The Dead Writers Society

A blog about books and reading

Classics Spin!

I love the classics spins! I select 20 books, number them one through 20, and then next Monday my friends at the Classics Club will pick a book for me. My list:

They are in reverse order! Hover over each book cover to see the assigned number.

Reading Political Satire Aloud to a Teen: George Orwell’s Animal Farm

Reading Political Satire Aloud to a Teen: George Orwell’s Animal FarmAnimal Farm by George Orwell
on 1945
Genres: Classics - Twentieth Century
Pages: 152
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed: print book
Goodreads
five-stars
Tired of their servitude to man, a group of farm animals revolt and establish their own society, only to be betrayed into worse servitude by their leaders, the pigs, whose slogan becomes: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." This 1945 satire addresses the socialist/ communist philosophy of Stalin in the Soviet Union.

Guitar Hero, my 14 year old son, is not an abstract thinker. In the first place, he is 14, and a boy. As well, he was diagnosed with autism when he was 3, which manifests itself in several ways, one of which is that he doesn’t really do well with abstraction.

So, when he was assigned Animal Farm as part of his social studies unit on the Russian/Chinese revolutions, it made sense that we would read and discuss it together. This turned out to be an awesome way to gain a deeper understanding of Orwell’s classic satire-masquerading-as-a-fable-about-anthropormorphisized-animals. For both of us.

Because even though my son doesn’t really do abstraction, he had several flashes of insight in this book that were amazing to observe. And the opportunity to talk through things like abuse of power, and corruption, and hypocrisy, and propaganda with him was a lot of fun for both of us (more for me, though, probably. Lol).

This is the part where I point out that Orwell was really brilliant in his ability to reduce totalitarianism to a few pen strokes, a pig in a dress, poor Boxer the draft horse who gave his soul, and ultimately his life, to an ideal that was never going to be anything other than corrupted, and some ever changing rules about equality and animalism.

I wondered if he would get that breathtaking moment, at the end, when the “commandments” have been reduced to simply one:

All Animals Are Equal.
Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

And he did. He totally, totally did. Which was amazing.

Faro’s Daughter: I’ve Found My Perfect Heyer

Faro’s Daughter: I’ve Found My Perfect HeyerFaro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer
Published by Sourcebooks on 1941
Genres: Romance
Pages: 285
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
four-half-stars
An insult not to be borne
When Max Ravenscar offers her a fortune to refuse the marriage proposal from his young nephew, the beautiful Deborah Grantham is outraged.
A passionate reprisal
She may be the mistress of her aunt’s elegant gambling house, but Miss Grantham will show the insufferable Mr. Ravenscar that she can’t be bribed, even if she has to marry his puppyish nephew to prove it

This will be the one that ends up as my go to recommendation for people who are starting out with Heyer. It used to be The Grand Sophy, but there is that unpleasant anti-semitic streak that runs through it which has led me to be increasingly uncomfortable with recommending that as a first experience with Heyer.

Faro’s Daughter, for me, is as close to a perfect Heyer as I think probably exists. It is as sparkling and effervescent as Sprig Muslin, Deb is as strong-willed and honorable as Sophy, Phoebe is as adorable as Arabella, although not so headstrong. The romance between Ravenscar and Deb is as satisfying as Sir Tristram and Sarah Thane in The Talisman Ring.

Like Sprig Muslin & Talisman Ring, Faro’s Daughter is a double ring romance, with a pair of younger characters and a pair of older characters. And, like both of those books, I absolutely loved the romance between the more mature characters.

Deborah Grantham is the titular faro’s daughter, a moderately impoverished woman of four and twenty, which makes her a bit older than the heroine of the average Regency romance. She and her aunt have opened up a card room in an effort to stave off bankruptcy, which is really not going very well because her aunt sort of sucks at money management, and Deb’s brother is – as is so often the case in these Heyer romances – a drain on the family finances.

