Reading the Victorians in 2012

I love Victorian classics but seem to have been neglecting them in recent months, so I’m looking forward to taking part in the 2012 Victorian Challenge hosted by Laura of Laura’s Reviews.

Here are the challenge details:

1. The Victorian Challenge 2012 will run from January 1st to December 31st, 2012. You can post a review before this date if you wish.

2. You can read a book, watch a movie, or listen to an audiobook, anything Victorian related that you would like. Reading, watching, or listening to a favorite Victorian related item again for the second, third, or more time is also allowed. You can also share items with other challenges.

3. The goal will be to read, watch, listen, to 2 to 6 (or beyond) anything Victorian items.

Laura is planning to focus on a different Victorian author for each month in 2012 and I would have liked to have done the same, but I know from experience that scheduling my reading in advance just doesn’t work for me. Therefore I’ll be taking a less structured approach to the challenge. I’ve listed below some of the books and authors I’d like to read, but I’m not planning to read them in any particular order.

The Brontës. I still have two Brontë books to read, both of them by Charlotte – Shirley and The Professor – and I’ll try to read one or both of them in 2012. I’m hoping to spend some time re-reading old favourites next year too, so could also decide to re-read either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. I read both of Anne’s books in 2010 and although I enjoyed them, I don’t think I’ll be reading them again in the near future.

Charles Dickens. It’s Dickens’ 200th birthday in February, which makes the beginning of 2012 the perfect time to read one of his novels. I’ve only read four of his books which leaves me with plenty to choose from. I’m thinking about Great Expectations, but could change my mind.

Thomas Hardy. I’m definitely planning to read at least one Thomas Hardy book for the challenge. I loved Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure and A Pair of Blue Eyes and enjoyed Under the Greenwood Tree too. I’m not sure which one I should try next but I do want to read all of his books eventually.

Wilkie Collins. I had to include my favourite Victorian somewhere on my list! I’ve read all four of Collins’ most popular novels – The Woman in White, The Moonstone, No Name and Armadale – as well as Poor Miss Finch, Man and Wife, The Law and The Lady, A Rogue’s Life, Basil, The Dead Secret and The Haunted Hotel. If anyone has read any of his other lesser-known novels, I’d love to hear which ones you’d recommend. I do have an e-reader so will be able to download anything that’s available free online.

George Eliot. So far I’ve only read Middlemarch (and Silas Marner at school, though I can’t remember very much about it). I think I’d like to read The Mill on the Floss in 2012.

Anthony Trollope. I’m still working slowly through the Barsetshire novels and hope to finish the series in 2012 by reading The Small House at Allington and The Last Chronicle of Barset. I do also have a copy of Can You Forgive Her? the first in the Palliser series, but it’s probably too ambitious to hope that I’ll have time for that one too.

Elizabeth Gaskell. Again, I have plenty of choices as I’ve only read North and South and The Moorland Cottage so far.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Aurora Floyd was on my list for 2011 but I didn’t manage to find time for it. I’ll definitely try to read it next year and hopefully I’ll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Lady Audley’s Secret and The Doctor’s Wife.

The challenge also allows books that are set during the Victorian period and I’m sure I’ll be reading some of those too.

Are there any Victorian books you think I should definitely read in 2012? Any suggestions or recommendations are welcome! Will you be reading some Victorian literature next year too?

23 thoughts on “Reading the Victorians in 2012

  1. Lisa says:

    This sounds like a good challenge – one with lots of flexibility. I’ve found that I don’t do well with schedules either. But I do have lots of Victorian books on my TBR pile. I came across a copy of Wilkie Collins’ No Name recently and I’m hoping to read that soon. The only books of his that I’ve read are The Woman in White. I also have Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot and Mary Elizabeth Braddon on the TBR pile, along with too many Trollopes (because I keep re-reading my favorites, like The Last Chronicle, rather than reading the TBR ones). What about Charlotte M. Yonge? I read The Daisy Chain this year, and I have The Heir of Redclyffe waiting.

    • Helen says:

      I loved No Name! I didn’t think it was quite as good as The Woman in White, but still a great book with some wonderful characters. I don’t know much about Charlotte M. Yonge but I think I would probably like her – I’ll add her to my list of potential authors for this challenge.

