Victorian literature challenge 2011

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - Save & Share - 19 Comments

After the fun I had joining in with the R.I.P. Challenge this year I’ve beein looking around for some challenges to join for the coming year.  Given the immense proportions of my TBR pile, I like reading challenges which provide me with gentle encouragement to read the books I already own, rather than those that tempt me to buy new books (and, lets be honest, I don’t need much tempting).

I have a sizeable stack of unread Victorian novels on one of my shelves, which is rather worryingly suspended from the wall above my bed.  As death by collapsing bookshelf à la Leonard Bast in Howards End is not on my list of things to accomplish in 2011 (‘get married’ and ‘buy house’ take precedence over ‘die excruciatingly painful death’) I feel I should probably get around to reading some of them and removing the imminent peril.  Consequently, I was thrilled to stumble across the Victorian Literature Challenge 2011, run by Bethany of words, words, words.  It seems the ideal way to get me reading some of these rather intimidating tomes and also gives me plenty of people with whom to chat about them.  I look forward to seeing what everyone else reads.

What you need to know:

This challenge will run from 01 Jan 2011 – 31 Dec 2011.
Participants can sign up at any time throughout the year.

Read your Victorian literature.
Queen Victoria reigned from 1837-1901. If your book wasn’t published during those particular years, but is by an author considered ‘Victorian’ then go for it. We’re here for reading, not historical facts! Also, this can include works by authors from other countries, so long as they are from this period.

Literature comes in many forms.
There are so many Victorian reads out there, including novels, short stories, and poetry. One poem doesn’t count as a ‘book’: pick up an anthology instead!

Choose your books.
List your books before you begin, or pick up titles along the way. It’s up to you! You can review them if you choose to, but it’s not necessary. If you don’t have a blog, that’s fine! Link to a Facebook, or a page somewhere where you can list what you’ve been reading. If you can’t link up, no problem – feel free to just comment and enjoy.
Spread the love.
Post the reading challenge on your blog – make your own post(s), or stick the button on the side of your page. The more the merrier, after all. Let’s build a big community of Victorian literature lovers!
Choose from one of the four levels:

Sense and Sensibility: 1-4 books.
Great Expectations: 5-9 books.
Hard Times: 10-14 books.
Desperate Remedies: 15+ books.

I think I’m going to aim for the Hard Times level of participation, with the aim of reading one book a month, so twelve in total.  If I manage to read more then I may hit the dizzy heights of Desperate Remedies, but I want to keep things realistic and the aforementioned other items on my list of things to do in 2011 may take up a little bit of my time usually reserved for reading, so I don’t want to be overly optimistic.
I plan to leave myself a fair bit of freedom to choose what I read and when, but I’ve put together a list of possibilities to jog my memory when it comes round to my monthly selection.  Any recommendations from the list are greatly appreciated.
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19 Responses to “Victorian literature challenge 2011”

Comment from Laura
Time December 8, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Oooh, I think I shall do this as well!

I want to read ‘Mary Barton’ too… if you enjoy it, I shall get my hands on a copy. I have the same Hardy-fear and am trying to work up to ‘Tess’. I found ‘Villette’ to be a strange book, and not a patch on ‘Jane Eyre’, in my humble opinion. I actually enjoyed the Anne Brontes more. As for Dickens, I recommend ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, and ‘David Copperfield’.


Comment from Helen
Time December 8, 2010 at 9:04 pm

I’ve signed up for this too. Like you, I prefer challenges that encourage me to read the books I already own.
You have some great books on your list! Anthony Trollope has been a new discovery for me this year and is quickly becoming one of my favourite Victorian authors. I’m also a big fan of Wilkie Collins – if you decide not to read The Moonstone again, I would recommend either No Name or Armadale. I enjoyed both of Anne Brontes books, particularly The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. As for Hardy, I loved Tess but if you don’t like depressing books maybe you should stay away from that one! The only other book of his that I’ve read is A Pair of Blue Eyes, which I also loved – and it wasn’t quite as bleak either. Anyway, I hope you enjoy whatever you choose to read!

