What do you do when you feel like you’ve read all the classics? That’s a problem I’ve been dealing with for the last few years. The real problem is of course, the large amount of pride I must have if I think I’ve exhausted the classics. Of course, I certainly haven’t read all the classics. Is that even possible? But I feel like I’ve exhausted my favorite Victorian era literature such as Dickens, Eliot, Gaskell, Hardy, and those types of writers. I just want a new Jane Austen book, you know? (yes, I realize I’m confusing my eras and she was in the Georgian era, but she was a trendsetter, no?).
If you’re in this boat with me, here are a few classics I’ve discovered in my feverish search for new old favorites.
Emily Eden has been called Jane Austen’s successor, though she is not quite the master Austen is. However, her humorous satire of upper class England in the early 1800s is very reminiscent of Austen. Her two novels, The Semi-attached Couple and The Semi-detached House, were popular when first released in 1860. I thought they were entertaining and fun. They are lighthearted, while so many of the novels of the mid-1800s were tragic (consumption again? really?). The plot is love and marriage, but it’s not boring because true love’s course can’t run smooth or there’s no need for a novel about it. Here’s the opening lines of the novel:
“Well, I have paid that visit to the Eskdales, Mr. Douglas,” said Mrs. Douglas in a tone of triumphant sourness.
“You don’t say so, my dear! I hope you left my card?”
“Not I, Mr. Douglas. How could I? They let me in, which was too unkind. I saw the whole family, father and mother, brother and sisters–the future bride and bridegroom. Such a tribe! and servants without end. How I detest walking up that great flight of steps at Eskdale Castle, with that regiment of footmen drawn up on each side of it; and one looking more impertinent than the other!
“There must be a frightful accumulation of impertinence before you reach the landing-place, my dear; for it is a long staircase.”
So you see, this book probably won’t stir your soul, but if you’re looking for a good beach read but you’re not into modern literature, or if you’re dying for more Jane Austen and all the modern Austen mania literature is not your cup of tea, Emily Eden is for you.
Most grown women heard of or read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and The Little Princess when they were young. I love those books, especially The Secret Garden. As soon as my daughter is old enough to handle words like “plague” and “crippled,” I’ll be reading it to her. But I didn’t know until recently that Burnett wrote some grownup books, too. The only one I’ve read so far is called Emily Fox Seton or The Making of a Marchioness. While the plot isn’t going to jolt you much, it’s a very pleasant read if you enjoy the writing style of Burnett. Our heroine, Miss Emily Fox-Seton, is a respectable lady but very poor. She runs errands and performs tasks for elderly ladies to make ends meet. One of the great things about her is she is not beautiful, but her “usefulness” makes her attractive to various characters throughout the book. When she is invited to one of her patron’s summer home, the direction of her life is forever changed.
My husband went on an Alexander Dumas kick a couple of years ago. He read The Count of Monte Cristo and thought it was great. I read it afterwards and couldn’t put it down. In the end I decided it was probably a guy book–grim heroics and all of that. But there was so much more plot in it that never makes it even close to the movie version I saw in the early 2000’s starring Jim Caviezel. I realize that always happens when books get turned into movies. But seriously, they left out over half of the book. And also, the movie plot is mostly about revenge, while the book delves into many more themes such as mercy and forgiveness and how there’s always more than meets the eye to playing God. The plot starts with the Count being falsely accused of a crime by a man who has designs on the Count’s fiancee. Of course at that point, the Count is not the Count, but lowly Edmond Dantes. Edmond spends his time in prison and the rest of his life creating a persona of greatness and a plan for revenge. I understand why they had to shorten the plan in the movie, because the book develops each detail fully and intertwines many characters into the plot by the time all is said and done. The book’s end is more satisfying in some ways and less in others. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’d like to read it again! The Count is the only Dumas I’ve read, but my husband says the one he really likes is The Three Musketeers. He tells me it’s whimsical and fun loving and kind of like The Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
My latest old fashioned find is Jean Webster, author of Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy. I can’t believe that I haven’t heard of Jean Webster until now! I love her characters. I read Daddy Long Legs on Friday and I just finished Dear Enemy today. I am saddened that Sallie McBride is no longer in my everyday life. Daddy Long Legs is told from the point of view of Jerusha Abbott, an orphan who has grown up in the John Grier Home, an orphan asylum in New York (FYI, asylum does not mean the orphans were crazy, that’s just what they called orphanages back then). She is blessed by a benevolent trustee with a college education on the condition that the trustee will remain anonymous and that she will write him letters letting him know how she fares in her studies. Jerusha changes her name to Judy on arriving at college, and begins to write the required letters. But she happens to be a writer and a writer without anyone to write letters to, so her letters are full of everything. They are a treat to read. Dear Enemy, however, is even better in my opinion. It is a sequel telling what happens to the John Grier Home after Judy’s life there, and it is narrated by Sallie McBride. I would like her to be one of my best friends. If only she weren’t (a) fictional) and (b) from the 1910’s. Otherwise, I’m sure we would be the best of friends. I am on a mission to read all of Jean Webster this Fall. I have been neglecting my summer reading plans because of my discovery of this new favorite author. If you like L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Windy Poplars, I strongly recommend Jean Webster’s novels to you. In fact, I’m off to go download Webster’s first novel When Patty Went to College right now. I’ve decided I can’t wait until Fall. You can download her books at Project Gutenberg for free or Amazon has several free Kindle versions. See? There’s no excuse! You must read Jean Webster. Unless, of course, you don’t like old fashioned goodness. Then you’re excused.
Let me know what your favorite little known old book is! I am always on the lookout for old books I can make into my new favorites.