Introducing: My Victorian Summer

Note: I occasionally accept review copies from the publisher. Posts written from review copies are labeled. All opinions are my own. Posts may contain affiliate links. I may receive compensation for any purchased items.

I am not finished with Milton, despite the fact that May is over. I will have another Paradise Lost post (probably tomorrow) and probably two to four more posts in the two weeks – posts on the biography I finished, the C.S. Lewis commentary I’m reading, Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes, and possibly some other Milton poetry. I’ll combine posts as I find convenient, but I am still reading about Restoration England for two more weeks at least.

Nonetheless, I have been planning my summer reading, and I’m so excited I’ve already begun my reading for my project. This summer will be My Victorian Summer.

Between now and the end of August, I plan on immersing myself in as much Victorian fiction (and nonfiction about the era) as possible. I decided to do this because I’ve been slacking on my Our Mutual Read books and I really have been craving Victorian literature lately.

The idea is to enjoy Victorian literature, so I’m focusing on what is most loudly calling my name, which is early and middle Victorian novels. I’ll leave poetry for another time and I’m avoiding the later fiction, which just seems different in my mind. (I admit, I’m afraid of Hardy.)

That said, here are some things I want to read in the next three months.


We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill. I recently watched The Young Victoria and I am now fascinated by the Queen. I most want to see how her life and influence may have created the opportunity for the social change and flowering of literature that was the Victorian era. This book seems somewhat succinct and still long enough to cover a lot of ground as I look at the royalty. If you’ve read a better book that might do that, please suggest it!

Victorian London by Liza Picard. Nymeth recently reviewed this book, and out of all the nonfiction about Victorian England that I found in the library, I think it seems the most attractive. Picard also focuses on early and middle London (until 1870), and that’s the same era that I’m most interested in. I think it sounds perfect.

The Victorian Art of Fiction: Nineteenth-Century Essays on the Novel edited by Rohan Maitzen. Amateur Reader has been writing about these essays and I love hearing the contemporary comments on the Victorian novels. I hope these essays put things in context, but since I haven’t read most of the classic Victorian novels, I hope it’s not “above” me. I had to ILL request it, and I still don’t know if I can actually get it. I’m debating splurging on actually purchasing it (*gasp*).


This is what I am most excited about this summer: great classic novels.

Armadale by Wilkie Collins (written 1866). I have already begun (about 60 pages in) and I’m so excited to love this as I loved The Woman in White. I hope (and suspect) I will not be disappointed.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (written 1865). I have already begun (about 30 pages in). I am not sure what to think so far. For me, Gaskell has been both wonderful (North and South) and mediocre (Mary Barton).

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (written 1860-61). I’ve enjoyed all the Dickens’ novels I’ve read so far, so I’m ready to read this one. It seems many people read this when they were in high school. I feel I’ve been missing out.

Middlemarch by George Eliot (1869). I’ve owned this one for years and when Nymeth mentioned a summer readalong, I decided it was a perfect time to add this in too.

These four books are the definite reads for the summer (I hope). Somehow, they all ended up being 1860s novels. I’d like to add some earlier Victorian novels too, but I’m not sure which ones. These are also rather long, so I’m hoping for some shorter ones as well. Here are others on my “maybe” list for the summer.

  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (1847-48). I admit, this doesn’t appeal to me for some reason. Maybe because it is very, very long. However, it’s an early Victorian novel and it seems to be one of the “important” books.
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (1848). I could save this for the RIP challenge in October. It sounds “spooky.”
  • Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope (1864). The first of the Palliser novels, which I won on Twitter from Oxford World Classics. Just owning a pretty book is encouragement to read it.

Who am I missing? Nominate your favorite early/middle Victorian author and/or novel and I may get to it instead/as well.

One note: I do have some non-Victorian “must reads” this summer for my classics reading group (Balzac, Camus, and Mark Twain), the Classics Circuit (nineteenth-century Russian and another that it still to be announced), the blogosphere readalong of Dante (one book a month, starting now), and Orbis Terrarum (my holds came in for a book from Africa/Sudan and a book for Asia/China).

That comes to a lot of reading, so I don’t know which books will get read. Nevertheless, my entire summer bodes to be a wonderful one. I may not be travelling anywhere, but I sure will be reading well. I’m immensely excited for My Victorian Summer.

