A reader named Jacqueline contacted me to ask if I’ve ever read any Victorian romances – not romances set during the Victorian era, but written during the Victorian era. I had to think on it before I realized that if I had, they were in grad school syllabi gone by, and I didn’t remember much of them. Jacqueline reads some favorite Victorian authors every winter, and when I asked her for recommendations, boy howdy did she ever.
Everyone has a favorite when it comes to romance novels. I tend to read mine just in the winter (when you can’t see over the snowbanks here in Oswego NY) I enjoy the historical type, but my truly beloved ones are over 100 years old and still hold up really well. So, here are the ones I suggest, luckily many are in the public domain, so they can be read on your device (I have a Jetbook myself) or just right on your computer. I’ve given the website to link to the book when available.
Keep in mind when reading Victorian novels, the language is far heavier. You might get six pages of a description on light coming through a tree before getting to a conversation between characters. Also keep in mind, there won’t be a lot of the blatent sex that the modern novel has. You have to look for hints, euphemism and evasion to find the sex in a Victorian novel. (unless you are reading the really dirty stuff)
Some good sites for free books:
http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/Free_eBooks ( a list of far more than I suggest here)
http://www.fbreader.org/ebooklinks.php (for other languages)
Now, on to my favorites.
Mary J Holmes did most of her writing up here in my area (Brockport NY) My grandfather was (and still is at 85) in the auction business so I was exposed to books most people never read. I began reading Holmes when I was 9. I learned last year that my great grandmother (who made it to nearly 100) was apparently a huge M.J.Holmes fan and read them when they were new. I truly regret not knowing this. So many books loves not shared! Luckily, my great-aunt is giving me my grandmothers set!
All of Holmes books run along the old principle of poor girl is a lost heiress or an orphan or the bad woman who finds her heart of gold. But her stories are distinct. My favorite is Gretchen, but unfortunately I can’t seem to find it online. Lucky for us, we can find many others at ManyBooks.net (http://www.manybooks.net/authors/holmesma.html), which is a great place to begin with a few more on Project Gutenberg. (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search.html/?default_prefix=author_id&sort_order=downloads&query=1239)
I suggest starting with Tempest and Sunshine or Rosamund which contains several short stories and might be easier before starting on a full length novel.
Or better, if you are a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan (I’m a huge one) I suggest Millbank, which is the book Laura read to Ma trying to get out of going to school http://www.archive.org/details/millbankorrogeri00holmiala this is proof that Ma was no stick in the mud! What a naughty book!
Susan Warner’s The Wide Wide World. This is the sobbing variety. I first came across a reference to it in an Elsie Dinsmore book. I went and looked for the book and found it was actually pretty darn good. And it represents the epitome of Victorian novels. Lots of tears, lots of suffering and the usual pious child too good to live (although she does). You can find it online here: http://www.manybooks.net/titles/warners1868918689-8.html
The United States had it’s own Winston Churchill. Cousin to Winston S, the men had little in common and they did meet. But for a guy, our Winston wrote one hell of a romance novel. I suggest starting with A Modern Chronicle (http://www.manybooks.net/titles/churchillwietext04wc45w10.html) This book dealt with divorce and the idea that women could love men other than their husbands. Even today this novel holds up exceptionally well with the problems married couples are having even today. Churchill’s other novels vary, some being better than others but all are worth at least one read.
Lucy Maude Montgomery. Many know this author for Anne of Green Gables but she was a prolific writer. The Anne series itself had several books, but most people only read the one. I suggest all of them, and her Emily of New Moon series. But L.M wrote many other books. I do not in any way consider her a children’s author, as some of her books are downright racy. (http://www.manybooks.net/authors/montgome.html)
If you have ever read Colleen McCoullough’s The Ladies of Missalonghi I strongly suggest reading it’s original version, The Blue Castle. (http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200951h.HTML)
Ralph Connor’s The Foreigner (http://www.manybooks.net/titles/connorraetext02frgnr11a.html) I first read this in my teens out of boredom and soon found that the books were very good. Murder mayhem and romance all in one
Frances Hodgson Burnett has had the unfortunate luck to be typecast as the author of The Secret Garden. If you have ever read the book you would fast realize that this isn’t a book for a young child but would better be enjoyed by a young adult or older. Burnett like Montgomery wrote many more books and most are romance novels. If you would like bigamy and spousal abuse I suggest Surly Tim (http://www.manybooks.net/titles/burnettf2332423324.html) and Robin (http://www.manybooks.net/titles/burnettf1894518945-8.html) for one bitch of a mother and psychic drama.
I also suggest looking not only online but starting a pretty awesome hobby of collecting the original works to start hitting yard sales and eBay. I bought a set of M.J. Holmes last year at a yard sale, 20 something books for $5. Of course, now I am getting my great grandmothers set, so I’ll be getting rid of many if not all of them. You can spend pennies getting these and some are actually pretty valuable! My Holmes set is worth around $300!
Thank you Jacqueline! That reading list would keep me busy through at least a few months. Have you read any Victorian romances? Any long-forgotten authors you adore whose books are available online as public domain downloads?