Adrian is the young Lord Mablethorpe, who fancies himself in love with the delectable Deb. There’s also a lecherous older character, Lord Ormskirk, who has bought up all of Deb’s aunt’s bills in an effort to force Deborah into becoming his mistress. She is having none of that, of course, but she rather likes Adrian and doesn’t want to hurt him.

The book begins when Lord Ravenscar decides that it is incumbent upon him to save the callow youth from the clutches of the fortune hunter. He badly underestimates Deb’s integrity and kindness, and jumps to all kinds of conclusions. He is a huge conclusion jumper, which is the cause of the misunderstanding that leads to a delightful confusion at the end. Deb has no intention of marrying Adrian, she is much too honorable of a person and she isn’t a bit in love with him, so when Ravenscar offers her twenty-thousand pounds to leave Adrian alone, she loses her shit.

“The palm of Miss Grantham’s hand itched again to hit him, and it was with an immense effort of will that she forced herself to refrain. She replied with scarcely a tremor to betray her indignation. ‘But even you must realise, sir, that Lord Ormskirk’s obliging offer is not to be thought of beside your cousin’s proposal. I declare, I have a great fancy to become Lady Mablethorpe.”

Ravenscar has met his match with the indomitable Deb, but he has no idea. He is accustomed to getting his own way, and is just as pissed as Deb when she turns him down flat, leaving him with the distinct impression that she intends to marry Adrian as soon as Adrian reaches majority, in a bare 60 days. The pitched battle of wills and arms occurs, with Ravenscar buying the bills off Ormskirk, and Deb actually at one point kidnapping Ravenscar and locking him in her basement with the rats.

“‘You have had Ravenscar murdered, and hidden his body in my cellar!’ uttered her ladyship, sinking into a chair. ‘We shall all be ruined! I knew it!’

‘My dear ma’am, it is no such thing!’ Deborah said, amused. ‘He is not dead, I assure you!’

Lady Bellingham’s eyes seemed to be in imminent danger of starting from their sockets. ‘Deb!’ she said, in a strangled voice. ‘You don’t mean that you really have Ravenscar in my cellar?’

‘Yes, dearest, but indeed he is alive!’

‘We are ruined!’ said her ladyship, with a calm born of despair. ‘The best we can hope for is that they will put you in Bedlam.”

These are the only two people in London who could handle each other without asbestos gloves and a welding hood.

The second romance involves Adrian and Phoebe Laxton, who is rescued – by Deb and Adrian – from Vauxhall, where her mercenary family is trying to sell her like a lamb to slaughter to a way, way, way too old creepy aristocrat because in that family, as well, the men are useless, profligate gambles and women are commodities. Phoebe is adorable and sweet, and Deb figures out within about twenty seconds that she is just the girl for Adrian. While Ravenscar is accusing her of being the worst kind of gold-digger, she is neatly solving his problem for him, finding a suitable match, and watching Adrian grow up just in time to take care of the fraught Phoebe.

And so, we come to the end, after Adrian has married Phoebe, he returns to town, runs into Ravenscar, and tells him to wish him happy because he has gone and gotten married. Ravenscar again jumps to the conclusion that Deb has married Adrian just to spite him. He shows up at her house to get into a big fight, and tell her that had she not been in such a hurry, she would have gained a much bigger prize – him.

She tosses him out, furious, saying, in Lizzie Bennett fashion, that he is the last man in the world that she could be prevailed upon to marry.

Ah, young love. If only they’d had some electronics to toss around, a DVD player would clearly have gone out the window. It does, of course, all get worked out in the end, and I am convinced that Ravenscar and Deborah are perfect for one another – honorable, fierce, passionate, and slightly nuts. Their marriage will never be boring, and regency London would have been a better place with them in it.

Top Ten Tuesday: Historical Fiction

toptentuesday

This weeks prompt is: The Top Ten Books I Want to Read From X Genre. As always individual bloggers are encouraged to put their own spin on it – so, in my case, I am going to do The Top Ten Historical Fiction Books I Want to Read in 2014. The titles link to the Goodreads bookpage, so if you think they look interesting, check them out!

