Friday, March 22, 2024

Five of the best books about the Victorians

Kathryn Hughes is emerita professor of life writing at the University of East Anglia and a literary critic for The Guardian. She is the author of Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum and George Eliot: The Last Victorian.

Her latest book is Catland: Louis Wain and the Great Cat Mania.

At the Guardian Hughes tagged "five of the best books that track how the Victorians gradually unravelled and learned to let loose." One title on the list:
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles (1969)

The plot of this novel – hailed as “postmodern” before anyone was quite sure what it meant – follows all the beats of a classic Victorian romance. Charles Smithson is engaged to insipid Ernestina but falls in love with Sarah Woodruff, a mysterious figure who combines two mandatory 19th-century figures in being both a governess and a fallen woman. Woodruff is also partial to walking along the Cobb at Lyme Regis, a place that features heavily in Jane Austen’s last novel, Persuasion – nothing happens by chance in this meta-fictional universe. Famously, Fowles offers two plot endings, one happy and one sad, and invites the reader to take their pick.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue