Victorian Romances

Book CoverA 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: ( a list of far more than I suggest here) (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 (, which is a great place to begin with a few more on Project Gutenberg. (

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 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:

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 ( 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. (

If you have ever read Colleen McCoullough’s The Ladies of Missalonghi I strongly suggest reading it’s original version, The Blue Castle. (

Ralph Connor’s The Foreigner ( 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 ( and Robin ( 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?


Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    Sorry for this, but aren’t Victorian romances, by definition, British? (Even Burnett was American).
    Whatever. But if you need the British version there’s are lots of those, too. Most are of the unrequited or forbidden love variety, because you have to be Punished For Sin. Of course the epitome is “East Lynne” by Mrs. Henry Wood. She was as popular as Dickens once upon a time, although she’s all but forgotten now. It’s where “Gone, gone and never called me mother!” comes from. An eye-boggling read and a fascinating insight into the manners and morals of the time. Even though there was a man and a woman involved, and the woman was somewhat reluctant, especially at the start, she takes all the punishment.
    There are any number of these things, a positive epidemic of melodramas. Fun and horrific at the same time.
    For a romance with a happy ending, probably “Our Mutual Friend” (Dickens) is a good one. A brilliant novel, and Bella is one of Dickens’ more palatable heroines.
    there are many novels where couples are contrasted, the good with the bad. “Middlemarch” is a good example.
    I think the way women bear all the blame and the punishment for their “bad” behaviour is one reason why I dislike the era so much.

  2. 2
  3. 3
    Kim says:


  4. 4
    SB Sarah says:

    @Lynne Connelly

    Sorry for this, but aren’t Victorian romances, by definition, British?

    Perhaps it might be properly described as “Victorian-era.” We do have “Victorian” houses in the US, though it more often refers to a style more than the era in which they were built.

  5. 5
    kkw says:

    oooh, how exciting! Thanks for the recommendations.

    I’ve always wondered why here in America we call our architecture and literature and whatnot Victorian.  If anything, I’d go for Second Empire myself, but whatever.

    I don’t know that I’d call Middlemarch a romance, but I’d recommend it (unfortunately none of her other books are nearly as good).  If that counts, Trollope is also super fun, Can You Forgive Her? is a great place to start.  Wilkie Collins is all right, and of course Thackery is very funny.  I’m heartbroken that Gaskell never had a chance to finish Mothers and DaughtersAnna Karenina is quite possibly the best thing ever written, but for lesser known Russian classics check out Lermontov (although I think he might be regency era) A Hero of Our Time or Herzen’s Who is to Blame? (who is to blame?)  I love all the French classics from the period, down to the now forgotten Eugene Sue.  Ooh, also, Galdos, they call him the Spanish Dickens but he’s so much better, it’s well worth tracking down Fortunata y Jacintha if you can.  Also Eca de Quieros…but these are all ‘literature’ now.  It’s hard to say what qualifies a book as romance before the genre existed as such, but didn’t all novels used to be called romances?

    I downloaded Cursed by a Fortune and some other melodramas from Gutenberg but can’t say any of them were awesome.  I’ve read some Victorian erotica but nothing that I’d read again, so I’m really looking forward to more suggestions.

  6. 6
    Deborah Nemeth says:

    One of my favorite Victorian novelists is Emily Eden, author of The Semi-Detached House and The Semi-Attached Couple. Eden’s novels were first recommended to me as books Jane Austen fans should read. Her novels are perhaps more comedy of manners than romances, but I find her witty prose quite enjoyable. The Semi-Attached Couple was written around 1830 but not published until thirty years later, after the much later The Semi-Detached House came out. So Couple portrays an England familiar to Regency readers, while the England in House is one modernized by the Industrial Revolution.

  7. 7
    MariDonne says:

    How about the forgotten Bronte? Anne Bronte wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, about a mysterious young woman with a child, who appears in the neighborhood of a naive but passionate young man. (How’s that for a twist?) She’s an artist, trying to support herself and her son. The hero is jealous of another man’s role in her life, but he eventually discovers that her real secret is even more scandalous than he suspected.

