Novel 061: M.E. Braddon, Lost for Love (1874)

 
William Powell Frith - The Artist's Model

William Powell Frith - The Artist's Model

 

A rising doctor, a beautiful heiress, an impulsive young painter, and a poor city girl are entangled by love and betrayal. 


The great M.E. Braddon (see Post 004) was among the most often and unjustly maligned of Victorian novelists.  Contemporary critics never tired of blaming her for Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), as the worst consequence of an unhealthy vogue for “sensation novels.”  And her improbable plots are easy to mock.  At the same time, they are consistently engrossing; while her characters are vivid and often surprisingly complex, her settings evocative, and her style subtle, witty, and exact.

“When our fault-finding is done with we thank Miss Braddon for a treat.  Her novels are always agreeable reading and have as much genuine merit as would set up a dozen of her rivals.  Her descriptions of Voysey Street and other districts are delightful.” Sunday Times, September 27, 1874

“The real secret of her success is that her people are exactly the same kind of commonplace, everyday folk as we are ourselves, and as our friends are.” Observer, September 27, 1874

Download this week’s novel:

v.1 (Tauchnitz ed.) https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_5HAdetMocuQC/page/n5

v.2 (Tauchnitz ed.) https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_lNzrF7wZ5JsC/page/n7

Novel 059: Justin McCarthy, Linley Rochford (1874)

 
George Elgar Hicks, A Gypsy Girl

George Elgar Hicks, A Gypsy Girl

 

A marriage goes wrong.


Justin McCarthy (1830-1912), an important Irish politician as well as a journalist and novelist, published some 25 works of fiction between 1866 and 1901.  The contrast here between the attitudes of the husband and wife towards life and each other is particularly well delineated.

“Mr. McCarthy’s language is correct and well chosen: the events of his story bear each its due and proportionate share in working it out; his scene is not over-crowded with characters, and those whom he introduces are reasonable, probable, and consistent with themselves.” Athenaeum, October 10, 1874

“Besides their general truthfulness to nature, there is mostly to be discovered playing round the several characters that lambent flame of humour which is serviceable in lighting up particular traits and idiosyncracies, and setting them clearly in the reader’s eye.” Examiner, October 17, 1874

“A close observer and excellent delineator of character, Mr. McCarthy contrives to combine in his portraits reality and originality, and while he does not disdain to mention trifling incidents and minute but distinctive traits, he never wearies by prolixity.” Morning Post, October 22, 1874

Download this week’s novel:

v.1: http://access.bl.uk/item/viewer/ark:/81055/vdc_000000048C36#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&xywh=-1144%2C-246%2C3754%2C2524

v.2: http://access.bl.uk/item/viewer/ark:/81055/vdc_000000048C72#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=6&xywh=-246%2C0%2C2958%2C1988

v.3: http://access.bl.uk/item/viewer/ark:/81055/vdc_000000048C8A#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=6&xywh=-217%2C0%2C2994%2C2012

Novel 056: Margaret Oliphant, The Unjust Steward (1896)

 
Sir David Wilkie, A Bookcase

Sir David Wilkie, A Bookcase

 

A poor clergyman places himself in a moral quandary.


This is one of the last of Oliphant’s hundred-some novels (for others see Posts 007 & 008).  She had been publishing for almost half a century and had come to seem old-fashioned.  The Academy’s critic, for example, after confessing a “sneaking fondness” for Oliphant, points out that she “began to write before the days when fiction became an art, and no doubt her conceptions of the possibilities and obligations of her calling are, in comparison with modern lights, limited.” This false perception of the culture of 1849 says a lot about that of 1896.  Anyway, old or not, Oliphant provides here a searching analysis of a complex, ambivalent, self-deceived character’s struggles to reconcile the moral with the expedient.

We are “transported by the writer’s easy art into an old-world atmosphere, redolent of the true flavour of a social humour not quite forgotten, but sufficiently removed from the commonplace banalities, the sexual problems, and the topical ingenuities of the day.”  Athenaeum, December 19, 1896

Oliphant’s “stories are always characterised by an old-world courtliness and a wonderful sympathy with the thoughts and feelings of old and young alike.  Everything she puts her pen to is thoroughly entertaining.”  Liverpool Mercury, December 23, 1896

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http://access.bl.uk/item/viewer/ark:/81055/vdc_00000004248C#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&xywh=-722%2C-129%2C2990%2C2565

 

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.