Comment from Stephanie
Time December 9, 2010 at 12:00 am

I am really excited to sign up for this challenge! You’ve got a great list going on . . . I still need to work on mine.

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time December 9, 2010 at 12:22 am

I’m glad to hear from yet another person that Trollope is an author not to be missed. It’s strange that I’ve never encountered him before, to be honest. He’s definitely lacking from the curriculum. Thanks for the Collins reccommendations; I found him much more enjoyable to read than Dickens so I’ll be sure to check those two titles out. I’m looking forward to the Anne Bronte too.

I’ve not touched Hardy in over ten years now, so it might just have been that I was too young to appreciate the bleakness. Apparently ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ is a bit lighter, but I think I may plump for the ‘Wessex Tales’ to break myself in gently. At least then if I don’t enjoy it the despair will be in small doses.

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time December 9, 2010 at 12:24 am

Opinion seems to be divided on ‘Villette’ so it’ll be interesting to see what I make of it as I love ‘Jane Eyre’ so much. I’m tempted to reread that one actually: it’s been far too long. I’ll let you know how ‘Mary Barton’ goes.

How could I forget about ‘A Christmas Carol’? Of course I’ve read that one, silly me! Thank you for the other Dickens recommendations though.

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time December 9, 2010 at 12:27 am

I always enjoy Victorian novels, but I seem to have read far fewer of them than I think. I think it’s because they’re adapted and retold so often that they sort of permeate their way into the consciousness without my really noticing it. This seems a great opportunity to actually get some of them read!

I’ll be sure to stop by your list when it’s up. Have fun selecting your books.

Comment from Bethany
Time December 10, 2010 at 11:18 am

Great list of things to read!

The Woodlanders is a very light way of getting into Thomas Hardy so I’d recommend that. If you want to avoid bleak, then stay away from Tess until you feel ready for it. Otherwise, you might enjoy Far From the Madding Crowd as an introduction to bleak. It’s funny, I’m such a huge Hardy fan because of the bleak!

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time December 10, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I’ve not attempted Hardy since I was about thirteen, so we’ll have to see how he goes now I’m a bit older. Thanks ever so much for hosting this; I can’t wait to get started!

Comment from Enbrethiliel
Time December 10, 2010 at 1:21 pm


I think Hardy does bleak astonishingly well–but then again, I’ve read only Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Yes, the ending is heart-rending . . . but it’s not a nihilistic sort of story. There was a time I alternated between Jane Eyre and Tess when I wanted a classic “comfort read”–but since then, Jane has emerged the sole comfort.

Of the two Anne Bronte novels, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is my favourite, so I’ll vote for that one.

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time December 10, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I guess it’s time for me to face my Hardy fears then. See, this is what challenges like this are for in my opinion: getting me to read the books that I’d usually ignore. ‘Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ seems to be the more popular of the two, so I think I’ll go with that one, thank you for the suggestion. I might even make it my first book as the Brontes are definitely winter authors to me.

Comment from Eva
Time December 13, 2010 at 1:54 am

Cranford is my favourite Gaskell so far…I think Mary Barton is more like Ruth (which I’ve read) in that it’s issues-based, so I’m curious to see what you’ll think of it. I was surprised by how different Ruth felt from Cranford!

I’ve loved Middlemarch (have yet to read Mill on the Floss) and The Warden, so I think you’re in for a treat!

As far as recommendations go…I’d read Wildfell Hall first for Anne (I’ve read both and I loved Wildfell Hall and didn’t love Agnes Grey, although it was still good) and No Name by Wilkie Collins.

I want to give Thomas Hardy another go next year, after hating Tess when I read it in middle school, so I hope your commenters left some recommendations there!