  2. Mel says:

    Thanks for bringing this challenge to my attention. I normally resist signing up for challenges because they make me feel too constrained, but this one sounds nice and broad. I look forward to reading more Victorian classics next year. The two that come to mind are Our Mutual Friend by Dickens and Jane Eyre (I remember starting it as a teenager but not finishing it).

    • Helen says:

      I’m not a big fan of challenges either, to be honest. I tend to prefer the ones that aren’t too ‘challenging’ and allow me to incorporate some of the books I would probably have read anyway. Our Mutual Friend and Jane Eyre are both great books – I hope you enjoy them!

  3. Karen K. says:

    I should really sign up for this one but I’m afraid of over extending myself with challenges — I have my eye on a chunky challege and a TBR shelf challenge — I bet I could find a way to read the same books and have them count for every one, including a Victorian challenge!!! I have a whole lotta Trollope and Dickens unread on my shelves.

    My favorite Victorian novelists are Trollope, Dickens and Gaskell. Great Expectations is a great choice and not terribly long. If you like Gaskell you’ll probably love Wives and Daughters. It’s fairly long but I found it to be a very quick read. It’s just wonderful!! Cranford is delightful too.

    I just read The Mayor of Casterbridge by Hardy and I liked it, but so far I’ve only read that and Tess of the D’Urbervilles and wasn’t terribly excited about either. However, I’ve heard great things about Return of the Native so I haven’t given up on him yet.

    Okay, you’ve convinced me, I’m in!! I’m sure I’ll end up reading a bunch of Victorians next year.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks for the Gaskell recommendations. I’ve been wanting to read another of her books but wasn’t sure which one to try next. And I’m looking forward to Great Expectations – I’ve noticed it isn’t quite as long as some of his others, though that’s not the only reason I’ve chosen that one!

  4. Deb Atwood says:

    This challenge sounds pretty fun. My mother always said I was born a hundred years too late.

    For Gaskell, you might try Mary Barton. I loved the novel in college, but when I picked it up recently, the dialect really bogged me down and I abandoned the effort. You also can’t go wrong with Anne of Green Gables or The Secret Garden.

    In my book group, we read Jane Eyre followed by Wide Sargasso Sea–it make for an interesting pairing.

    I highly recommend The Age of Innocence, book or movie and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, book or movie. In fact, I was completely bummed that the movie French Lieutenant’s Woman lost Best Picture to Chariots of Fire. I mean, a bunch of guys running on a beach (although accompanied by admittedly fabulous music) versus a great story within a story starring Meryl Streep? Hmmm…

    Does anyone have a Victorian era ghost novel recommendation? I’ve already reviewed Beloved and The Canterville Ghost. Thanks!

    • Virginie M says:

      Deb , I think you should read Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw” ! great ghost story, you might enjoy it.
      I found the movie recently, with the actress playing Lady Mary in “Downton Abbey” as the children’s governess and it sounds real nice.

  5. Virginie M says:

    HI Helen,

    This is such a great challenge, I will be part of it somehow, from a distance, although I am no blog writer…I love anything victorian, victorian authors, victoriana , biographies, historical books about the period…
    “Great Expectations” is wonderful, I strongly recommend it !To me it was a truly haunting novel but I read it a long time ago.
    Anyone being a Dickens’ fan will appreciate I think “The Quincunx” by Charles Palliser, a book I will have to re-read one day.
    Deb Atwood is right, “Wide Sargasso Sea” makes a perfect reading companion to Jane Eyre…You should give it a try !
    Recently, I went to Canterbury to make my Christmas Shopping and came back to France with a nice addition to my home library: More than a dozen new books, among them : a beautiful illustrated biography of Dickens, a biography of Thomas Hardy, two books, illustrated as well about life below stairs in the Victorian and Edwardian household(because I have become addicted to “Downton Abbey”).
    A nice victoriana was recently given to me for my birthday and I finished it yesterday :
    “Set in Stone” by Linda Newbery, you might enjoy that too….”fallen Angels” by tracy Chevallier begins on the day of Queen Victoria’s death but still you could put it in the victoriana category as it deals with the victorian approach to mourning.
    I also love Collins, Braddon, Hardy and the Brontë sisters (“The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” is a very nice read)and have many books by them yet to discover.
    “East Lynne” by Mrs Henry Wood is supposed to be a fantastic sensational novel , I have not read it but it is on my TBR pile.

