Five Reasons to Drop Everything and Read A Tale of Two Cities

Five Reasons to Drop Everything and Read A Tale of Two Cities

madame defarge

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859

You do not need me to tell you that A Tale of Two Cities is a masterpiece. If you have read it, you already know. If you haven’t, stop dicking around; go get a copy or download the e-book right now.

Perhaps you are like me before I started this reading project: you think Dickens is a stuffy, long-winded prototype of the paid-per-word Victorian writer.  Maybe you need to be persuaded. If so, here are five reasons to drop everything and pick up A Tale of Two Cities.

  • A different type of Dickens. As I read it, I was shocked by how greatly this book differs from Dickens’ other novels. He typically wrote character driven works, expending thousands of words detailing every stage of the moral development of a protagonist. I went in expecting Dickensian micro-focus on characters and found myself immersed in a world populated by abstractions. Gone are the perhaps-too-fully fleshed out David Copperfields and Pips, replaced by characters who allegorically represent redemption, trauma, loyalty, vengeance, innocence, gluttony, privilege, poverty, etc. If discussions in my college literature classes are any indication, most people prefer three-dimensional characters. I don’t. I love to ruminate on the implications of an allegory. I close my eyes and dream of symbols. If you also delight in a long mental embrace with a metaphor, go read A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Emotion. It takes a rare emotional and intellectual range to make a reader laugh on page four and weep on page twenty. Dickens’ sense of irony will have you chuckling at the trivial vanities of an innkeeper, lamenting over the suffering of the starving French masses, seething at the injustice of the aristocracy and exalting in the joy of familial bliss. You will feel sorrow, amusement, outrage and sympathy. If your heart is capable of responding to the written word, go read A Tale of Two Cities.
  • In my opinion, this is the best plotted of Dickens’ novels. It has intrigue, surprises, sudden reversals of fortune and sudden recoveries from near-certain doom. If you like suspense, go read A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Style. This is a famously well written book. For good reason. Sometimes I felt like Dickens was showing off, but in a fun way. I found myself thinking, “Daaaang, Dickens, did you just fit all those literary devices in one sentence? You’re crazy, but you pulled it off.” A Tale of Two Cities is the literary equivalent of the X-Games (or some more recent pop culture reference. I don’t pretend to be cool; I’m a book nerd). Extreme metaphor, allegory, paradox, irony, social commentary, everything. It’s brilliant. If you appreciate style, go read A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Madame Defarge. You know I’m going to love any book that heavily features knitting. There are two consecutive chapters titled “Knitting” and “Still Knitting,” which I will steal for my autobiography, because they accurately describe my life. Are you a knitter? Do you ever feel that perhaps the stitches you make will determine the course of history, the fates of men? I have read so many allusions to the Greek Fates, those queens of fibercraft, that I feel a bit witchy and weird when I knit. Not as sinister as Madame Defarge, I hope. If I had her life, I’d want to decapitate aristocrats too. I’m rambling. The point is, Madame Defarge is an iconic character and I love her.

Strangely, this isn’t necessarily my favorite book by Dickens. I perhaps prefer the lighter stuff. But it’s a masterpiece.

If you have read this far, thank you. You seem cool. I like you. I care about you. As someone who cares about you, I want you to go read A Tale of Two Cities. You won’t regret it.

You might like A Tale of Two Cities if:

  • we both know this section is unnecessary. The whole post is just reasons to like this book. Go read it.

You might not like A Tale of Two Cities if:

  • you aren’t intellectually prepared for its glory. Which you are. Trust me. Go read it.

Final thoughts: GO READ IT!


How I Learned to Kind of Like Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1855
walt whitman

This post has a companion quiz that wordpress will not allow me to embed. It’s “Can You Tell the Difference Between Walt Whitman and a Doc Bronner’s Bottle” Click the link below to take the quiz.

In the spirit of complete honesty, I was not excited to read Walt Whitman. I have never liked his poetry very much. I never understood why people name schools after him or engrave marble walls of DC metro stations with quotes from his poetry. I don’t like it, and part of me didn’t believe that anyone else really likes it.

