Archive for books

Happy Birthday Thomas Hardy!

Posted in Authors Birthdays, Authors I've read with tags , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2013 by echostains


English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy (2nd June 1840 – 11th January 1928) Dorset, England focused his work on the decline of rural society. He was a great fan of Charles Dickens and George Elliot. His romantic poetry was influenced by William Wordsworth. Hardy regarded himself foremost as a poet. His first poetry collection was published in 1898.   ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’  was published in 1874, – his first literary success  through his writing.

His novels, which include ‘Far from the Madding crowd ‘ (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895) were set in his semi fictional region of Wessex, based on an old medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the South West of England.

Hardy’s father Thomas was a stonemason and builder. His mother Jemima was a well read woman.  She educated young Thomas at home before he went to school aged eight years old in Bockhampton. He learned Latin and acquired academic potential at Mr Last’s Academy for Young Gentlemen in Dorchester. When his  formal education ended at age 16 when he was then apprenticed to a local architect James Hicks in Dorchester where he trained as an architect before moving to London in 1862 and enrolling as a student in Kings College London.

Hardy, who was aware of class divisions and his own social inferiority, was never comfortable in London society and returned to Dorset five years later.

He met his future wife Emma Lavinia Gifford in 1870 whilst engaged in the restoration of the parish church of St Juliot in Cornwall and he married her in 1874. She died in 1912, and although he became estranged in life, he revisited Cornwall after her death visiting places they went to during their courtship.   Poems 1912-13 reflect upon her death. He married Florence Emily Dugdale (his secretary, nearly 40 years his senior) in 1914.

Hardy died at Max Gate on 11th January 1928 after becoming ill with pleurisy the year before and his funeral was held at Westminster Abbey. This proved to be controversia,l as Hardy and his friends and family wished him to be buried with his first wife Emma in Stinsford Dorset. It was insisted upon by his executor Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell that he be buried in the famous Poets Corner in the abbey.  A compromise was reached:  Hardy’s heart was buried with his first wife in Dorset and his ashes in Poet’s Corner Westminster Abbey.

Hardy has many admirers, among them were Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence, John Cowper Powys and Robert Graves. He was awarded the Order of Merit in 1910.

Although I have not read all Hardy’s novels, I have enjoyed the ones I have read ( Under the Greenwood tree (1872) Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), Jude the Obscure (1895),- I have not enjoyed them equally. The Woodlanders, left me somewhat unsatisfied with the ending which resulted in  the heroine Grace Melbury returning to her unfaithful husband.

But a happy ending does does always result in a good story.  Jude the Obscure, in my consideration – a masterpiece, left me with such an uncomfortable feeling that I have only been able to read the novel once and watch the well acted 196 film.  The story is about humble village stonemason Jude Fawley whose dream is to be educated., He studies Latin and Greek in his spare time whilst dreaming of going to university. Jude_PosterManipulated into a loveless marriage with a coarse and nasty local girl, who soon leaves him, Jude still dreams of entering the local University. He falls in love with his cousin Sue Brideshead. But although she is in love with the married Jude, she marries his former teacher and is very unhappy. Jude and Sue eventually set up house together and have children. Their life together is dire: ostracised by the villagers for not being married and having children out of wedlock, Jude loses his job and the poor family  travel from town to town seeking employment. The end of the story is really disturbing. there are no happy ending here. It is a fantastic novel, but is really emotionally heavy going.

Hardy is considered a Victorian Realist writer and his writing reflects the social restraints and limitations which ultimately lead to unhappiness (in his novels). My favorite novel is ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ which tells the story of shepherd Gabriel Oak and Bethsheba Everdean. Fate and bad choices interweave to construct a story of pride, betrayal and tragedy. Far-From-The-Madding-Crowd-Thomas-HardyLove wins out though and there is a happy ending, but that is not arrived at until Bethsheba herself has changed her attitude and her outlook.  Oak remains as steadfast to the end as from the beginning of the novel. The dastardly character is Sergeant Francis “Frank” Troy who is a flamboyant gambling show off with a cruel streak towards his wife Bethsheba. He loves another – the hapless and sweet Fanny Robin whose death is heartbreaking. In the middle of the storyline stands middle-aged Mr Boldwood, a rich farmer whose obsession with Bethsheba also leads to tragedy. Fate plays a massive part in this novel; throwaway gestures like the sending of a valentine fire up a strait laced bachelor to behave with passion and abandonment of reason. A flattering remark and a wild display of dashing swordsmanship persuade a young vain Bethsheba that she is in love. Situations and accidents all contrive to elevate Gabriel Oak into hero of the hour and prove his quiet devotion and steadfastness.