    And it ends happily.

  8. 8
    MariDonne says:

    Deborah, thank you! How did I forget Emily Eden? I heartily second your recommendation.

  9. 9

    WAIT.  MIllbank is a real book?  HOT DAMN. 

    (i’m doing a reviewing project of the Little House books for another site and it’s been a ridiculous amount of time since I’ve read On the Banks of Plum Creek
    .  Woohoo!)

  10. 10
    Ms. M says:

    A Hero of Our Time is not a romance!! (It’s a great book, but I shudder at the thought of anyone reading that and expecting HEA.

  11. 11
    Hannah says:

    If you like Gothic romances, I’d suggest The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
    Also North and South by Mary Gaskell, and of course the wonderful film adaptation with Richard Armitage.
    Both are rather dark, but have happy endings.
    I’d love to find the “racy” novels by L.M. Montgomery. Of her adult novels (that is the novels outside the Emily and Anne series) I’ve only read The Blue Castle which was very tame.

  12. 12
    helen says:

    I have one to add!
    Mary Webb’s Precious Bane. I saw a BBC version way back in the 80’s . I watched it so often I wore out the tape I had recorded it on. It was SOOO good that it made me seek out the author. She wrote in the very late Victorian era and a bit beyond (she lived from 1881-1927). I have since read Precious Bane many many times and love it more with each reading. I did read some of her other works as well but for me a romance has to have a HEA to be great and most of her books do NOT.

  13. 13
    sandy l says:

    I second The Woman in White. I am currently listening to it and it is wonderful!

  14. 14
    Hydecat says:

    A lot of the Victorian books I read feature more sensation (intricate plots, deception, betrayal, secrets, threats) than romance. The romance is there, but the balance is much different than in modern romance novels where the author can focus a lot more on the intimate moments and conversations between the hero and heroine. That said, one that I have at home and enjoyed is The Duke’s Secret by Charlotte Brame. I believe she wrote a bunch more in that vein. Two other authors I can think of are Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Ouida (Mary Louise Rame). Both of them are more sensational than romantic, and some books have stronger romantic plots than others. Unfortunately, I don’t have a list of which titles are which. A much earlier book (1801) that might fit is Belinda by Maria Edgeworth. An American author from the Victorian era is Augusta Jane Evans. Her novel St. Elmo features a sort of Bronte-esque hero, but the novel is much more overtly religious than any Bronte novel as well as being pretty anti-feminist in many ways and pro-Confederacy on the subject of the American Civil War. Another American author you could look for, but may be hard to find, is Metta Victor.

  15. 15
    Catherine says:

    Victorian romance?  Must reads are Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s THE DOCTOR’S WIFE & LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET … (Lady Audley should be read first if you’re interested in the author’s development.  Though potboilers, they’ve got it all, albeit yes, at a slower pace, suspicions of adultery, love, redemption, and definitely satisfyingly “ahhh” happy endings.  Another book very close to my heart, though difficult to find, is Mrs. Gaskell’s RUTH, lesser known than THE SCARLET LETTER, but so interesting in its sympathetic portrayal of an unwed mother, at a time when mores were as Puritanical as 17th century New England.

  16. 16
    Sandra says:

    I can’t believe no-one’s mentioned any of the Ruritanian romances, like Prisoner of Zenda, and it’s sequels by Anthony Hope, or the Graustark novels by George Barr McCutcheon. Full of unrequited and doomed love, along with swashbuckling and derring-do. They were their own genre in the late Victorian / early Edwardian era.