Do you want to join me? Whether or not you do, make sure you tell me your favorite Victorian books!
Reviewed on June 1, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • Sounds like a fun project! I decided on contemporary American author Tim O’Brien for my summer reading project, which is probably as far away from Victorian literature as you can get!

    I am excited to see the Young Victoria movie, and the book your pointed to sounds awesome. I’d definitely consider joining as you read “We Two,” depending on when it is and if I can find it at the library.

    • Kim, I thought the movie was great! My husband says it was dumb. He was bored.

      And some day I’ve really got to read contemporary lit. I’m missing out in that too, I think.

  • It’s funny, but the more I hear about Victorian lit, the less I want to have anything to do with it. I think it’s often overly romanticized (the time period, not necessarily the lit), particularly when it comes to retellings or historical fiction set back then. It’s a shame, because the lit from that time itself is not bad, but I get so tired of hearing about all the modern victorian adaptations that I don’t even want to read the originals! That’s one thing the blogosphere has negatively impacted for me.

    • Amanda, this probably won’t surprise you, but that is EXACTLY my reaction to YA in the blogosphere. And lots of other popular stuff. Some has been tempting me a little, but for the most part blogging has led me to the classics and I love it!

    • Amanda,
      Read “The Forsyte Saga” or watch the DVD of it; both are excellent. It seems to me to be very telling of the hardship for women who lived during that time – at least for the female protgonist Irene Heron. This character is based on John Galsworthy’s wife who was previously married to a man like Soames Forsyte. See if this changes your view even just a little.

  • Rebecca, for something really different I recommend George Gissing’s ‘The Odd Women.’ It addresses alcoholism – in women no less! – and is one of the most interesting Victorian books (out of the mainstream) I’ve ever read.

    I have a lot of Victorian books at home. I’ll check and see if there’s anything else I’d recommend, but definitely the Gissing.
    .-= Bluestalking´s last post on blog ..Mental Check In: Why do long weekends feel so depressing? =-.

    • Bluestalking, I thought about Gissing — and I know Nymeth wrote about THE ODD WOMEN recently too and it intrigued me. I think it’s later Victorian, but maybe I need to give it a go too! Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Honestly, if Vanity Fair doesn’t appeal to you to begin with, I wouldn’t recommend that you start it. Especially since it’s a very dark satire & you seem to prefer books that are to some degree romantic/optimistic about human nature. It’s REALLY long, & although I enjoyed Thackeray’s wit and jaded outlook, even I was tired of it by the end. I mean, Becky Sharp is definitely a vivid character to both love and hate; I’m glad I experienced her, and I think Thackeray makes some valid points about morality being predicated on financial security. But SO LONG, good lord, so long.

    You will love Middlemarch, I can almost guarantee it. 🙂
    .-= Emily´s last post on blog ..Tender Morsels =-.

      • Hmm, that’s funny, I was going to say exactly the same thing about Vanity Fair. It’s a great novel, and I enjoyed it, but it doesn’t seem like your cup of tea! Too dark.

        What a fabulous summer you have in store! Have fun with it. I can’t wait to read your reviews.
        .-= Maire´s last post on blog ..Brooklyn by Colm Toibin =-.

      • I had the same reaction to “Vanity Fair”. I read it as a teenager and gave up after thirteen chapters. I always finish a book even if it’s not going well, but this book was sooo long I just couldn’t read through all the minute details of every little thing that happened every single second of every day. I did feel a little bit of excitement when the book was made into a movie with Reese Witherspoon. I thought I’d finally get through it without having to be bored to tears by the details, but in the end I was too repulsed by memories of not wanting to finish the book that I couldn’t bring myself to even watch the movie. So sad – perhaps I’ll give it one more chance one day.

    • Nymeth, I suspected you’d approve 🙂 I blame this craving to read Victorian lit on your wonderful reviews, and then your MIDDLEMARCH readalong was another little boost in this direction! It’s going to be a good summer.

  • I’m a great fan of Middlemarch and Can You Forgive Her? And I second the suggestion to read Gissing. Gissing’s Demos may be my only Victorian novel for the summer since I’m determined to finish Ulysses by Labor Day.
    .-= SFP´s last post on blog ..Lorna Sage’s Bad Blood =-.