Top Ten Tuesday is the brainchild of The Broke and the Bookish!

The World Wars:

1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This book has been everywhere since it was published on May 6, 2014, and I cannot believe I haven’t read it.

2. The Cartographer of No Man’s Land by P.S. Duffey. I actually bought this one back in August for my WWI project, and I never read it. But it looks amazing!

3. After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson. I read Jennifer Robson’s debut novel, Somewhere In France (you can find my review here), and really loved it. This one is really appealing as well.

Historical Wives:

4. The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki is the fictionalized story of Peggy Shippen Arnold, the wife of Benedict Arnold.

5. The Paris Wife by Paula McClain is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Hemingway.

6. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. Set in rural Wisconsin in 1909, this novel has been on my TBR since 2009.

Paris:

7. The Bones of Paris by Laurie King. I love Laurie King’s Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, and I enjoyed the one Kate Martinelli that I read, so I couldn’t resist this one.

8. A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable. This one could be great, or it could be awful.

9. The Ambassador’s Daughter by Pam Jenoff. Set in Paris, 1919, this could also have fit in the World Wars category as well.

One Giant Sweeping Epic

10. The Century Trilogy (Fall of Giants, Winter of the World, Edge of Eternity) by Ken Follett. If you want to be picky about it, this is actually 3 books, and is nearly 3,000 pages of sweeping and epic historical fiction from 1911 through the 1980’s.

Recapping January

I read 17 books, for a total of 5,900 pages.

Three series starts: Cinder, Midnight Riot and The Last Dragonslayer. Of the three, I definitely intend to go on with Cinder and The Last Dragonslayer. Midnight Riot was a bit of a disappointment, actually.

Two classics: North and South and The Scarlet Letter. There will be posts on both of these books at some point. I loved North and South enough that I plan to read more Gaskell. The Scarlet Letter wasn’t as awful as I expected it to be, but it definitely will never be one of my favorite classics.

The Grisha trilogy was a reread, and it was a lot of fun! I enjoyed Leigh Bardugo’s imperial Russia inspired world, and, in spite of the fact that a lot of people hated the ending, I thought it was well-done.


Thunder Bay was my only Scribd book this month, which means that I definitely didn’t get my money’s worth from the subscription. It was also the last book in the Cork O’Connor series that I’ve read. I do intend to finish the series, but needed some time away.

I launched into my L’Engle project with the first book in the Time Quintet, A Wrinkle In Time, which was a reread from my childhood. I am looking forward to reading on in the series, which showed up under the Christmas tree in a lovely box set edition.

I also reread most of the Lady Julia series by Deanna Raybourn – I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane and it was nice to get reacquainted. I’ve run out of time in January before finishing The Dark Enquiry, which means it will be put off until March, because my plan for February is to work on the print book TBR, which means I won’t be reading kindle books, I’ll be reading:

February

A selection of my overwhelmingly huge library of unread print books.

Happy February!

Deal Me In: January Wrap-Up

by Dana Cameron, Delia Sherman, Holly Black, Patricia Briggs
Genres: Short Stories
Source: Purchased: ebook

playing cards

My plan is to select my short story on Sundays, read it sometime during the week, and then write a wrap up post each month. As is the norm, January went great!

I drew stories from:

6 of Hearts: Weird Detectives, Swing Shift

This was a story by Dana Cameron, a writer with whom I am not familiar. One of the things that I am hoping from this project is an introduction to some new writers, so that was great.

Unfortunately, this was probably my least favorite of the four stories I read. There was nothing really wrong with it, but there wasn’t anything that really stood out about it, either. It was written in the style of a hardboiled detective novel, with werewolves.