    All are freely available on Project Gutenberg. If you want hard copies, most are still available as reprints. I own Zenda in paper, complete with the original drawings by Charles Dana Gibson. It’s not a long book, and is a quick and easy read. And is told completely from the hero’s POV.

    young55: Actually, I’m a young 56…

  17. 17
    LG says:

    @Sandra – Ooh, I’m reading Prisoner of Zenda right now. As a romance, well, I prefer modern romances more (although the anguish is fun), but as an adventure I’m enjoying it.

  18. 18
    Barb in Maryland says:

    @Sandra—don’t get me started on Prisoner of Zenda(gag). But I love all the Graustark books and they, for the most part, have happy endings.
    @Hydecate—Yes! St Elmo!!  The best part of that story is that the heroine makes the hero shape up before she’ll marry him. He’s all “marry me, you’ll be my salvation” and she says “not my job. Save yourself and then come back and we’ll see”. But you are right about about the rest of the book. To a modern reader the heroine stands a good chance of coming across as a prig.
    @Deborah Nemeth—I loved both of Emily Eden’s books.  Thanks for mentioning her.
    I have a weakness for Florence Barclay, who wrote between 1908 and 1917.  The Rosary is her best known. 
    I have Burnett’s Making of a Marchioness on my TBR.
    And I loved all of Trollope’s Palliser books.  Not really romances, but there are some really nice love stories in there (especially that one of Mrs. Max and Phineas Finn).

  19. 19

    I get my Victorian/Edwardian fiction fix from Melody of Redeeming Qualities (disclosure: she writes reviews once a month on my blog). Through her I’ve discovered such authors as Mary Roberts Rinehart, Miriam Michelson, A.M. and C.M. Williamson, and Margaret Widdermer. On my own (sometimes via classic cinema), I’ve discovered Elinor Glyn, Alice Duer Miller, William Dean Howells, and many more. Thankfully, since I write romances set in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, these books provide entertainment and research material in one!

    (security phrase: work32—I guess SBTB is telling me to get back to my manuscript!)

  20. 20
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    I completely agree about L.M. Montgomery. She’s lovely.

    As for my own recommendations, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette is absolutely gorgeous. I think it’s better than Jane Eyre. The pacing is seriously sllllloooooow, though, so if you’re looking for quick gratification, don’t read this. It’s a lovely, languid novel with intense character development, and the love story takes you by surprise. It took me a while to read, but every time I put it down, I felt all swoony. Best of all, it’s free at the Kindle store!

  21. 21

    Thanks for listing Girlebooks as as source! We do have a tag that you can search by to find free Victorian Era ebooks, accessible here:
    That would be only British novels that come up there. You can also use the “nineteenth century” tag that will bring up all novels around that time period, or the romance tag.

    I can personally recommend, of the Victorian novels, anything by Gaskell and the Brontes. The First Violin by Jesse Fothergill is quite lovely. Not strictly Victorian but close enough is Florence Barclay. The Rosary is one of my favorites, and has enough heartache and romance to rival any of the proper Victorians.

    I also wouldn’t categorize George Eliot as romance. Some of it is just plain sad, and some (Silas Marner for example) has hardly any romance at all. But she is worth reading for other reasons.

  22. 22
    Sharon says:

    Louisa May Alcott wrote romances, some of them positively Gothic, others more ‘wholesome’. “Eight Cousins” and “Rose in Bloom” were two of the first romances I read. Montgomery’s “Kilmeny of the Orchard” is another one – I just re-read it (free on Kindle) and found it still had charm – like finding a faded rose in an old book. Both authors wrote a lot of short stories for women’s magazines which were then ‘lost’ – several dozen of Montgomery’s were discovered in an attic in Nova Scotia in the 80s or 90s and were re-printed.

    George MacDonald (Princess and Curdie, Back of the North Wind) was more famous in his time for his Scottish stories of romance, deeply set in a Christian context. His stories were known for their dialect and their honest portrayal of pretty difficult lives.