  • This sounds like a fun line up, but definitely not light reading. So many long books! 😉
    I am hoping to read some Anne Bronte at some point this year as she’s the only Bronte sister I haven’t read yet. Also, Vanity Fair is fun, but it’s definitely a long read that is a bit of a rollercoaster in terms of the fun you get from reading it.
    .-= Steph´s last post on blog ..Amazing Adobo Pork =-.

    • Steph, does “light” mean the book doesn’t weigh too much?

      WIVES AND DAUGHTERS doesn’t seem particularly “heavy” and I ddidn’t find my last Collins novels “heavy.” I think of “light” reading as delightful and enjoyable rather than a slog like Milton has been (don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying Milton, and I still have some more to enjoy….). Anyway, see my response to Emily’s comment re: VANITY FAIR. It sounds like a bit much for me this summer! Maybe someday.

      • Yes, to some sense I mean “light” books don’t have a lot of mass! 😉 I guess the Victorians, as much as I tend to enjoy them, never really feel they are light, frothy reads. I guess in many cases the language is sufficiently different from modernday prose that they do give my brain some kind of work out.
        .-= Steph´s last post on blog ..Amazing Adobo Pork =-.

  • Now that’s some good reading! I’ve actually hardly read any of those.

    One thing to remember about Maitzen’s anthology – the essays are written by actual Victorians, so they haven’t read most of the classic Victorian novels, either, particularly the ones published after they are writing. And they have read mountains of books no one reads any more. So it all sort of averages out.

    I’m glad you’re reading Paradise Regained, too. I’m not sure that it’s any less impressive than Paradise Lost. And it’s shorter!
    .-= Amateur Reader´s last post on blog ..The private memoirs and confessions of a justified blogger – also, James Hogg’s novel of a related title =-.

    • Amateur Reader, what a great point about the essays. It will be good to remember they haven’t read it all either.

      And yes, I’m looking forward to “shorter” Milton too. I can’t recall if I’ve ever read PR so far.

  • Ooh, I’ve been thinking how I really want to read lots of Victorian books lately too, especially since reading The Eustace Diamonds, which is in the middle of the Palliser series by Trollope, but pretty much stands on its own. So I will join you. I’ve started Vanity Fair but was hemming and hawing a bit over continuing with it after just finishing another big novel, but really, some of my best reading experiences are with Victorian novels and it already makes me giggle, so this is good motivation! And yes, Middlemarch is great. But I don’t know that The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is spooky, more like a realistic portrayal of a marriage going bad and other things. It is worth reading though, Anne romanticizes far less than her sisters and does more of the showing it like it is for women in Victorian times. I’ll be interested to see what you make of the Wilkie Collins, I quite like Woman in White and The Moonstone, but have heard none of his other books are as good. Besides Vanity Fair, I also want to read more Charlotte Bronte (Villette or Shirley), George Eliot (The Mill on the Floss or Daniel Deronda) and Elizabeth Gaskell (Cranford or Wives & Daughters).
    .-= Carolyn´s last post on blog ..Reading in bed or bath… =-.

    • Carolyn, I read a bio of Collins last fall and I became fascinated by the man, so I’m excited to read it for that reason too. I wasn’t sure TENANT was spooky but the cover of it makes it look spooky. Either way, RIP challenge is just an excuse to make more book lists. LOL

  • I have been waiting for a challenge like this to come along. I did the Victorian Challenge last year and loved it. I want to read a combination of books set in that time period and written in that time period. Since I have read Cranford I have been interested in reading more Gaskell for sure. 🙂
    .-= Brittanie´s last post on blog ..Japanese Literature Challenge Four =-.

    • Hi Brittanie! Actually the OUR MUTUAL READ Challenge is a year-long Victorian lit challenge. You should totally join that! This is my own personal challenge that I’d love to invite everyone too. I wasn’t intending to make it challenge-like, like a book requirement, linky or anything like that. I’m just reading for fun and I’d love company!

  • Hooray! What a good plan for summer! And look, I know Oscar Wilde is out of the period you want, but he really is a delightful author and biographies of him can be most diverting. Switching out of Oscar Wilde Evangelist mode, I hope you do get around to Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Anne Bronte has been described to me as a “badass feminist”, and I want to read Tenant myself in the not-too-distant future.
    .-= Jenny´s last post on blog ..Review: The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell =-.