More information on the Poet/Novelist from here and The Thomas Hardy Society Thomas Hardy portrait from here Far from the Madding Crowd image from here  Jude the Obscure image from here Tess of the d’Urbervilles image here

Exhibition Review ‘From Hamlet to Hollywood’ The Barley Hall York

Posted in period drama with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2012 by echostains

There promises to be a lot more activity on Bookstains this year – and a lot of changes.  It seems that these days that everyone and their wives are doing poetry challenges,  so I feel that it is time to close mine in order to retain some originality.  I shall still be featuring poetry but it shall be in a completely different format.  I’m way behind with my book and film reviews, but I have taken notes, so expect these to appear in the form of posts soon.

To kick off 2012, here is a post about costume.  I was undecided at first about which blog to use for this post.  Although ‘Echostains’ is an art and design blog primarily, the clothes featured were actually worn by actors in films (period drama’s which were sometimes derived from books). So Bookstains it is.

The place these pictures were taken was the wonderful Medieval Barley Hall in York, UK.  December 2011 saw us visiting one of our favorite places (York) for a few days before Christmas.  The weather was at its most treacherous – blowing a gale with lashings of Yorkshire rain.  However we managed to find a safe haven in The Barley Hall which was all set out for a Medieval Christmas.

We’ve visited York a lot, yet this was one building we have never been in.  Although it has long been known that there was a medieval building in the Stonegate vicinity, the building wasn’t actually officially recorded as Medieval until 1980.  When the site was sold for redevelopment, it then became very clear that the extent of the medieval structure was substantial.

The oldest part of the reconstructed Barley Hall dates back to about 1360.  The house was  built as a townhouse of Nostell Priory, which is monastery in West Yorkshire.  In 1430, a new wing was added and soon after,  the Hall became the home of William Snawsell, a leading York citizen, who was a goldsmith, an Alderman and Lord Mayor of York.

The atmosphere of the hall is wonderful and it was especially enhanced by the Christmas decorations.  Charming as the Hall is, we received an unexpected surprise when we ventured upstairs.  An exhibition of Period Drama clothes awaited us – some of them instantly recognisable.  I didn’t know which ones to examine first, I was so excited!

Lizzie and Darcy clothes from BBC Pride and Prejudice

What a joy to be able to scrutinise  the actual clothes which Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth wore in Andrew Davies adaptation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice BBC 1995!  Lizzie’s jacket is the one worn in the scene where Darcy successfully proposes to her.  Other Pride and Prejudice clothes  featured in the exhibition are hats worn by the characters Lady Catherine de Bourgh and the haughty Miss Bingley.

From the Georgian era to the Late Edwardian era.  Costumes from the gorgeous Downton Abbey, created and written by Julian Fellowes, which premiered on ITV, September 2010. The latest episode was shown the Christmas period 2011.  The image below shows a dress worn by Dame Maggie Smith who plays The Rt Hon Violet, Countess of Grantham.  Her costumes are built to reflect the style appropriate of her heyday (early Edwardian) rather than the younger fashions of the day.  This is a stunning gown!

As worn by Dame Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

Tim Burton’s ‘Sweeney Todd’ 2007 (which starred Alan Rickman and Johnny Depp), features a pair of bloodstained trousers and an outfit worn by Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin with an explanation of how clothes are distressed for the bloody scenes.

bloodstained trousers from Sweeney Todd

Thanks to York dig  for providing the first image, and The Barley Hall for providing the black and white photo.  All other photographs are my own.

The exhibition is open until March 2012 – please drop in if you are in the area.  You will be well rewarded!