The story blurb: The Case: An FBI agent, with troubles of his own, needs help uncovering a treasonous leak of secrets to the Nazis. He calls on an old friend for assistance . . . and gets far more than he bargained for.

It seems to be set in her “Fangborn” world. The writing was fine, and fans of shifters might want to check out Ms. Cameron. You can find her Goodreads page here. Her Emma Fielding series actually looks more interesting than her shifter series to me – it is about an archeologist.

Ace of Spades: Rag and Bones, Millcara

This is a retelling of the LeFanu’s Carmilla by Holly Black, set in a modern world. I really liked it, which makes sense to me, since I tend to like Holly Black’s books. In fact, her most recent book, The Darkest Part of the Forest is one of my most anticipated reads for 2015.

Here is what the author said about it writing it:

I can’t remember how old I was when I first read Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Gothic novella, Carmilla. I couldn’t have been older than thirteen, because that was the year I obsessively researched vampires for the footnote-filled paper that would allow me to graduate from middle school and enter high school. In my memory, Carmilla is just always there, a defining piece of my inner vampire mythos. In rereading it recently, I was struck by how much it read like a dark, hothouse fairy tale. I absolutely adore the language—all the hot lips and languid, gloating eyes—that made me fall in love with vampires in the first place. I always wondered what the story would have been like from Carmilla’s point of view, though, so in this story, I decided to try to puzzle it out.

I thought this one was really well done and convincing.

6 of Diamonds: Weird Detectives, Star of David

Star of David was written by Patricia Briggs, and since Patricia Briggs can pretty much do no wrong as far as I am concerned, it isn’t a surprise that I liked this story a lot. Weird Detectives provides a cool little blurb for each story – so here’s the “Case File” for Star of David:

The Case: Sixteen-year-old Devonte allegedly wrecks his foster parents’ home. The damage is far more than one lone human boy could inflict. The kid’s not talking, but Stella Christiansen, whose agency placed Devonte, senses he is in danger.

The Investigator: David Christiansen, a werewolf and mercenary, as well as Stella’s estranged father.

4 of Clubs: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells

This was the last of the stories that I read in January. I also really liked this entry by Delia Sherman. I am also unfamiliar with Ms. Sherman, and checking her out on Goodreads – here – she seems to be mostly a short story writer, who has contributed to a lot of anthologies.

This one was a fun little story about an AU England where the nobility receives lessons in magic, and the main character of the story – a Yankee with a talent for thaumaturgy – gets the chance to delve into Queen Victoria’s school girl notebook of spells.

“It’s a real plum. Reggie has told me so, numerous times. “There are wizards all over England,” he says, “with bloodlines going back generations, dying to get their hands on Victoria’s spell book. You should be grateful.”

And I might be. If I were a Victorianist. If the project were actually mine.”

I am a huge fan of steampunk, and Victoriana, and fairy tales, so it is no surprise that I liked this story. I am especially looking forward to reading more from this anthology.

Thus ends January in my Deal Me In 2015 project.

Dr. Thorne, or When Frank Met Mary, by Anthony Trollope

Dr. Thorne, or When Frank Met Mary, by Anthony TrollopeDr. Thorne by Anthony Trollope
Series: Chronicles of Barchester #3
Published by Penguin Classics on 1858
Genres: Classics - Victorian
Pages: 592
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads
Doctor Thorne, considered by Trollope to be the best of his works, is a telling examination of the relationship between money and morality.

It recounts the story of the son of a bankrupt landowner, Frank Gresham, who is intent on marrying his beloved Mary Thorne despite her illegitimacy and apparent poverty. Frank's ambitious mother and haughty aunt are set against the match, however, and push him to make a good marriage to a wealthy heiress. Only Mary's loving uncle, Dr Thorne, knows of the fortune she is about to inherit - but believes she should be accepted on her own terms. The third book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire.

I have now read 4 of the 6 Barchester novels and have concluded three things:

1. I love Anthony Trollope.
2. This is basically the same story as Framley Parsonage, but not quite as good.
3. No one does a marriage plot better than Trollope.