However, one of my greatest sources of satisfaction in life is learning to love someone else’s interests. Not into comic books? Talk to a passionate fan and, by seeing things through their eyes, you may just find a new source of pleasure in this world. For example, I was a cynical teen who would rather draw the curtains and watch a zombie movie than attend anything so gauche and extroverted as a parade. But, I dated a guy who loved parades and attended a few for his sake. Listening to him comment on the craft of a costume or the humor of a performer made me start to appreciate what he appreciated. Now I will not only attend, but participate in parades. Hell yeah, let’s get dressed up and walk somewhere! Together. With a muddled and abstract sense of purpose.

I went into Leaves of Grass with a mixed attitude. I partially wanted to prove myself right by discovering that no one actually likes Walt Whitman, but I expected to learn to see him through the eyes of his fans. One evening, I grumbled to a few friends that Whitman was next up on my reading list. They immediately started talking over each other, exuberantly praising Whitman.

“Oh, I love Walt Whitman.”

“Really, you don’t like him?”

“He’s so great.”

“I sing the body electric.”

“Hell, yeah. That shit is badass.”

I thought, ok, I was wrong; people do like him; let’s get ready to learn to love Whitman.

It didn’t go so well. I found Leaves of Grass plodding, repetitive, rambling. I love line breaks, economy of word, cynicism. Whitman has none of these. Try William Carlos Williams, if you also love those elements of in poetry.

I also like to read poetry aloud. I do it all the time. My roommate, not one of the professed Whitman lovers, begged me to stop reading Leaves of Grass. She’s also crazy about literature, so it was the poet that annoyed her, not poetry itself. I had to press on through what seems like a massive tome, but actually consists of only twelve poems. So, I kept reading snippets within the range of her hearing and she continued begging me to stop. I was beginning to think that my original hypothesis was correct, no one actually likes Whitman.

To further test this theory, I read “I sing the body electric” to my two friends who professed to love it. Rather, I tried to read it to them. I made it about a stanza and a half before they, too, begged me to stop. It turns out they just liked the sound and idea of that first line. The second line is “The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them.” My supposed Whitman adherents did not like that line as much. Nor do I. “Engirth” is an awkward word, typical of Whitman’s sense of sound.

I won’t claim that no one anywhere likes Walt Whitman. Given his place in the cannon, there has to be at least one true admirer out there.

I almost published this post with not one word in Whitman’s favor, but the pangs of my conscience spoke. I reached out to one of my college professors, Desales Harrison. I took a poetry course with him (11 freakin’ years ago) and I unshakably trust his response to poetry. I am going to embarrass myself by quoting him here. He’s much more eloquent than me….I.

“Alas, I fear I must confirm your worst suspicions that I do love Whitman. A lot. He’s an immensity in my heaven of writers, every bit as immense as Emily Dickinson, even though Dickinson manages to be immense and minuscule at the same time, which is quite a feat. I wonder whether in the general astronomical progression of things if the Whitmanian comet (resplendently bearded as it may be) isn’t at the dark and remote extreme of his orbit. He burned so terribly brightly from about 1947 to 1970, when for many people he was the home-grown answer and antidote to a Europhoric High Modernism, a kind of magical gay grandfather from New Jersey who preferred sex to Anglo-catholicism or Fascism and really wanted to give everyone living or dead a gigantic, hirsute, unwashed hug. But now maybe he smells a little of old patchouli, and is the nineteenth century equivalent of the doddering baby-boomer. As for the poems, take another look at Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d. Both are, in my opinion, immeasurably great, in their intricate and inimitable music, and in their conceptual complexity. Whitman is I think the greatest poet of intimate address since John Donne; there is an urgent pressure animating all the work to get through something to a beloved you. And by you, he means you, literally, irreplaceably you, not just whoever is holding the book but you, Sydney. And me DeSales.”

Did that not lift your spirits? He kindly wrote much more to me, but that’s the most important part. This post is long already. Thanks for sticking with us.

Two grand takeaways from what Desales wrote:

  1. Yes, Whitman’s message and philosophy are wonderful, inspiring, refreshing. In the midst of Victorian prudery, he enthusiastically embraced the physical. (I thought of making a video of myself reading lines from Leaves of Grass about every part of the body being equally great while zooming in on a butthole. I didn’t, though. You’re welcome, family members.)
  2. For the purposes of this review I only read the original 1855 Leaves of Grass. It’s hardly fair judge Whitman based entirely on juvenilia that he revised continually throughout his life. I do love “When Liliacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d. I do. I do. What I don’t love is long lists of all the types of tradespeople Whitman admired.