For lots more information please visit

More info about Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd film costumes here


PS it’s Chaim Soutine’s Birthday!

Book: The worst street by Fiona Rule

Posted in Dear Reader I read it! Book reviews with tags , , , , , on June 16, 2010 by echostains

The Worst st in London by Fiona Rule

Where does the time fly to?  It is a couple of weeks or so since I last posted on here.  That doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy reading though – or watching.  I have now finished ‘The worst street in London’ by Fiona Rule.  The street in question is Dorset Street, Spitalfields London.  I was inspired to read this book after our excursion to Denis Severs House in Spitalfields (read my post on echostains a collection of time-travel experiences and atmospheres)

The olden Dorset St

Though the book has an introduction by Peter Ackroyd it’s really  nothing like Ackroyds ‘London’ or in his style. Neither is it a dry text-book nor really academic, but it is a good read, once it gets going.  Common lodging houses, Jack the Ripper and his victims, crime, vice and unsavoury characters – this was their stomping ground, where they earned their living and their bed for the night: where they drowned their sorrows and ultimately, where they died –  sometimes by violence, sometimes by dissipation and sometimes, I suspect – with blessed relief

Dorset St 1888

We have 17th century Huguenot silk weavers weaving their own strands on the loom of Dorset street and the Spitalfields area.  The immigrants, the opportunists, the lodging house proprietors.  When machinery replaced the silk workers they left the area.  The  1870’s  saw the tranformation brought about by the slum clearances which in turn made way for tenement blocks –  ruled by landlords like John McCarthy.  Jack the Ripper features strongly in this book.  Mary Kelly, the Ripper’s last victim was killed on Dorset street and Rule retells her sorry story, somehow made even more poignant  by placing Kelly in the context of her environment.

Millers court

The street was later renamed  Duvall Street, but the bricks were so well seeped with disrepute that the black marketeers, gangsters, spivs and the East End gangs are embedded in its fabric. The Kitty Ronan murder in 1909 has an eerie echo of Mary Kelly’s.  In fact the whole of the Dorset Street story relates like a cinema projection of a danse macabre – the dance never finishing and the film on continuous reel.  The book ends in a car park – but the crime continues.  A good researched and interesting read.  There’s an added bonus  at the back – a detailed walk of the Spitalfields area!

More about the book and it’s author here
image 1 Dorset st  2 Millers Court (Ripper Walks), 3 Dorset St 1888 and 4. Dorset St today (London walks)

book image here

The empty Bookcase (nearly)

Posted in Authors I've read, period drama with tags , , , , , on May 17, 2010 by echostains
The journey is long behind me...

The journey is long behind me...


Well I finished my Flashback challenge a while ago, and I shall be writing about it (eventually).  I’ve read an assortment of books lately like ‘The worse Street in London’ by Fiona Rule (introduction by Peter Ackroyd) and the Dukan Diet by Dr pierre Dukan.  Talking of Ackroyd I have just bought Ackroyds ‘Hawksmoor’ and ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel, which I’ve been after for a while.  So looking forward to reading these.  I have run out of DVD’s again.  I recently bought ‘Return to Cranford’ and was bought  The Jane Austen Collection, containing Emma, Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park – of course I watched them one after another (and I had seen them all separately before)  

Peter Ackroyd


I have read a few Ackroyd books Including his wonderful ‘London’, Dickens – Public life and Private Passion, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.  I tried The House of Doctor Dee’ but couldn’t quite get into it. The same applied to the Clerkenwell Tales.  I feel that I am missing out a bit not being able to get into these books, so I shall have to persevere (at some point).   

poor Darcy - how he must feel it!


Oh and I must mention one book which I got for Christmas and keeps slipping my mind (even though I’ve read everything else and I haven’t bought anything new, – and that is Mr Darcy Vampyre by Amanda Grange.  The idea of Darcy as a vampire, – well, poor Darcy how could he endure it? living on the blood of mere mortals?