Frank Gresham, our hero, is the heir to an impoverished estate. Frank must, he absolutely must, marry money. Of course, he falls in love with Mary Thorne, the impoverished but impossibly lovely adopted daughter of the titular Dr. Thorne. Drama ensues.

Everyone thinks that Frank shouldn’t marry Mary. Frank’s mother – a nearly unredeemable snot – thinks Frank shouldn’t marry Mary, even though she thinks that Mary is perfectly wonderful as a friend and companion of her daughter. Mary thinks Frank shouldn’t marry Mary, even though she loves him because social class. Frank thinks Frank shouldn’t marry Mary, although he simultaneously thinks that Frank should marry Mary. The thing about Frank is that he knows that Mary is good enough for him, maybe even too good for him, even if she is broke. But, nonetheless, he is a dutiful son, and won’t marry without the support of his ridiculous family.

Because, you see, the reason that the Gresham family is impoverished is because Frank’s father is a spendthrift dipshit who spent all of the family money trying to buy himself a parliamentary seat.

On the one hand, it is sort of refreshing – for once in these damned Victorian novels (that I love, to be clear) – to see the male of the species being forced into terrible circumstances because his father is miserable with money. Usually it is the profligate son who forces his sisters into terrible circumstances by drinking and gambling while they starve in genteel poverty. So, yay to Trollope for being an equal opportunity pain inflictor.

But Trollope pulls his punches here. Because Mary is – gasp – secretly an heiress, and, woo hoo, Frank gets to have his Mary and eat her cash, too. In fairness to Frank, he persuades his father to support his marriage to Mary before he knows she is rich as Croesus, but, nonetheless, there is no real sacrifice to be made by anyone.

And Mary is so sweet that she forgives Frank’s awful mother.

As is usually the case, Trollope tackles some interesting issues in Doctor Thorne: class divisions, the evils of alcohol (people drop dead of drink constantly and conveniently throughout), the Victorian attitude towards illegitimacy which visits the sins of the parents on the child.

I enjoyed this one, although I think that Framley Parsonage is the better book. Or at least it was for me.

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Club Books

toptentuesday

This weeks prompt is: The Top Ten Books I’d Love To Read With My Book Club. Let me mention, however, that I am not currently involved in a real life book club, although I was in a book club for several years. Picking a book club book is a delicate task, because the book needs to be sufficiently substantive that it generates discussion, without being so dense or difficult that no one will actually read it.

So, this is my top ten – actually a dozen (3 classics, 3 modern fiction, 3 memoirs, 3 non-fiction), which would be reading list of a whole year – list of “books for my imaginary #ReadWomen2015 book club.” Some of them I have read, some are on my list of books to read.

Top Ten Tuesday is the brainchild of The Broke and the Bookish!

January: The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan (Why read this? It meshes WWII, science, and women’s history and looks fascinating.)

February: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (Why read this? Well, because I’ve already read North and South and want to read more Gaskell, plus, Cranford is told from the perspective of a pair of Victorian spinsters. Yes, please).

March: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Why read this? Everyone should read Margaret Atwood, and, just as importantly, everyone should read this Atwood).

April: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Statrapi (Why read this? It’s a graphic novel/memoir of a young woman coming of age in Iran. Why wouldn’t you read it?)

May: Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons (Why read this? Because it is a delightful and beautifully written multi-generational tale of Southern women.)

June: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore (Why read this? Hello, Wonder Woman.)

July: Dust Tracks in the Road by Zora Neale Hurston (Why read this? Zora Neale Hurston is a national treasure, and this memoir is her own story of growing up poor and becoming one of the great voices of the black American experience.)

August: House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (Why read this? Lily Bart is one of the most amazing literary characters ever written, and reading this book is like opening a vein. It’s crushing.)

September: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (Why read this? Part natural history, part meditation, part memoir, Annie Dillard wields words like a weapon. So beautiful.)