It took almost one hundred years for another poet to write as openly about sexuality, including homosexuality. Whitman preached a doctrine of love for all elements of existence. Which is wonderful. Doc Bronner preached the same message. But with rhyme, and vim and vigor, and honestly more concisely than Whitman. That’s not a dig at Whitman. It is praise for the Doc Bronner’s bottle and the Moral ABCs.

You might like Walt Whitman if:

  • you are Desales Harrison.
  • you’re kind of a hippie.
  • Well, I was going to write “if you like Ginsberg and Kerouac,” but the two gentleman who claimed to like Whitman do genuinely like Ginsberg and Kerouac. So, I don’t know. Whitman’s a mystery to me.
  • you’re more of a philosopher than me.

You might not like Walt Whitman if:

  • you, like Polonius, believe that “brevity is the soul of wit.”
  • you’re not currently in between acid trips.

Final thoughts: Fundamentally, my problem with Whitman is style. I prefer a different style of poetry. I will read a William Carlos Williams poem over and over, pausing to consider possible interpretations of each line break. I will read an Edgar Allan Poem over and over, relishing “the tintinnabulation that so musically wells.” I will read Coleridge again and again, exalting over the cacophony of “throats unslaked with black lips baked.” I will read Elizabeth Barret Browning, no slob when it comes to intimate address, for the story and for her earnest emotion. If I read Whitman again, it will be one of poems Desales recommended. I’d be happy if I never heard another word of “Song of Myself.”

*Whoa, whoa. Wait! I almost forgot that his poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” changed my life! I tell this story to my students all the time. In the poem, the speaker goes to listen to a renowned astronomer. He rejects numbers and figures as a way of understanding the world and walks out into the night to admire the stars. From this poem, I, the daughter of multiple generations of biologists learned to accept that dedication to a career in science is not the only way to express respect for the majesty of the natural world. I dropped my biology major in favor of creative writing and English. I became an English teacher. It’s not an easy job, but every time I think “oh no, I left a staggeringly beautiful work of classic literature at home and I can’t do my job without it” I feel lucky. And I owe that in part to Walt Whitman. He owes me a career in science, though.

The Poetry of Robert Browning

my last duchess

I wish I had ordered two sets of Robert Browning’s poetry so I could rip the pages out of one set and roll around in them like a villain in a pile of money.

Mmm, Robert Browning. He wrote poetry for the prose lover. His best poems are puzzles with intricate settings, characters and plot twists. In his most famous poem, My Last Duchess, an Italian nobleman talks to a marriage broker. While contemplating a painting of his last wife, he inadvertently reveals his possessive and controlling nature. Or does he do it on purpose to ensure that the marriage broker advises the new wife to never arouse any slight feeling of jealousy in the Duke? I dunno, but I sure enjoy speculating.

I see Browning’s poems as precursors to Modern stream of consciousness novels. He takes readers on brief journeys into the minds of medieval monks, Renaissance painters, and mad lovers. He uses psychological intimacy to tell stories and I love it. Yes, please, I would like to read a monologue by a monk who has been arrested for drunkenness, and all the other dramatic monologues you have for me, Robert. I’ll read them all.

Browning is a unique poet. His wife, Elizabeth Barret Browning, asked him to write from his own point of view. She valued “true” expressions of a poet’s thoughts and personal reactions to the world. But, Robert wasn’t into that. He wrote characters with complex personalities. He envisioned dramatic events and romantic scenery. He imagined psychological responses to places and events he never experienced. You will find no Romantic odes to daffodils among his poems. Instead, he offers twisted love stories; brilliant lives stifled by outward circumstances; humorous and exotic anecdotes.

I really don’t have that much else to tell you about Robert Browning. He’s one of my absolute favorite poets, if not my very favorite. His poetry isn’t exactly easy, but it’s definitely fun. You should read some, you won’t regret it. I feel a little bad that I’m not writing more about him, but my feelings are simple. He’s wonderful! One of the greatest. There’s no one like him.

