m SO excited to. I had a similar thing with The Man Who Was Thursday – he surprised me in almost every chapter, to the point I wasn’t sure how it was possible for me to KEEP BEING SURPRISED…lol. He’s such a brilliant, beautiful, ENERGETIC writer!!

      Wishing you all the luck with finals!!! ❤
      Yes, rereading Narnia as an adult is incredible. And The Horse and His Boy is one of my favorites.

      Thank you! Ooh, I will have to head over and read that. I love reading mini-review posts for some reason…

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  3. I LOVE CANTERVILLE GHOST SO MUCH. I too did not expect to get that emotional over it when I read it either?? And Lady Windermere’s Fan is just…amazing. I love the heroine of that one so much.

    I meant to read a lot of classics last month but then I ended up not having a lot of time? I did end up reading Lais of Marie de France and Medea though, and I loved them both a lot! I’ve been working my way through some 19th century Gothic short stories as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I had the same experience with The Happy Prince as a child, actually – I was enjoying it mightily and then OH OKAY EMOTIONS OH IS THAT MY HEART OVER THERE ON THE FLOOR BLEEDING? Less bleeding hearts for Canterville Ghost but same principle. (And I appreciate that it can be funny AND emotional and neither quality undercuts the other. I was just thinking the other day about how that works in stories.)
      And LADY WINDERMERE. She is such an excellent heroine, I adore her.

      If one can only read two classics in a given month, those are absolutely the ones to read. I mean…I haven’t read them but they sound really cool. 😂 I’m so glad you enjoyed them!
      I really really want to read more 19th century Gothic fiction. I love the aesthetic but…I somehow…hardly ever read it?? I don’t know.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Napoleon of Notting Hill is one of Fr. DD’s favorite Chestertons, and I think I’m going to try to read it while I’m home over break so I can talk to him about it! It sounds SO good.

    Hmm, I’m not sure Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been spoiled entirely for me, since I only have a vague notion of what happens, but that might be enough to ruin the experience. *shrugs*

    I need to reread the later Betsy-Tacy books probably, even though I know I won’t like the love triangle…because it’s been too long, and I need to read Betsy and the Great world, from what you say about it. 🙂

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    1. It IS so good. Or at least it made me think A LOT. Father DD gets priority, but if you want to email me to discuss after you read it…I will not be mad. XD

      Yeah, I didn’t know how the whole plot played out, but I did know the central twist which it was all leading up to and which is a big part of it so…if you know that I think it kinda does ruin the experience a bit. Not enough to make it not worth reading, but still disappointing.

      I expected to not mind the love triangle, because…it’s Betsy. Romantic drama is kinda her thing. XD But I very much did. But the later books are SO good – Betsy in Spite of Herself AHHH. I reread it…two years ago? I think? It’s amazing.
      And yes, Betsy and the Great World is the best.

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  5. I hiiiiiiiiighly approve all the Oscar Wilde on this list. *a gentlemanly Regency-style bow to you* (Not that the Regency period has anything to do with Oscar Wilde really. It must be residual influence from your Georgette Heyer thoughts in the post I just came from.)

    Also the presence of Chesterton. Book lists are always better with Chesterton. And I NEED TO READ THE NAPOLEON OF NOTTING HILL. I kind of can’t believe it. I know almost nothing about the thing, except for what GKC said about it very briefly in his autobiography (I suppose, if it made it into his autobiography, it must have been rather important to him in some way; if only because it was his first novel. I suppose that would be enough to make a book important to a writer…but also, I don’t think of novel as something that Chesterton THOUGHT about, if you know what I mean. It can’t be like he attached self-worth to them because he barely seems to have attached EFFORT to them, y’know? They’re just such ROMPS). But what it always makes me think of, first, is Croatia. Which is random. But the first issue of Gilbert! magazine I ever read front-to-cover had an article on the Croatian Chesterton Society; and whoever was writing the article had asked the Croatian Chestertonians, basically, “So Croatia doesn’t have any readily evident cultural connections to this British author, why do you guys like him so much?” and their answer was “We are Notting Hill.” If I remember correctly. So now I need to read The Napoleon of Notting Hill, if not to understand GKC, then to understand the Croatian Chestertonians. XD

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    1. 😀
      I mean. The Regency and Victorian periods have a lot in common, honestly. The last Dickens book I read, I was a little astounded at how similar all the social things were to Heyer’s portrayal of them in an earlier time. The Victorians, I think, were just more obsessed with children and further along the track toward the Utter Smash-Up of the Great War.
      But yes. Oscar Wilde. *hugs the precious flippant lost man*

      Indeed, a book list should be ashamed to show its face in public without Chesterton.
      And I wasn’t sure if you’d read The Napoleon of Notting Hill, and oh my goodness yes please read it. The CONFLICT between Wayne’s and Quinn’s worldviews – I want to write a post about how FASCINATING it is, what a unique conflict to explore and yet WHAT AN EXACT PICTURE OF WHAT GOES ON IN MY BRAIN BETWEEN THE TWO SIDES OF MY PERSONALITY. ALL THE TIME. But I don’t feel I could write the post, so I need you to read it so you can write it.
      And also it is just WILD.
      I am very curious how hard novels were for Chesterton. I assume he flashed them out just like he flashed out everything, in two seconds flat, but you’re right that they feel SO effortless. Blowing madly and gaily through the world like the hat Innocent Smith is chasing. How could he possibly have put effort into them? But sometimes the most effortless and random writing was created with great effort and rigorous attention to detail; writing is the creating of an illusion after all, and sometimes the illusion one wants to create is of whirlwind effortlessness – so who knows. I should like to know.
      “We are Notting Hill.” OH. I need to learn some Croatian history now. So badly.

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      1. *hugs Oscar Wilde also, so that he is now smashed between two 21st-century American girls* (I bet he would be concerned lest we wrinkle his clothes in such a situation.)

        I would very much like to read that post of yours, please. But I guess if you don’t want to write it I’ll just have to read the book. And then we can talk about it.

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      2. Poor Oscar Wilde, what a terrible situation to find oneself in. XD

        Well…maybe I will write it. I don’t know. I think to write it effectively I’d have to reread the book…which I of course want to do at some point…and I have thought I might start trying to write posts about most of the things I reread…so I don’t know. But regardless you have to read the book and talk to me about it. Haha.

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