    I discovered some of the Bronte and Collins stories from BBC productions – “The Tenant at Wildfell Hall” with Tara Fitzgerald, I think, and “The Moonstone” were wonderfully done.
    Many of the stories we think were “stuffy and Victorian” are actually very dark and deal with some pretty deep themes of incest, neglect, and twisted sexuality. Good reading, but the language tends to be ponderous – you need to slow down when reading to savour the rhythm.

  23. 23
    Vicki says:

    Thanks for the links. I had to bookmark they are drm free which is what I am dedicated to.

    Also, I might not call them romances but I have enjoyed the Forsyte Saga by Galsworthy

  24. 24
    zinemama says:

    I’m totally seconding Louisa May Alcott’s non-wholesome romances. Check out Behind a Mask, everyone, asap! It’s got the meek governess who isn’t what she seems, the passionate yet naive young guy, the cynical older fellow, the innocent miss, lots of suspense, and the triumph of a Bad Woman who gets her HEA! Hot stuff, folks, I’m telling you.

    You can read it online:;=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=1&division=div1

    But better is the book (edited by Madeline Stern) which also contains three more novellas and a great intro.

    These are the “sensation stories” Jo bundled into the fire in Little Woman after Professor Bhaer lectured her on what writing such trash was doing to her morals. Thankfully, LMA didn’t follow that advice

  25. 25
    Cassie says:

    I have actually read “Robin”. It was quite nice. 🙂 There was one I’m too lazy to Google—the heroine lived out in the wilderness. Ask me after finals.

    Jacqueline, you are right in my neck of the woods; I am actually planning to go to grad school in Oswego. Power to the snowbitches! 🙂

    “sat43”: yes, that’s probably going to be the high temperature. Spring? What?

  26. 26
    Alison says:

    I love Gaskell too, and I’m so glad someone else mentioned Ouida – I also love Charlotte Yonge’s books which can be quite hard to find.

    How spooky, my security word is young92!

  27. 27
    EbonyMcKenna says:

    Loading up the iPad, nom nom nom nom . . . .

  28. 28

    I’m currently reading The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliff.  It’s a seriously Gothic novel (and apparently a fav of Jane Austen) that has a ton of romantic elements.  I’m about halfway through (it’s a VERY long book), but the descriptions are breathtaking.  It was written during the Victorian time period but takes place in France and Italy during the Middle Ages.  I’m really liking it, I’ll try to let you know how it turns out. 

    before59 – it’s my goal to read all the books on my “to read list” before i turn 59 (that will be hard to do.  :/ )

  29. 29
    lina says:

    I must be in a kind of bitchy mood today (well, this is the smart bitches, after all)—because I just have to make some corrections in case anybody goes looking for some of these recommendations.  It’s Elizabeth Gaskell (not Mary) and her magnum opus—unfinished, but published and eminently readable (it doesn’t totally leave you hanging)—is _Wives and Daughters_ (not _Mothers and Daughters_).  I highly, highly recommend both this and _North and South_. 

    And _The Mysteries of Udolpho_ by Ann Radcliffe isn’t Victorian; it was published in 1794.  A great read, though; it was the craze for Radcliffe and her imitators Austen was lampooning in _Northanger Abbey_.

  30. 30
    Emily says:

    I am a deep devoted L. M. Montgomery fan. Her book The Blue Castle was her attempt to write a novel for adults. The crittics dismissed because after a strong beginning it turns into “a mere romance”.
    Sigh. Seriously I love Anne and her family. (Matthew Cuthebert reminds me of my father.) I also love Emily even more. (the gothic) and Pat her later heroine.
    One problem She was a Edwardian and post Edwardian writer. (Anne’s children grow up to fight in WW1).
    looking for three public domain reads:
    Check republic of pemberly
    and georgette heyer on-line which has a link to her first novel The Black Moth.

  31. 31
    Pam says:

    Not truly Victorian, but definitely in the neighborhood of Alcott and Montgomery is Jean Webster’s Daddy Long Legs.  i read it a couple of times over the years, though not recently.  No nookie, nor implications of nookie.  Charming story with a definite, if a tad predictable HEA.