Here is a partial list of my favorite Robert Browning poems:

  1. Fra Lippo Lippi
  2. My Last Duchess
  3. Andrea del Sarto
  4. Soliloquy of a Spanish Cloister
  5. Porphyria’s Lover
  6. In a Gondola
  7. The Statue and the Bust

You might like Robert Browning’s poetry if:

  • you understand what things are good in this world
  • you’re a history nerd
  • you like puzzles

You might not like Robert Browning’s poetry if:

  • you’re foolish

Final Thoughts: All of those poems fill my heart with joy and make me glad to be alive on this earth. Don’t get me wrong, they are mostly tragedies, but tragedies so beautifully executed they make you exult in your existence.

Congratulations! You are a literate human living after Robert Browning wrote poems. You can read them. You can read them right now! Go forth, appreciate the glory of his words! I’m excited for you.

If You Read this Post, Benicio del Toro Will Make-out with You

the angel in the house

The Angel in the House, Coventry Patmore, 1851

When I was in middle school my guiding principle was become someone Benicio del Toro will fall in love with. Preteens have free time. Whenever I found myself with time to kill, I thought “What can I do today that will make me more fascinating so that when I meet Benicio he will think I’m the coolest, smartest, most beautiful woman he’s ever encountered.” I was pretty sure I’d meet him one day, but if not, anyone from the cast of Newsies would do. I guided myself by constantly considering how to hypothetically impress a future lover.

The concept of the wife as the moral center of the household existed long before the publication of Coventry Patmore’s long, narrative poem, from which the concept got its name. Basically, Victorians and those who went before them considered the world an evil place. The world of man, that is. Men had to contend with such corrupting stimuli as drink and gambling and commerce. To cleanse your male soul of corruption and save it from damnation required a pure and moral wife. She had to be innocent, which literally meant keeping her in the house, away from the terrible, debasing influence of . . . education, political power and business decisions. This concept is central to The Angel in the House, a very popular poem in its day and fodder for contemporary social scientists and historians and whatever you call a historical social scientists.

The narrator of The Angel in the House, is about as self-actualized as an 11 year-old. He decides to live a moral life in order to be deserving of his future wife. When you think about it, it’s pretty dumb to conceptualize moral behavior as that which earns you the love of a person you don’t even know. I’ve never met Benicio del Toro. I have no idea how to go about being the kind of person he’d want to marry. When I tried to become someone he’d find interesting, I had to determine for myself what he’d probably like. Really, I was trying to become the kind of adult that I would admire. I was striving for my own approval, but when you’re 11 “do this so you can be self-actualized” is not as motivating as “do this so you can make-out with Benicio del Toro one day.”

My middle school aspiration to please Benicio was silly, but a victimless crime. As of yet, I have not encountered Mr. del Toro and expected him to live up to my childhood fantasies of his worthiness. However, the Angel in the House concept did have victims: women who were expected to be angels, who couldn’t participate in society, because society was inherently corrupting and the whole damn thing would fall apart if women didn’t stay at home being childlike, but you know, childlike in a way that you can still have sex with.

The whole thing makes me want to barf. The poem is trash. Weak verse, nauseating theme. I refuse to dignify it with a full post. Here are some quotes with my annotations as I wrote them while reading. Unedited.

“she grows/more infantine, auroral, mild”   ewwww

“her simplicity” ugh

“there grew/More form and stateliness/Than heretofore between us two” 30 percent in and he’s gone on forever about how loving her makes him feel, but I don’t know anything about her, because she’s not a person, just an ideal for him to chase.

“Man must be pleased; but him to/please is woman’s pleasure;” gross

“With such a bright cheek’d chastity;” Stop. Not sleeping with people is not an accomplishment.

“Buried [her] face within my breast, Like a/pet fawn by hunters hurt.” So gross.

At one point he considers what would happen to him if she died and says “Small household troubles fall’n to me,/As, ‘What time would I dine to-day?” My annotations: Fantasy about wife dying, whining about how he’ll have to figure out when to eat.

You might like The Angel in the House if:

  • you are a Men’s Rights Activist

You might not like The Angel in the House if:

  • even a small part of your brain is capable of logical thought

Penultimate thoughts: Pure trash. This is a concept I think about and talk about and encounter in novels, so I figured I should read the poem. It’s just as insipid as I expected it to be.

