The meme question from The Classics Club for this month asks what your favourite literary period is?
I long to say Modernism. I really do. Modernism is a fantastically innovative period and includes some of the best writers ever, including my personal favourite Virginia Woolf. However, I have to confess that the true answer is Victorian and these are my reasons.
The Victorian era is just full of rambling Gothic classics that even now I find impossible to put down. I think it is fair to say that the thriller originated in this period. The books are bubbling with sex and murder particularly the work of my number one absolute favourite, Wilkie Collins. I’m always amazed that he isn’t better known. He isn’t the only one though. Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Bram Stoker, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson; all their books stand up to modern thrillers in my opinion. In fact, given that they aren’t constrained by the realities of police procedure, I would even say they outstrip them.
Anyone that has read The Canterville Ghost will know that comedy can be over a century old and still hilarious. Oscar Wilde’s stories and plays are still so funny, The Mayor of Casterbridge is vastly amusing and of course I can’t talk about humour in Victorian literature without mentioning Dickens. I still remember reading the scene where Mr Tupman proposes to Rachael the spinster aunt and finding it hilarious at about twelve, but there are so many ticklish bits in Dickens. Which brings me onto…
Perhaps because the novel was still very new, or perhaps because it was starting to become popular, but Victorian literature includes some of the most memorable characters in literature. Dickens does take the crown here. In his novels it’s not just the main characters that are richly drawn, like Miss Havisham and Bill Sykes but even the secondary people like Mr Micawber, Mr Smallweed and of course Uriah Heep. Dickens is not the only one that has created enduring characters from this period. Thomas Hardy’s characters are fantastic and this creations help the novels to weave themselves around us and become deeply immersive. This also means that the novels are still relevant today. Despite the fact that all the authors are long dead, the characters are easy to relate to and understand. They provide a clear reminder that time passes but people are still people, driven by the same motives and emotions as they ever have been.
Gone are the endlessly dull poems of William Wordsworth and Andrew Marvell, soliloquising over a piece of ground or their ENTIRE LIVES. Victorian novels were deeply concerned with social themes such as poverty and women’s rights. Wilkie Collins, for example, was deeply concerned with illegitimacy and the perils of women’s positions in relationships, married or otherwise, and these themes provide the vertebrae for his novels. Dickens and Hardy both wrote at length on the problems of poverty and of course Anthony Trollope was also a very social writer. For me, this means that as well as having awesome plots, I am also constantly learning as I read which is brilliant.
I can’t think of another period that has provided inspiration for modern literature in the same way. So many novels refer to or are inspired by it. Possession, The Crimson Petal and the White, Gillespie and I, The Quincunx and The Woman in Black are all brilliant modern novels that would not exist without the Victorians.
So, what’s your favourite period?