    • Jenny, Ha ha, somehow I KNEW you’d be pushing for Wilde. We’ll have to see. I did read DORIAN GRAY in February, but I do recall loving Wilde’s plays….And so glad to hear the push for Anne Bronte. I’m looking forward to her books.

  • I’m here first, to say: what a great idea! If I hadn’t already proven myself Teh Suck at challenges, I’d join you.

    I’m also here to root for Vanity Fair — yes, it’s long, but I found it to be a very fast (an fun) read, despite its daunting length.

    Happy reading!
    .-= Jenn (Bibliolatrist)´s last post on blog ..Awards! =-.

    • Jenn, Am glad to hear your plug for VANITY FAIR although I’m still scared of it. Maybe I”ll put it back on the list for the future…..And no worries on the challenges thing. I’m trying to rethink my involvement of them….

  • This sounds like a fun personal challenge. I love Victorian novels too and have been reading a lot of them this year for Our Mutual Read. Wilkie Collins is probably my favourite Victorian author – I’ve actually just reviewed Basil, which was good but not one of his best. I loved Armadale almost as much as The Woman in White though and I’m sure it won’t disappoint you! Have you tried Mary Elizabeth Braddon? Her books are very similar to Collins’.

    I also enjoyed The Tenant of Wildfell Hall but I haven’t read any of the others you mentioned yet. I’m planning to join the Middlemarch readalong, as I’ve attempted to read it before and just couldn’t get into it – hopefully I’ll be in the right mood for it this time and will find it as good as everyone says it is!
    .-= Helen´s last post on blog ..Review: Basil by Wilkie Collins =-.

    • Helen, I’m glad to hear that re: Collins. If you’re serious about him, I read a great bio of him by Catherine Peters last year. Made me want to read his entire backlist. I haven’t tried Braddon yet, but she is on my long list.

  • I read MIDDLEMARCH two years ago and loved it. I thought George Elliot did a wonderful job weaving together the lives of many vivid characters. I will never forget Dorothea, Dr. Lidgate, Rosie, Will, Fred, Mary, etc. I will be interested in reading responses to MIDDLEMARCH on various blogs. THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL is very good. I would say it is heavy rather than spooky. It contains great insight concerning marriage, human nature, and obligation. Helen reminds me somewhat of Jane in JANE EYRE in the sense that she is a strongly moral person up against great odds. She does, however, lack something Jane has–joy, I think. Nonetheless, I cheered for Helen throughout the entire book, wanting her to prevail.

    • Susanna, I’ve heard good things about WILDFELL HALL, but it’s good to know the issues are a bit heavy. I really enjoyed JANE EYRE, but not sure I can picture her without any joy…Will have to try it.

  • I need to get going on the Our Mutual Read challenge as well. I love Vanity Fair, it’s actually one of my favorite books, but I agree with the others who think you’d like the other books more. Vanity Fair is a lot like Gone with the Wind, so if you like one you’ll probably like the other or vice versa. I may have to try rereading Middlemarch soon. I read it in college during a tough semester and I felt like I rushed through it about just to get it done and didn’t really get to enjoy it. Or maybe I’ll try one of Eliot’s other, shorter works in the mean time.
    For non-fiction, I really liked Victorian People and Ideas by Richard Altick. It gives you a taste of what life was like back then, with background information on things like food, education, work, travel, etc. It’s meant for people who are reading Victorian literature, and it’s scholarly without being too scholarly or boring.
    .-= Lindsey Sparks´s last post on blog ..The Last Song =-.

  • You already have Middlemarch down, and George Eliot is probably my favorite victorian. However, I liked The Mill on the Floss way more than Middlemarch.

    I am not a Dickens fan, but I am going to keep trying. What would you suggest I try next? My only exposure has been to Great Expectations and Hard Times.
    .-= Allie´s last post on blog ..Thursday Treat #19: 1776 by David McCullough =-.

    • Allie, I hope to read all the Eliot novels at some point, so I’ll get there.

      I have enjoyed the Dickens’ I’ve read — Tale of Two Cities, the Christmas novellas, and Oliver Twist. I think he’s not for some people. TWO CITIES is historical fiction about the French revolution, I had a hard time getting into it but some people who don’t like Dickens like that better than the others. I’m hoping I liked GREAT EXPECTATIONS this summer.