October: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Why read this? Shirley Jackson is monumentally underrated. Also, this is a great book for the spooky season.)

November: Beloved by Toni Morrison (Why read this? Toni Morrison won the Nobel, and this is her masterwork.)

December: A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorhead (Why read this? A fascinating historical look at women in the occupied countries during WWII).

Arrogant Youth and Rich People Problems: Heyer style

Arrogant Youth and Rich People Problems: Heyer styleDeath in the Stocks on 1935
Pages: 314
Format: eBook
Goodreads
A Moonlit Night, a Sleeping Village, and an Unaccountable Murder...

In the dead of the night, a man in an evening dress is found murdered, locked in the stocks on the village green. Unfortunately for Superintendent Hannasyde, the deceased is Andrew Vereker, a man hated by nearly everyone, especially his odd and unhelpful family members. The Verekers are as eccentric as they are corrupt, and it will take all Hannasyde's skill at detection to determine who's telling the truth, and who is pointing him in the wrong direction. The question is: who in this family is clever enough to get away with murder?

"Miss Heyer's characters act and speak with an ease and conviction that is refreshing as it is rare in the ordinary mystery novel."--Times Literary Supplement

Heyer is better known for her romances than her mysteries, and for good reason, honestly. This was a reasonably entertaining mystery, but was really nothing special. It is very much a class-based mystery, as are many of the golden age mysteries.

The book begins with the grisly discovery of a body in the stocks in the village of Ashleigh Green – Arnold Vereker has been stabbed. Arnold is the wealthy eldest brother of the Vereker family, and the prime suspects are his two siblings: the smashing Antonia, who is engaged to Rudolph, and employee of Arnold’s and not a particularly suitable partner for Antonia, and Kenneth, the artistic freeloader who is engaged to the beautiful and expensive Violet. It’s obvious that Arnold has been murdered for his money. The question is which of the suspects, all of whom loathed Arnold, is the guilty party.

I get the sense that Heyer was a bit of a snob, mostly from reading biographical stuff about her, but also from her books. This mystery – along with the one other mystery I’ve read of hers – relies heavily on the “Bright Young Thing” trope that is common in golden age mysteries. The BYT is a young, generally extremely attractive, female character who is a bit bohemian, who always ends up marrying someone whom she will enliven, at the same time that he will steady her. She is sort of a precursor to the MPDG (manic pixie dream girl) character trope that we’ve seen more recently.

The BYT is always desirable, and is the “heroine” of the piece. She is usually attached to someone who is not good for her – as Tony was at the beginning of this story. Giles is the perfect foil for the BYT – he is steady, but not staid, and head-over-heels for the girl. He is a Mr. Knightley, as opposed to a Mr. Wickham or a Mr. Willoughby. Not interesting enough to carry the book on his own, he’s the classic nice guy who deserves to win the hand of the cool girl. As soon as Giles ends up in the same room with her, we KNOW that he is the guy for Tony.

Violet, on the other hand, is NOT a BYT. First of all, she’s not that bright. And she’s a gold-digger – she is not sufficiently light-hearted or bohemian. It isn’t Violet’s lower class roots, but her actual lack of class, that excludes her. Being a BYT wasn’t actually dependent on having money – it was all about attitude. One could sponge off others, but not be a gold-digger, as long as one was convincingly able to maintain the fiction that money was unimportant. I know this makes no sense, but this is the sense I make of the trope after reading tons of these books.

Ultimately, the relationship with money in books of this time period can be really conflicted (as it was for Heyer herself!). Having money is perceived as admirable, but making money is grubby and greedy. So, Tony & Kenneth could live off of Arnold’s labor, and still feel his superior because, you know, they didn’t care about money. Even though the money that allows them to eat comes directly from him. It’s schizophrenic at best, hypocritical at worst.