Final thoughts: Benicio del Toro has some of the most lovable cheekbones. Mmhm, he sure does. But he’s just a dude, another human who deserves the chance to be fallible. Just as women deserved the chance to encounter the world and be fallible. I’ll probably never know if Benicio would like the woman I’ve become, but I think my preteen self would like her. Shit, I’ve got two cats and two X-Files posters. I get paid to talk to other humans about literature. Tweenage me would love adult me!

North and South, or Love and Capitalism, or Obedience and Hell No, Not Gonna

North and south (2)

North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell, 1855

If you read my recent review of Ruth, you already know that Elizabeth Gaskell has no time for correct, moral Victorian thinking. True to form, in North and South, Gaskell depicts characters who refuse to conform. Rascally rebels with hearts of gold. They do the right thing by their own moral standards. Yay! Fun! No, not fun. Social scorn, loss of status, risk to self and family. But, fun for the reader!

Can we talk for a minute about Elizabeth Gaskell’s treatment within the canon? Do you read the introductions to classic novels? I’ll be honest, I usually read the first couple of paragraphs and skim the rest. Some fool named Alan Sutton wrote these sentences for his introduction to the Pocket Classics edition of Lois the Witch and Other Stories “Mrs. Gaskell (1810-1865) was first and foremost a woman of her time, a lady of Victorian expansiveness. She was not a brilliant, nor a passionate novelist like George Eliot or Charlotte Bronte, but an intelligent, compassionate and enthusiastic woman, whose life centered around her family.” Barf. Barf. Barf. Just barfed in my mouth a little. Excuse me Alan Sutton, but did you really create a dichotomy between women with families and brilliant authors? Really? Bronte and Eliot are passionate, but Gaskell is only enthusiastic? Probably because she was spending all her emotions on her children and husband. Ugh. Pardon me, I need to pause to roll my eyes several times.

Elizabeth Gaskell published under the name Mrs. Gaskell. Bronte and Eliot published under male pseudonyms. Bronte and Eliot did not have conventional families. Does it not seem like this is why Mr. Sutton chooses to relegate Gaskell to some lower tier of writer? Dickens had about 27 children, but judging by his grand position in the canon, had plenty of brilliance and passion left over for his novels. I could write pages about the utter worthlessness of those two sentences. Instead I will say this: I have now read all of Gaskell’s major works and all but one by her contemporary, George Eliot. Middlemarch by Eliot is perhaps my favorite Victorian novel, but I generally prefer Gaskell to Eliot. Yeah, I said it. In Ruth and North and South Gaskell bravely and PASSIONATELY skewers conventional Victorian morality. Meanwhile, Eliot wastes pages upon page of Adam Bede and Silas Marner in affectionate, but incredibly patronizing depictions of charming, rural, simple, superstitious country folk. Her condescending tone rubs my fur the wrong way and is frankly tiresome. I really never thought I would find a Victorian author I preferred to Eliot, but I did and it’s Elizabeth Gaskell.

That being said, Sally Shuttleworth wrote an introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition of North and South that gives Gaskell her due. Shuttleworth examines the complexity of the gender, class, and community tensions depicted in the book. It’s a great introduction written by a person capable of seeing past the “Mrs” in Mrs. Gaskell. Shuttleworth is worth a million Suttons. Honestly, if you are interested in the 1,000 merits of Elizabeth Gaskell or North and South, you should pick up a copy and read Shuttleworth’s intro. It’s better than anything that I am about to write.

Let’s get back to business. The heroine of North and South is Margaret Hale. The daughter of a clergyman, Margaret is used to being about the highest ranking person in her tiny town in the south of England. Her father, the novel’s first rebel, resigns from his job, because he objects to some point of doctrine that the Church of England insists he must preach. His little family cannot understand why Mr. Hale must take this stand against the Church, but he feels he must. So, the Hales relocate from the green and sunny South to the smoky, industrial northern town of Milton. Margaret hates it. In fact, she’s a bit haughty and repulsed by the squalid environment and filthy, unmannered masses. Accustomed to deferential treatment, Margaret is frightened by the loud, boisterous crowds in Milton. She actually gets catcalled, “You may well smile, my lass; many a one would smile to have such a bonny face.” Yep, telling scared women to smile is at least as old as the 1850s.