    • Bluestalking, I’m planning to finish it at the end of August, so maybe I’ll give it six weeks, starting in about a month? I’m not sure yet. We’ll see how ARMADALE and W&D go and how much reading time I get in.

  • I’m about a third into Armadale right now; it’s so fun! 🙂 I loved Middlemarch and Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and I adore the Trollope I’ve read, so I think you’re in for a great summer. I’m glad I read Vanity Fair, but I can’t say it was always the most fun experience.

    Can’t wait to see your reviews of the nonfic too!
    .-= Eva´s last post on blog ..Till We Have Faces (thoughts) =-.

    • Eva, how fun that you’re reading ARMADALE now too! I am going quite slowly since I have lots of other book “responsibilities” right now but it’s a nice ten minutes before bed every day!

      • I’m the same: hooked an all things Victorian! Like you (except it was my grandmother), I was fascinated with her many stylish “Gibson Girl” outfits and her independence (lots of travel photos with no chaperone!). It was my younger grandmother (a flapper!) who eventually lived in a real, Queen Anne Victorian, filled with antiques, untouched woodwork and furniture dating back to the 1860’s. As a child, I’d wander through the huge rooms, basking in the stillness, the strange odors of books, velvet upholstery and wool carpets, the mysterious, translucent fireplace tiles and gleam of light through crystals and stained glass! It was magical…

  • Hi everyone. I just found this site today and I absolutley love it. The comments gave me a short list of new authors and books to check out. I have always loved all things Victorian. When I was about 13 or 14 I found a picture of my great-grandmother and grandfather. He was a tiny baby all dressed in white and she was looking very Victorian/Edwardian with her Gibson girl hair style and starched white shirt. I was hooked from that point on and threw myself into this time period. I can’t wait to do one of the challenges.

  • I’ve read three of the books on your list — Wives & Daughters is wonderful, and it is the lightest of the the three, and though it’s pretty long, I found it a fast read. (And the BBC adaptation is excellent). I found Middlemarch a bit slow at first, but really worth sticking with. It did take awhile though. Great Expectations, also excellent, and if you’re pressed for time you can easily find an audio version — I frequently have multiple books going, i.e., one in the car/ipod for walks, one for bedtime, etc.

    I haven’t read Armandale but I liked The Woman in White, so it’s on my to-read list. As far as the others — I found Vanity Fair a bit tedious, though I do rather like Becky Sharp. Tenant is also good, but it’s a little dark. And I actually started Can You Forgive Her with an online group last year and never finished it. I like Trollope but just got bogged down with other books and haven’t gotten back to it. I have a whole shelf of Trollope waiting to be read! I’d read the Trollope and the Bronte before Vanity Fair.
    .-= Karenlibrarian´s last post on blog ..Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout =-.

  • I found this blog in a search for background on the England of “The Forsyte Saga” by John Galsworthy. If no one has mentioned it yet, it’s been compared to “Vanity Fair” and quite favorably. The characters are vividly drawn as are their rather posh, upper middle-class surroundings centered around Hyde Park in 1880’s-1920’s London.

    There was a recent BBC adaption (2003 I think) but it doesn’t hold a candle to the one from 1969, just as that, good as it is, falls short of the actual book.

    If you are interested in stories ABOUT Victorian life, but not written then, then try Edith Wharton’s works, such as “The Age of Innocence” or Henry James’ “Portrait of a Lady” and “The Bostonians”.

    Thomas Hardy actually DID write during the Victorian era, and usually about poor, benighted characters who are victims of ignorance, predation by the rich and of Fate. “Tess” and “Jude the Obscure” are perhaps the best known of his works, but I would recommend “The Mayor of Casterbridge” as his masterpiece.

    By the way, to speak of Brontë or Austen as “Victorian” is totally wrong. “Viccy” had not even been crowned yet when these two wrote. They were pure Regency.

    • Gwynneth » I still have not read VANITY FAIR yet, but when I do, I’ll have to remember Forsyte Saga as I read it!

      And the Bronte’s published their works in the 1840s, so that’s definitely after Victoria took the throne. I never considered Austen as Victorian. She’s definitely Regency, but Bronte sisters are some of the very early Victorians. I also know that Hardy is Victorian, but when I did this project 18 months ago, I was focusing on some of the earlier Victorians, as I said in this post.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}