    greetings from France,

    • Helen says:

      I love anything Victorian too, Virginie – it’s definitely my favourite period to read about. I’ve read East Lynne and yes, it is a fantastic novel! I’m sure you’d enjoy it.
      Thanks for the other suggestions. I do have a copy of Fallen Angels but haven’t read it yet, and Set in Stone sounds like a great book too.

  6. nymeth says:

    I hope you go get around to Aurora Floyd! It’s probably my favourite MEB so far (though I still need to read The Doctor’s Wife). I don’t have much to add to the recommendations already given, but good luck with the challenge! It’s certainly a tempting one.

  7. The Book Whisperer says:

    I didn’t do any challenges this year and I wasn’t planning on any for next year either but this is one I don’t think I can pass up. I just LOVE Victorian novels and read the grand total of NONE this year (shame on me!).

    I already have plans to read Shirley in March as we will be staying in Haworth for the weekend and I have already read Jane Eyre and Villette. I really want to read more Dickens and Collins and Braddon and Gaskell among others.

    One you MUST read, Helen, is East Lynne by Ellen Wood – it’s one of my all-time favourites!

    Look forward to joining you in this challenge next year 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read as many Victorian novels this year as I was hoping to either (only one or two in the last six months, I think). I read East Lynne a few years ago and I agree that it’s a great book!

  8. Jo says:

    This sounds like a good challenge, but I fear that I would suddenly abandoned all reading because I felt I was not devoting enough time to these books. I am currently reading Jane Eyre amongst all the other books I am reading at the moment.

    I am interested in reading Great Expectations and think I might have to break this one down in a readalong fashion to help me manage it.

    I look forward to reading all about this challenge and will perhaps join in with the odd one or two depending.

    • Helen says:

      Will you be watching the new BBC adaptation of Great Expectations next week, Jo? I was hoping to have read the book first, but obviously that’s not going to happen now!

  9. Deb Atwood says:


    Thanks so much for your suggestion! It turns out I had totally forgotten that Henry James Victorian classic. In fact, I had already read and reviewed it. Another Victorian ghost story I had forgotten about (and already reviewed–where is my mind these days?) is The Woman in Black. I am just drooling for the movie to come out.

    After seeing this challenge, I did a search for Victorian era ghost novels and came up with The Seance by Harwood. Has anyone read this one?

    • Virginie M says:

      Hi Deb,
      I read “The Seance” last year and quite liked it but not as much as Harwood’s other ghost story “the Ghost writer” which really gave me the creeps, but it is not really a “victoriana” book, though truly gothic in genre.”The Woman in Black” is fantastic too, I have another short ghost novel by Susan Hill at home ” The Small Hand “I think it is but am not sure about the title.
      Have you tried “Affinity” by Sarah Waters ? Gothic and victoriana indeed !I loved it.
      I would also recommend Collins’ “The Haunted Hotel” that I have at home but have not read yet. It sounds good.

      • Deb Atwood says:

        Thanks for your suggestion. I’m putting Affinity on my list. I so prefer Victoriana by female authors. Though I loved the story of Woman in White, I tired of the perfect wispy ethereal female victim depicted by male Victorians. Marian was a great and determined woman, but the author continually describes her as dark, ugly and mannish.

        Elizabeth Gaskell’s women are strong and sure–I really loved North and South. (No ghosts, though.)

  10. Jillian ♣ says:

    I’m glad we’ll be reading together on some of these, Helen. Thereare so many books I have yet to try — The Woman in White, for example. I can’t WAIT to get started on this. 😀

    Also, can’t wait to compare notes on The Mill on the Floss.

    • Helen says:

      I’m not sure when I’ll be reading The Mill on the Floss but it’s one that I definitely want to get around to at some point in 2012. I loved Middlemarch and can’t wait to read more of George Eliot’s books. And The Woman in White is a great book – I wish I could be reading it for the first time again too!

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