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time December 13, 2010 at 10:38 am

The more I read other people’s opinions the more I’m looking forward to ‘The Warden’, ‘Middlemarch’ and ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’. You’ve got me all excited about Mary Barton too now, so thank you! Good luck with your Hardy endeavours; I’ve decided to go with ‘Wessex Tales’ so I can sample him in small doses, then maybe move onto one of the novels if I manage to survive that unscathed.

Comment from Margaret
Time December 15, 2010 at 7:33 am

I’ve just joined this challenge too. I’ll be reading some of the books on your list – Mary Barton and The Mill on the Floss (if you decide on that one). I’ve read Middlemarch a few years ago after it had been serialised on TV. It took a bit of getting into but I did enjoy it.
I loved The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – a great book!
As for Hardy, well I do like his books, particularly Jude the Obscure and Tess. I agree that The Woodlanders is a lighter way into his books.
I’ll be reading David Copperfield – because I already have the book. I haven’t read much Dickens – we read A Tale of Two Cities at school. How about reading A Christmas Carol, that’s shorter than most of his books and just right for Christmas.

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time December 15, 2010 at 10:37 am

I’d forgotten that I’ve already read ‘A Christmas Carol’ when I wrote my list, but I do have Dickens’ other Christmas stories in another volume, so I might save those for next December. Good luck with your reading!

Comment from hip chick
Time December 28, 2010 at 7:00 pm

I can tell you only my humble opinion. I loved Middlemarch but you have to get pretty far into it before you realize how fantastic a book it is.
I read Tess by Hardy and loved it as well…but again it takes a bit of determination at first. It is not a “quick read.’
I found Agnes Grey to be so boring that I could not even finish it…and it is not a long book. Perhaps at some point I will pick it up again.
You have inspired me to read Cranford. I saw the movie on PBS and loved it so the book should be a great read. Perhaps I will read the other book you mentioned by the same author. I have Wives and Daughters but have never read it.
I find many books at second hand shops.

Comment from Hannah
Time January 18, 2011 at 11:24 am

I’m excited about taking part too- I’m aiming for the ‘Desperate Remedies’ level, and I just checked my first book- Les Miserables- out of the library. Feeling a little imtimidated right now!

Can I recommend ‘Armadale’ by Wilkie Collins, it’s fantastic, and features my favourite anti-heroine of all time.

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time January 18, 2011 at 8:34 pm

I will add that one to my list. You’re being very ambitious going for Les Mis! I have a copy of that which needs reading, but I think I’ll wait to tackle it in a year which isn’t quite as busy as this one.

Comment from Virginia
Time April 18, 2011 at 3:01 am

I just came across this post, and you’ve probably already decided on your Victorian book list. I thought I would give some recommendations, never-the-less.

I can understand how you couldn’t get into Mill on the Floss. It wasn’t my favourite novel by Elliot out of the ones I’ve read, either. I loved Middlemarch, though, so I heartily recommend that you go with that one.

I wouldn’t recommend reading Mary Barton at this point if you’ve only read Cranford. I don’t think it was her best work. I would recommend North and South or Wives and Daughters, instead. Both are excellent and enjoyable.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve read any Hardy, but I remember loving Far from the Madding Crowd.

There are so many great Dickens novels. I would recommend Bleak House, Little Dorrit, or Our Mutual Friend.

Happy reading!

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time April 18, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Thanks for the suggestions, and it’s never too late to provide literary advice! I’ve already read ‘The Mill on the Floss’ now (I have a stubborn inability to allow books to defeat me) and rather surprisingly I loved it apart from the horrendously Victorian ending. More George Eliot is on the cards now though, as I really enjoyed her writing apart from that. Dickens has been less successful so far with Nicholas Nickleby: even only having read two Dickens novels before this I knew exactly what would happen, and his tendancy towards the verbose became frustrating sometimes. I’ve yet to attempt Hardy or Gaskell, but I’ll bear your suggestions in mind. Thanks very much!

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