Download this week's novel:

http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=oxfaleph014580025&context=L&vid=SOLO&search_scope=LSCOP_ALL&tab=local&lang=en_US

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

Download this week's novel:

v.1 http://access.bl.uk/item/viewer/ark:/81055/vdc_00000004EC84#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=6&xywh=-275%2C0%2C3168%2C1977

v.2 http://access.bl.uk/item/viewer/ark:/81055/vdc_00000004EC8A#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&xywh=-1266%2C-126%2C4013%2C2505

 

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

Download this week's novel:

v.1 https://archive.org/details/mrmrsasheton01stre

v.2 https://archive.org/details/mrmrsasheton02stre

v.3 https://archive.org/details/mrmrsasheton03stre

 

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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https://books.google.com/books?id=YENWAAAAcAAJ&pg=PP2#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

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

Download this week's novel:

v. 1 https://archive.org/details/manuvringmother01bury

v. 2 https://archive.org/details/manuvringmother02bury

v.3 https://archive.org/details/manuvringmother03bury

 

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 plot...is 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

Download this week's novel:

https://archive.org/details/sealsilenceanov00condgoog

Novel 045: Beatrice May Butt, Alison (1883)

 
Thomas Francis Dicksee, Distant Thoughts

Thomas Francis Dicksee, Distant Thoughts

 

A virtuous young lady marries a scholarly older man who needs help caring for his late sister's children.


Beatrice May Butt (1856-1918) published some fifteen works of fiction between 1876 and 1908; in this she offers a quiet plot, some vivid characters, and a subtle sense of personal relationships.

“A pretty story, with a happy blending of the poetical and the prosaic.” Times, November 9, 1883

“Those who like a quiet story, without sensationalism of any kind, but yet, at the same time, an admirable study of the inner life and its affections, will find undoubted pleasure in this work.... The author’s style is smooth and pleasant, and occasionally rises into dignity and pathos.”  Academy, November 10, 1883

“The heroine’s pure and affectionate though passionate nature is well exhibited.”  Athenaeum, December 1, 1883.

Download this week's novel:

v. 1: http://access.bl.uk/item/viewer/ark:/81055/vdc_00000004AFFA#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=6&xywh=-31%2C0%2C2547%2C1856

v. 2: http://access.bl.uk/item/viewer/ark:/81055/vdc_00000004B7FE#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=6&xywh=-59%2C0%2C2627%2C1915

v.3: http://access.bl.uk/item/viewer/ark:/81055/vdc_00000004B000#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=6&xywh=-95%2C-1%2C2651%2C1933

Novel 043: Thomas Cobb, The Bishop's Gambit (1901)

 
Walter Crane, The Moat and Bishop's Palace, Wells Cathedral

Walter Crane, The Moat and Bishop's Palace, Wells Cathedral

 

A bishop’s daughter’s fiancé is accused of adultery in a divorce case.


Thomas Cobb (1854-1932) wrote some 86 works of fiction beginning in 1887. He specialized in breezy comedies like this one.

“A book of ingenious complications and bright dialogue...the story is human and pure comedy.”  Academy, February 2, 1901

The author “is saving us the trouble and humiliation of always going to France for good light fiction.  There are few English authors who have the art of being light without being empty." This novel "shows no falling off in interest and vivacity...We read it on the South Eastern Railway, and forgot where we were.”  Speaker, February 16, 1901

It has “a clever, novel plot in its way” with “an air of light comedy.”  Athenaeum, February 23, 1901

Download this week's novel:

http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph014873955

 

Novel 042: Anonymous, My Lady (1858)

 
Richard Buckner, Emily, 1st Viscountess Hambleden, and her Daughter

Richard Buckner, Emily, 1st Viscountess Hambleden, and her Daughter


A woman and her children are left in trouble after the husband and father absconds with another woman.


The anonymous author is known to have written two novels, of which this was the first.  Some sources (I don’t know the origin of the claim) identify her with Emma Willsher Atkinson, the author of last week’s novel; Troy Bassett finds no basis for this, and the novel seems to me by another hand entirely.  Read both and make up your own mind.  Whoever she (or he) may be, she (it seems the likelier choice) provides an involving, sophisticated analysis of the consequences of Victorian marital failure.

It is “told...with great strength of feeling, is well written, and has a plot that is by no means commonplace.” Examiner, September 16, 1858

It has “the freshness of inexperience.”  Though the plot “verges upon melodrama,” the characters are “distinctly drawn, and often wear an appearance of individuality.” Spectator, October 2, 1858

“The subject and structure of the story are well chosen and well planned, the conversations are natural, and the characters neither hackneyed nor untrue.”  Literary Gazette, October 23, 1858

“It is not in every novel we can light upon a style so vigorously graceful—upon an intelligence so refined without littleness, so tenderly truthful, which has sensibility rather than poetry; but which is also most subtly and searchingly powerful.”  Dublin University Magazine, April. 1859

Download this week's novel:

https://archive.org/details/10491482.1530.emory.edu