Novel 054: W.E. Norris, Thirlby Hall (1884)

John Lavery, A Conquest, a Heart for a Rose

John Lavery, A Conquest, a Heart for a Rose


A young man becomes entangled with a scapegrace cousin and a charming adventuress.

This was Norris’s fourth novel, and like his third, No New Thing (see Post 002)—and like the author’s 60-some other novels and story collections—it features a witty, lucid style and carefully defined, memorable characters.  So by 1884 the most prestigious critics are already getting tired of him.  “Exceedingly tedious,” says the Athenaeum; the Academy finds only the first volume meritorious; the Saturday Review dismisses the whole as “too clever.”  Nothing annoys professional critics so much as the consistent excellence that explains itself, doesn’t develop into something new, and so leaves them nothing to say. 

“It is distinguished by a singular mellowness of tone and perfection of style, as well as by its power to enchain the reader’s interest from first to last.  The author’s way of regarding society is agreeably dispassionate; he is satirical without being sardonic, and treats wrongdoing with a severity that is free from despair.”  Chicago Tribune, February 9, 1884

"Easy description, keen observation of the foibles of people, and presentment of characters in excellent relief." New York Times, February 11, 1884

"One of the most interesting novels that we have come across for a long time, pleasant to read as regards both substance and style, clear and fresh in its delineations of character, and thoroughly healthy in tone throughout....  Mr Norris’s finished sketches are not less accurate than easy, and...have a vigour and originality not often traceable in the fiction of the day."  Observer, May 18, 1884.

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Crossword 053: Carved Turkey

Hearty Thanksgiving Greeting.jpg

Hearty Thanksgiving Greeting

Thursday was Thanksgiving.  I was thankful for you; and you, I'm willing to suppose, were thankful for me.  But now we have these turkey parts all over the place. Like so many of my puzzles, this week’s holds a mirror up to nature, showing the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.

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Pointing Hand.png

A puzzle of mine will appear next Thursday, November 29, in The Wall Street Journal.


Crossword 051: Sole Patches

John Collier - The Beggar Man .jpg

John Collier, The Beggar Man

I've now given you fifty 15 x 15 crossword puzzles.  Because I love you and want you to be happy, I will conclude my website's first year by giving you two extra-large 21 x 21 puzzles.  Are you wondering what to do with the overflowing sense of gratitude you can't help but feel in response to all this?  Wonder no longer—because now you can donate money to this site!  Just click the button below and follow instructions.  Donate $12, and I'll send you either another 21 x 21 puzzle, or a 15 x 15 Victorian crossword puzzle (that is, a puzzle that uses only words and phrases current in the Victorian era)!  Donate $15 and I'll send you both!  

And that's not all!  I have a special bonus for the first person who donates $10,000,000 or more: not only will I send you both puzzles, but also I’ll rename this website in your honor!  So if your name is, say, Bill Gates, after your donation the website will be known as "Bill Gates Presents David Alfred Bywaters's Crossword Cavalcade and Victorian Novel Recommender."  But act fast—because, again, only the first donor at the $10,000,000 level will be eligible for this bonus.


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Novel 051: Susan Morley, Aileen Ferrers (1874)

William Maw Egley, A Young Lady Fishing

William Maw Egley, A Young Lady Fishing


A sixteen-year-old girl, newly engaged to a gamekeeper, is suddenly adopted by a long-lost aristocratic aunt.

Susan Morley (according to Adrian Room's Dictionary of Pseudonyms she was Sarah Frances Spedding, 1836-1921) published five novels between 1874 and 1888.  Nothing more is known of her.  In this, her first novel, the style, pacing, characterization, and setting are all impressively assured, and the plot dilemma interestingly handled. 

“Its unforced pathos and simple language, its delicate contrasts of light and shade, its knowledge of dramatic effect with true insight into human nature, combine to render it an uncommon book ... a singularly graceful story, told in ... a singularly pure and unaffected style.” Academy, June 20, 1874

“It is a charming prose idyll, well and simply told; its seeming simplicity being the result of consummate art.  Tender, pathetic, and truthful to nature, it ... is no ephemeral novel.  As a study of character it cannot fail to take a high place in literature.  Moreover there is a completeness and finish about it, even as a mere tale, which is quite refreshing.  In her delineations of character Miss Morley is peculiarly exhaustive without being tedious.  Fearful lest our unqualified admiration might have run away with our critical judgment we have carefully and dispassionately sought for a flaw in this graceful story, but have found none.  Its style, diction, and purity of thought combine to render it one of the most perfect novels it has ever been our good fortune to meet with.” Morning Post, August 31, 1874

“What strikes us ... is the tact with which Miss Morley manages her characters” and “the common sense view which Miss Morley takes of life.”  Westminster Review, October 1874

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Novel 049: Julia Cecilia Stretton, Mr. and Mrs. Asheton (1859)

Alfred Elmore, Supplication

Alfred Elmore, Supplication


A virtuous young lady marries a proud aristocrat.