Titus Groan: Swelter receives a surprise

Posted in Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , on March 15, 2010 by echostains

Titus Groan, read but still writing about it

Well I finished Titus Groan  a several weeks ago.  I saw him safely come into his Kingdom and I have been propelled five years into the future.  Ghosts haunt Gormenghast – but some aren’t dead.  Flay is living, not roughly but quite nicely thank you.  He has now acquired two caves for himself, which he has furnished sparsely.  He had become a keen hunter, he cooks, he cleans, he still slips into Gormenghast from time to time, he watches and he waits – but what for, he doesn’t know.  But he has survived.

So has Steerpike.  he has dispensed with the Doctors dispensary and spare room and ensconced himself in a nice apartment befitting his new position – but I am getting beyond myself: far into Gormenghast.  I am following on from Keda, Titus’s wet-nurse.

sepulchrave played by Ian Richardson

Sepulchrave haunts the burnt out library.  He travels from shelf to shelf reciting the classics.  he is joined by burnt up Barquentine – minus head.  If you remember, his head had to be replaced with that of a small calf as the original had been stolen.  Well, the original does turn up again, in a further chapter…

Swelter is another ghost.  He has been replaced by a bow-legged chef with a mule shaped head and mouthful of metal teeth!  Where do they get their staff from?  I digress.  Back to Titus Groan.

It is the morning of the Titus’s christening and all are preparing for the event.  Even the head gardener Pentecost (where does Peake get these names from) is cutting flowers and polishing the apples in his little leather cape.

In Gormenghast violet eyes are an unfortunate disfigurement.  Titus’s are mentioned quite a few times in a uncomplimentry way.  It’s a good job Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t born in Gormenghast – her career would never have taken off.  But I digress…..


Nannie Slagg is trying to awaken Fuschia, Sepulchrave and Sourdust are eating breakfast together.  Rottcodd is still dusting and the Dr is singing away in his bath.  The main action in this chapter comes from Flay and Swelter though:-

Suddenly the door opened and Flay came in.  He was wearing his long black moth-eaten suit, but there had been some attempt on his part at getting rid of the major stains and clipping the more ragged edges of cuff and trouser into straight lines.  Over and above these improvements he wore around his neck a heavy chain of brass.  In one hand, he balanced on a tray, a bowl of water.  The negative dignity of the room threw him out in relief as a positive scarecrow.  Of this he was quite unconscious.  He has been helping to dress Lord Sepulchrave. and had made a rapid journey with the christening bowl as his lordship stood polishing his nails by the window of his bedroom……..

I love this encounter between these old adversaries, but Flay is no match for Swelter’s dripping sarcasm..

A voice came out of the face: ‘Well. well well,’ it said, ‘may I be boiled to a frazzle if it isn’t Mr Flee.  ‘The one and only Mr Flee, Well, well, well.  Here before me in the Cool Room.  Dived through the keyhole I do believe.  Oh, my adorable lights and liver, if it isn’t the Flee itself.’

swelter as played brilliantly by Richard Griffiths

To add insult to injury, Swelter then proceeds to introduce Mr Flay to his kitchen boys:-

‘Mr Flee, I will introduce you,’ said Swelter as the boys approached, glueing their frightened eyes on their precarious cargoes.  ‘Mr Flee – Master Springers – Mater Springers – Mr Flee.  Mr Flee – Master Wrattle, Master Wrattle – Mr Flee.  Mr Flee – Master Spurter – Mr Flee…….

For Flay, this proves too much.  He strikes Swelter across the face with the heavy chain.  But before there can be any retaliation, Flee manages to escape.  The next encounter between the two enemies is interrupted by Sourdust being there, so there can be no return match.  Later.

Titus Groan: Keda

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2010 by echostains

Alas no image of Keda

I’ve not wrote about my re reading of Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake for a while.  But that doesn’t mean that I’ve haven’t been reading it.  I have and am very nearly finished the first book and shall be soon into Gormenghast itself.   But as far as the writing concerned, I am up to the chapter about Titus’s wet-nurse Keda.

This woman seems to alien compared to the other characters – even the Dwellers.  I think this is down to her having a kind of vitality and beauty.  Beauty in the Gormenghast region seems very scarce. The Dwellers have it for such a short time before premature ageing.  They have a hard life and cluster around the bottom of the mountain – like they have been  cast out of Shangri la..