    Also not Victorian, but I used to really like Sabatini as well, especially Scaramouche.

  32. 32
    BethanyA says:

    The Blue Castle is my most favoritest book of all time. That’s all.

  33. 33
    kkw says:

    oh, yeah, Hero of Our Time does not have a HEA.  Nor does Anna Karenina.  Nor Fortunata y Jacintha, nor any de Queiroz book I’ve ever read.  Nor most of the French classics, actually.  So much for my recommendations.  But they’re all so good.  And very romantic.  Just not necessarily happily so.
    And I agree, Emily Eden is really good.  Racist, but that’s a given in just about everything from bygone eras, of course.  But it’s shocking if you aren’t braced for it.
    I haven’t liked Gaskell’s other books as much (and of course it’s Wives and Daughters, not Mothers, that’s sort of the point, oops), and Radcliffe never did it for me, but they’re still interesting, particularly if you like tracing the evolution of the novel.  By the same token, I was never nuts about any of the Brontes, but Villette might be my favorite.

  34. 34

    The requirement of the happy ending is a modern requirement for a romance. Before the mid twentieth century, perhaps a little later, the expectation began. That’s why I often refer to “genre romance” to differentiate it from what went before.
    I do love some of the books referenced here, and I’ve learned about others I had no idea about. I’ve never read “The Blue Castle,” for instance, but I’ll be rectifying that soon! So many thanks to everyone who’s contributed, this has been a great thread.

  35. 35
    Estara says:

    For completeness sake, although I’m sure none of them have been translated into English, I’d like to point out that Hedwig Courths-Mahler and Karl May wrote some great romance novels (as serializations in newspapers of the time) in that era (the May written once also being more swashbuckly a la Prisonder of Zenda or Scarlet Pimpernel).
    The love stories do have happy ends.

  36. 36
    Literary Slut Kilian says:

    I lurve Victorian literature (except Dickens), especially Anthony Trollope. The Eustace Diamonds is a hoot, and I like Can You Forgive Her as well. CYFH has one of the best villains I have ever read, conflicted, attractive, and so utterly bad. A real Bad Boy, George Vavasour is a very memorable character.

    Middlemarch is another of my favorites, and there is an act of betrayal that I found shocking, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a romance.

    Even Dickens has his moments, and A Tale of Two Cities is a real page-turner. I was so smitten with the blood-thirsty Mme La Farge, I learned to knit the code she used to communicate secret messages in her handwork.

    Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom are right square in the romance category, with a HEA guaranteed.

    greater25 – there must be greater than 25 Victorian authors with oop books that are free from the Gutenberg Project and for download on Kindle.

  37. 37
    aforeffort says:

    A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott
    Not for little women!  This is a gothic novel, very sensational and over the top (but very entertaining especially in a classroom or book club setting).  The hero’s (and villain) name is Tempest.  You can see where this is going.

  38. 38
    kkw says:

    I learned to knit the code she used to communicate secret messages in her handwork.

    I don’t like Dickens either but that’s awesome – how does it work? I totally want to knit the names of all my enemies into a scarf so I’m ready for the revolution.  All I need is that code, and some enemies….

  39. 39
    Karin says:

    I second the recommendation of “Precious Bane”,  it’s written in a wonderful vernacular, beautifully poetic. The tone is conversational, and all about characters and events; not your stilted Victorian language with pages of description which I have no patience for. It’s got a swoon-worthy hero who rescues the heroine in distress, and an extremely well-earned HEA. SO romantic.

  40. 40
    Literary Slut Kilian says:


    Here’s a link:’s code.htm

    I don’t remember the one I used as being this complicated, more along the lines of binary code or Morse code, with the knit and purl stitches representing the on/off or dit/dah signal, forming the letters.

    Here’s a Youtube video from a certified geek:

    activity31 – I have moved on to 31 more activities since I knitted in code

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