Despite her initial revulsion, Margaret’s heart warms to the workers. She makes friends with a particular family and sees that their wages do not meet their basic needs. Margaret starts feeling very socialist and pro-union when she sees sick and starving Milton families. This feeling creates complications for M, because she must interact socially with the mill owner, Mr. Thornton. Sparks fly. Thornton is a self-made capitalist fatcat. Margaret is an uppity wannabe aristocrat who scorns trade. They really dislike each other, in a classic romcom way where they can’t stop thinking about each other and despite their better judgment feel certain tingles in certain unspeakable regions.

I really love Margaret, partially because she speaks angrily to capitalists at dinner parties just like me. The romance with Thornton is imperfect to me. He’s extra manly, somewhat scary, and uncompassionate. But, the heart wants what it wants. The romance is extra complicated, because Margaret sides with the workers who go on strike, wanting better wages from Thornton. As you can imagine, this drives Thornton crazy, in a sexy way.

You might like North and South if:

  • you loath capitalism.
  • you ruin social events by loudly loathing capitalism.
  • you secretly want to stop loathing capitalism and marry a petrochemical engineer. (Is that a type of engineer?)

You might not like North and South if:

  • you love Ayn Rand.

Final Thoughts: I loved it. The more I think about it, the more I love it. All hail Margaret Hale! Speak truth to power, Victorian heroines, speak truth to power.

The Best-loved Book of the Victorian Era


The Heir of Redclyffe, Charlotte M. Yonge, 1853

Get ready for the single most popular book of the Victorian Period (according to something I read, which I did not fact check, because this is a blog not a Ph.D. thesis. If any universities would like to award me a Ph.D. for this project, I will find some evidence to support that claim.) Everyone and their mom read this book. Girls, boys, men, women, cats, dogs and canaries all read this book, but you don’t have to, because I am going to tell you everything you need to know.

First of all the characters:

Guy Morville—the hero

  • He’s the main guy, a Byronic hero, but sweeter.
  • Floppy chestnut hair.
  • Somewhat effeminate, non-threatening build.
  • Heir to Redclyffe, a dark gothic castle perched on a peak overlooking rugged moors and stormy seas.
  • Guy’s father married the daughter of a traveling musician, much to the dismay of Guy’s grandfather. The father died in a tragic horse riding accident before the grandfather could forgive him.
  • Guy lives in constant fear of turning out like his impetuous father. He subjects himself to an absurd amount of self-discipline. Seriously, any time he enjoys something, he starts thinking “Oh shit, I’m having fun. My dad liked to have fun, and then he died. So, I better not ever have any fun.”
  • Loves animals.
  • Willing to risk his own safety for the wellbeing of any person or animal.

Phillip Morville—the antagonist

  • Half of my annotations in the books are just the word “douche” next to things that Phillip says.
  • Guy’s cousin and next-in-line to be Heir of Redclyffe.
  • Resents Guy, because he wants to be the heir.
  • Generally thinks the worst of everyone.
  • Pompous, conceited, hypocritical ass with a chip on his shoulder the size of Gibraltar.
  • Stands around at parties saying super pleasant stuff like “She’s very Irish” in a scornful tone whenever anyone says something nice about another human.
  • Involved in the military.
  • Part of the gentility, but doesn’t have enough money to marry.
  • Just about the least likable character imaginable.
  • Tall, handsome, manly.

The Edmonstone Family—there are 7,000 of them, but I’ll only mention the ones who matter. They are all somewhat related to Guy and Phillip.


  • The eldest.
  • No discernible personality, except obedience to authority, I guess.


  • Yes, that’s her name.
  • Loves flowers.
  • That’s basically it. (Women don’t need personalities, y’all.) She’s sweet and innocent and all that a female character in a Victorian novel is supposed to be.


  • Only son.
  • Crippled.
  • Funny.
  • The only one in the entire Edmonstone family with the good sense to see that Guy rules and Phillip drools.

Mother and Father

  • Also appear in the novel.

The action of the novel chiefly consists of Phillip trolling Guy and ruining his life. Phillip constantly belittles Guy. He’s a serpent hissing evil thoughts into the ears of the Edmonstones, trying to turn them against Guy. Phillip portrays him as a dangerous, temperamental person, a time-bomb whose horrible inherited traits bubble under the surface waiting to boil over. Meanwhile, Guy is doing his damned best and being sweet to everyone, but those silly Edmonstones have too much respect for Phillip to see that he’s the horrible, dangerous one.