Julia Cecilia Stretton (1812-1878) wrote some eleven novels in middle age, between 1855 and 1869. In this, a good style and several entertaining minor characters make up for a sometimes strained plot with a sentimental conclusion.

It is “impossible to get through its first chapter without experiencing an unwonted degree of interest which will grow” as the reader proceeds.  “The author departs...from established custom in not making marriage the climax of the story.” Spectator, November 12, 1859

"A novel of great merit, exhibitng the constructive faculty of the author in a very high degree, and written in an easy, practised style.” Observer, November 14, 1859

“Very agreeable...full of interest, and totally without...affectation.”  Literary Gazette, November 26, 1859

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Novel 048: Frank Smedley, Frank Fairlegh (1850)

Louise Rayner, Oxford

Louise Rayner, Oxford


Four pupils of a private tutor have adventures, grow up, and meet various fates.

Frank Smedley (1818-1864), a journalist and editor, wrote only four novels before succumbing to ill health in middle age.  This, his first (serialized 1846-48) features amusing (if flat) characters, a pleasant style, and an often silly but usually entertaining plot. (The novel, by the way, is partly set in Cambridge, not Oxford—but I like this painting.)

The characters “are nicely and unaffectedly marked. They...get into scrapes in a manner sufficiently easy and natural.”  The author’s “style is clear of trick and vulgarity” and “his scenes are alive.”  Athenaeum, April 27, 1850

 A “humorous and right-minded”  novel “full of Pickwickian fun.” The plot “contains sufficient of adventure to carry it on with due interest,” and the characters “are well contrasted and developed.”  It will suit “the merry and wise of the old school of English readers.”  New Monthly Magazine, June, 1850

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Novel 047: Lady Charlotte Bury, The Manoeuvring Mother (1842)

Charles Lock Eastlake, The Lily—Portrait of Miss Bury (Lady Charlotte Bury's daughter)

Charles Lock Eastlake, The Lily—Portrait of Miss Bury (Lady Charlotte Bury's daughter)


An ambitious gentlewoman has five daughters whom she means to marry as aristocratically as possible.

Lady Charlotte Bury (1775-1861), daughter of the sixth Duke of Argyll and herself the mother of nine children, wrote, in addition to poems and scandalous memoirs, some sixteen novels.  In addition to the complex, convincing title character she provides here a leisurely series of subplots—a few of them exaggerated, but many successfully comic, and some genuinely moving.

Bury shows a “full and wise reliance on nature as it exists in itself” and a “happy skill in putting the commonplaces of life and character in an uncommonplace point of view”; the resulting novel is “ true to English life and nature as they actually exist in our own day.” New Monthly Magazine, July, 1842

“She is many degrees nearer to Miss Austen, than any of her contemporaries.”  Athenaeum, July 2, 1842

“The quiet unexaggerated pictures, the lively dialogues, the nice discrimination of various kinds of weakness, the contrasts of folly and vice, the dangers of a false education and a half morality, were chiefly noticeable in the writer’s first production, and present themselves in this with unabated freshness." Examiner, July 9, 1842

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Novel 046: Arthur C. Conder, The Seal of Silence (1901)

Thomas Benjamin Kennington, Reading the Letter

Thomas Benjamin Kennington, Reading the Letter


Two cousins, one mercurial, the other slow but sure, quarrel over a woman, with surprising, mostly comic, consequences.

Arthur R. Conder (1876-1901), barely out of college when he wrote this novel, died shortly after its completion of heart failure.  Read it, and you will join contemporary reviewers in their regret that he did not live to enjoy a long career.

“The plot is entirely diverting if not altogether probable.... The writer regards his characters with a whimsical sympathy and has been able to make them eccentric and lovable at the same time...   The quaint architecture of this little book is beyond criticism—compact, peculiar, facetious.”  Chicago Tribune, July 18, 1901

“It is full of quiet humor, keen characterization and a certain freshness which is all too rare among the novels of the day.”  Baltimore Sun, August 15, 1901

“The good, and the interest is well maintained; but it is in the freshness of the treatment, the briskness of the narrative, the excellent characterisation—a certain individualizing of every-day characters—that the great charm and merit of the book lie.”  Bookman, October 1901

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Crossword 045: No Matter How You Slice It

Helen Allingham, Baking Bread

Helen Allingham, Baking Bread


I once made a cd for a friend with 24 distinct recorded versions of the song on which this puzzle is based.  He hasn't spoken to me in years.  Do you think there's a connection?

The original title of this puzzle—which almost no one understood—was "Put on the Skillet! Put on the Lid!" The final, much superior, title was the inspiration of Ralph Bunker, who, along with a man who prefers to be called "Bob Kerfuffle," has been test-solving my puzzles for months.  I'll take this occasion to express my profound gratitude to both.  Would you also like to test-solve my puzzles?  Send me an email!  The qualifications are minimal:  an unerring sense of which Roman numerals correspond to which Arabic numerals would do (I find myself surprisingly shaky on this subject).  The compensation, however, is even more minimal:  nothing whatsoever!

A puzzle of mine appears today, and another will appear Thursday, October 4, in The Wall Street Journal.