The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (published 1897) is another fascinating science fiction look at the implications of a changing world of acceptance. The titular character in this story, Griffin, is an albino who had once studied medicine. Tired of being marginalized for his strange appearance, he undergoes medical experiments, ultimately succeeding in creating a formula for invisibility. He hopes that by being invisible, he can blend in with his environment, get back at those who have marginalized him, and seek power and glory by gaining access previously denied him. (more…)
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (originally published 1895) is a short novella that, on the surface, is about a man who invents and then uses a time machine to travel 800,000 years into the future. More specifically, however, The Time Machine is about class division. In the futuristic world the Time Traveller visits, the evolved humans of the future have become divided into two different types: Eloi and Morlocks. The existence of two very distinct types of evolved humans comments on the dangers of living with distinct social classes.
My first Thomas Hardy novel was simply fantastic. Emotionally poignant but also socially resonant, Tess of the D’Ubervilles provides an intriguing story about Victorian social and sexual hypocrisy through characters with clear flaws to recognize and appreciate. And yet, although it was clearly a commentary on the social structures and sexual morality in Victorian England, Hardy never once lectured or made his novel about those issues. At first and last glance, the book is a tender one about one poor woman and those who associate with her.
Note: this post contains spoilers for the entire novel.
Ah, my Wilkie! It is so nice to come back to your familiar voice!
Except no two narrators in Wilkie Collins’ novels have the same voice. It is one of Collins’ masterpieces of talent that he creates unforgettable narrators with personality and voice. His novels are such a delightful comfort read for me because they are so full of life and personality. I love a good Victorian novel, and Wilkie Collins’ sensation novels are a perfect escape.
In Poor Miss Finch, the narrator is Madame Protolungo, a widowed French woman, true to the memory of her Republican husband. She is living in England and as the novel begins, she is beginning new employment as a lady’s companion to a wealthy young woman who happens to be blind. Lucilla Finch is the daughter of the rector of Dimchurch, but due to complicated circumstances she lives independently from her father with her own fortune. When she falls in love with a young man named Oscar and a surgery is discovered that may help her regain her sight, she wants to under go the surgery at any cost so she can see her adored lover. But when Oscar’s identical twin brother Nugent arrives in Dimchurch, Lucilla’s situation is confused with humorous and sensational (of course) results!
Wilkie Collins introduces a number of fascinating and memorable characters in Poor Miss Finch: the conceited Rector, the milky mother (Mrs. Finch) of nearly a dozen youngsters, Madame Prolungo, Herr Grosse the optician, and more. Further, he creates a love triangle and a situation that is page-turning. I’ve been reading lots of more serious nonfiction lately, so reading a book full of sensational characters, situations, and exaggerations was just what I needed. Although I could look at it more deeply (think of the significance of Dimchurch versus the seaside in terms of Lucilla’s vision, for one obvious example), I chose to read this just for fun. And it was!
Poor Miss Finch, while possibly not as complex as Armadale or The Woman in White, is still a Wilkie Collins classic with delightful characters and a fun plot. I am glad I read it this fall!
I read Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery (first published 1848) over the course of four months, and then I’ve been delaying writing my thoughts about it for more than two weeks. My hesitation to post about it now is related to the fact that this master tome of Victorian literature is well deserving of a series of posts and deeper reflection. I am comforted by the fact that I’m certain to reread Vanity Fair at some point, and I hope I do so at a time when I am better able to reflect upon on it via this blog.
Vanity Fair is at any moment both serious and silly, a satire of early Victorian society’s obsession with appearance, wealth, and comfort. Although Becky Sharp, the Crawleys, the Osbournes, and the Sedleys provide a microcosm of sorts of Victorian society, the satire feels like a universal one, and frequently I found myself smiling at the ways I saw modern society in the midst of the story.
The title comes from John Bunyan’s 1600s Christian allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, the town of the same name being a representation of the people who live in sin because they’ve succumbed to the temptations of vanity. In Thackeray’s novel, Becky Sharp represents the social mover who understands the system. She is an orphan determined to rise above her lower class upbringing, yet all the while scandalizing society by her own expectations for herself. In some respects, she lacks any sense of right or wrong: she uses the vanities of everyone to get what she wants. Her friend Amelia Sedley is almost annoyingly innocent of anyone’s true character, and faces the opposite issues: she cannot understand how to meet her needs in the midst of society. As the girls grow from 18 years old to middle aged, they face similar issues in very different ways.
I’ll keep this brief because there is no way I can capture in one single post the plot of this nearly 1000 page novel, the overarching feelings that come from submersing one’s self in the world of the characters over months, or both the frustrations and delight that comes from reading of the successes and failures of the characters. In some respects Vanity Fair is full of characters that I didn’t like at all. And yet, as I read of their vanities and delights, frustrations and successes, I couldn’t help seeing all of the rest of us in them.
Thackeray’s sarcastic narration and occasional opinions of the situations gave the book additional depth and humor. I cannot help reflecting that yes, Vanity Fair is well deserving of the designation as one of the best Victorian novels there is. It certainly is a perfect example of satire, and the complexities in character and plot make it a true delight to read.
I cannot wait to reread it some day!
P.S. Don’t watch the Reese Witherspoon movie! It completely misses the point in character, and lacks the biting satire that the novel provides. A big disappointment.