Phillip begins to worry that Laura will fall in love with Guy, because Guy is smart and nice to her, and she watches him from the window while he does sexual things like bale hay with his shirt off (to make a soft seat for a lady to sit on. He’s a gentleman, not a farmer!). Phillip’s resentment toward Guy builds, because Phillip doesn’t have enough income to marry Laura while Guy can marry whenever he wishes, because he has that craggy castle. Phillip secretly proposes to Laura and makes her promise not to tell. Covertly getting engaged to the eldest daughter is the single worst thing a young man can do to a family, so Phillip is being a giant dirtbag by Victorian standards. His romance with Laura is revolting. He’s very paternalistic and moralizing, constantly telling her what to do as if he’s some moral authority, when he’s actually persuading her to violate her parents’ trust. Laura is essentially robbed of the joys of youth, because she’s overwhelmed by her guilty secret. Phillip sucks.

Guy and Amabelle fall in love and much to everyone’s (except Phillip’s) joy, get engaged. Shortly thereafter Guy helps a shady relative out with his gambling debts. Phillip witnesses this and starts spreading rumors that Guy has been gambling. Guy, having promised his uncle that he would never speak about their arrangement, refuses to explain the truth to the Edmonstones. Like so many frustrating literary characters, he does the honorable thing even when it’s the thing that causes the most pain to the best people and helps the evil people get exactly what they wanted. The Edmonstones disown Guy and the engagement is broken off. As you can imagine, Phillip is extra smug about this even though his secret love affair with Laura continues.

Eventually, after much soul-searching and doing nice things for people, Guy manages to be such a magical angel person that the Edmonstones forgive him. He marries Amabelle and they go gallivanting about Europe, being happy and young on mountaintops in Italy and so on. During one excursion silly little Amabelle tries to reach a flower on a steep slope and almost falls to her death. Of course, our dashing hero saves her.

The honeymooners bump into Phillip, who is still a worthless twit. Guy mentions that they are altering their plans to go to some Italian city due to reports of terrible infectious disease. Wannabe alfa-male Phillip just can’t let Guy be right about anything. So, he insists on going there out of sheer obstinacy. The more Amy and Guy plead with him not to go, the more he has to prove.

Phillip goes to Deathtown and despite his profound egotism falls gravely ill. Guy, being the best person in the known world, follows Phillip to Deathtown and patiently nurses him back to health. Selfless Christian that he is, Guy risks his health to save the succubus who has spent his whole life trying to screw Guy over. The power of Guy’s goodness converts Phillip. He realizes that Guy has been really swell this whole time and that he, Phillip, has been truly repugnant. After finally gaining the approval of a male authority, Guy is free to succumb to the illness that Phillip gave him. Yep, he dies. Phillip lives. Twist! Phillip has been the Heir of Redclyffe all along.

Everyone in the world is sad. Amabelle has a baby. She never remarries, because she just can’t.

And that’s the most popular book of the Victorian Era.

You might like The Heir of Redclyffe if:

  • you’re a teenager with great reading comprehension skills.
  • you want to access your sentimental teenager side.

You might not like The Heir of Redclyffe if:

  • you just don’t have time for long novels of insignificant literary merit.

Final thoughts:

It’s not terrible. Revision: it’s not terribly written. There are some good lines in there. The book is a bit trite, overly sentimental and long, but it’s ok. Like most bestsellers, it’s fun, but lacks substance.

The Reading Gloves – Private View

What? Yes. This person created knitted gloves to represent characters from classic literature. I am stunned. Amazing. Jealous.


Last night saw the private view of my exhibition of The Reading Gloves at Prick Your Finger.

We had so much fun that I completely forgot to take any pictures of all the wonderful people that came for a little nosy, have a beer, or a ginger biscuit baked by my partner.

I’m very happy with the show and it has more or less turned out as I had in mind. Dorian Gray left his gloves on the console table underneath his portrait:

Anna Karenina left blood drops all over the place:

And last but not least, the illicit lovers, Lady Chatterley and Mellors. They just about managed to brush away the chicken feathers before lying down together:

View original post