Unfortunately, this trope has not worn well in the modern era of rising inequality. I found Kenneth deplorable, and Tony annoying. I wanted them both to get off their underwhelming, overindulged asses and do something – anything – useful. Arnold was awful, but he was no more awful than the people around him. He might have even been less awful. At least he was capable of feeding himself.

Tying this back to Heyer, she was involved in a tremendous conflict with Inland Revenue during her lifetime. She wrote because it paid the bills, but was constantly fighting about taxes, and at one point set up a LLC to try to lessen her tax burden, then basically got caught treating the LLC like it was her bank account, and the tax authorities got pissed and told she owed a bunch of money. Which I believe she ultimately paid, but she was not happy about it. She, herself, was more like Arthur (probably) than like either Violet or Antonia/Kenneth, but I think that she clearly sympathized with “the gentry” and the “leisured class.”

Over all, this is a reasonably enjoyable golden age mystery, although I never find Heyer’s mysteries as well-plotted as Christie’s or as enjoyable and quirky as Sayers. She’s definitely a second tier mystery novelist. And all of the characters could have used a swift kick in the ass.

Heresy Alert: In which I admit that I prefer Trollope to Dickens

dickens and trollope

I’m just going to say it out loud, even though it is the most shocking heresy.

I like Trollope better than Dickens.

Whew. It feels like some sort of deep, dark admission to make, right? I mean, Dickens is revered, while Trollope is a bit of an after thought. One of the second-rate Victorians, not up to the standard of the Brontes or Tolstoy, or even Eliot. Nonetheless, though this might be an unpopular opinion, after reading several books by both, I like Trollope better.

From the Dickens canon, I’ve read The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, and Dombey and Son in the last three years. I read Great Expectations years ago, and remember vaguely enjoying it, but not being overcome by wonder. I struggled through half of Nicholas Nickleby, before setting it aside indefinitely, although I absolutely intend to go back to it someday. Barnaby Rudge turned up as a spin book, and I made it through the first chapter before deciding that I just wasn’t up for it (it doesn’t help that this seems to be everyone’s least favorite Dickens). Maybe I’m not reading the right Dickens novels – I’ve heard good things about Bleak House, and Hard Times, and Little Dorrit. But, then, there’s also The Old Curiosity Shop, which seems to be universally disliked.

On the other hand, I have literally NEVER READ A TROLLOPE BOOK I DIDN’T LOVE. I’ve been making way through the Chronicles of Barsetshire over the last year. Yes, some of them are more enjoyable than others. The Warden is brief, but satisfying, and Doctor Thorne is basically the same book as Framley Parsonage, although it is much less fun. But Barchester Towers is wonderful, and I loved Framley Parsonage. I’ve heard great things about The Small House at Allington, so I am really looking forward to that one. And I read the first book in the Palliser series years ago and really enjoyed it, although I didn’t go on with the series. I”m planning on taking on that series after I finish Barsetshire.

For me, the reason is pretty simple. I am never completely convinced of the characters in a Dickens novel, while I am always totally able to believe in Trollope’s world/characters. Dickens is so overtly satirical, so over the top, that I am always left with the sense that I just read farce. And, so often, I feel like his female characters are lacking in dimension and complexity. With Trollope, even his stock characters are believable – contrast Uriah Heep with Obadiah Slope. Contrast Mary Thorne with Dora Spendlow. I believe in Mary Thorne – she has life, and realism, and conflict – a sense of self. Dora Spendlow is a shell of a person, brainless male wish-fulfillment wrapped in a pretty dress and physical charms.

Yes, Dickens is capable of writing multi-dimensional female characters. Betsy Trotwood is a miracle of characterization. But Trollope always writes multi-dimensional characters. His characters are quirky, but not caricatures.

I initially had all of Dickens novels on my classics club list. I still want to read them all, but I can’t bear the thought of reading all of them by the end of the project. I just don’t enjoy them enough, and I’m still looking for that elusive perfect Dickens.

Which one do you like?

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