Keda has a past, and she’s running away from it.  Her ancient husband died and she had to choose between two lovers.  She is glad to go to Gormenghast.

With the dark cloth hanging to her ankles and caught in at the waist with the thong of jarl root: with her bare legs and feet and her head still holding the sunset of her darkened day, she was in strange contrast to little Nannie Slagg, with her quick jerky walk, her dark satin dress, her black gloves, and her monumental hat of glass grapes.  Before they descended the dry knoll towards the archway in the wall, a sudden gutteral cry as of someone being strangled, froze the old womans blood and she clutched at the strong arm beside her and clung to it like a child.  Then she peered towards the tables.  They were too far for her to see clearly with her weak eyes, but she thought she could make out figures standing and there seemed to be someone crouching like a creature about to spring…….

Keda had not long ago buried her baby.  She came willingly to be Titus’s nurse, though her first meeting with the little boy was fraught with sorrow:-

Keda stared down at Titus.  Tears were in her eyes as she watched the child.  Then she turned to the window.  She could see the great wall that held in Gormenghast.  The wall that cut her own people away, as though to keep out a plague; the walls that barred her view the stretches of arid earth beyond the mud huts where her child had so recently been buried…..

The relationship between the wet-  nurse from the Dwellings becomes increasingly unbalanced as the story unfolds.  It seems that Keda has two babies to look after (the other being Nannie Slagg who becomes more and more reliant on her).  Meanwhile:-

Titus had stolen the limelight and Keda’s indifference was soon forgotten, for he was beginning to cry, and his crying grew and grew in spite of Mrs Slagg dangling a necklace in front of his screwed up eyes and an attempt at singing a lullaby from her half-forgotten store.  She had him over her shoulder, but his shrill cries rose in volume.  Keda’s eyes were still upon the wall, but of a sudden, breaking herself away from the window, she moved up behind Nannie Slagg and, as she did so, parted the dark brown material from her throat and freeing her left breast, took the child from the shoulders of the old woman.  Within a few moments the little face was pressed against her and struggles and sobs were over.  Then as she turned and sat at the window, a calm came upon her as from her very centre, the milk of her body and the riches of her frustrated love welled up and succoured the infant creature in her keeping.

What a tender moment this is between baby and Keda – the only mother Titus will ever know.

Authors I have read – Charles Dickens

Posted in Authors I've read with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2010 by echostains



Charles Dickens is one of my favorite authors of all time – I just love his characterisations and observations concerning the quirkiness of human behaviour.  I have read nearly all his books, but there are one or two that have passed me by and some, though popular with others, leave me cold. 

Miss Haversham


My favorite book changes from time to time.  It is actually ‘Great Expectations’, but having recently re watched the latest Bleak House remake, I’m beginning to dither…  But no, I will go by the book.  So it’s ‘Great Expectation’ 

Magwitch using the stolen file


Great Expectations 

What I love about it: The marshes, the cruel stepmother, the impervious Estella and Miss Haversham.  I love the idea of the old bride still in her tattered bridal gown – I love the cake which mice have made their home in and the clock that’s stopped.  I love the way simple Pip becomes a snob then changes back when he finds out his real benefactor. 

 Thrills: Magwitch in the graveyard, Pip being saved by the convicts escape, the fire at Miss Havershams.  Magwitch’s daring visit to Pip and the way he drowns.  Last and not least the renting of those dirty curtains from the windows and the scales dropping from Estella’s eyes as she realises that Pip is her own true love!

Pip is told he has great expectations


Oliver Twist 

Oliver dares to ask for more

What I love about it:  the poor woman in the workhouse, the beadle who names the child, Sowerby the undertaker – who in their right mind would like to sleep with coffins, the hideous Claypole who gets his come uppence, the thieves den, Dodger, Nancy and Fagin.  I love the tangled web that is woven, the intricate relationships and the honour among thieves.  The Brownlow connection, trust and betrayal and how everything comes out right in the end. 

Bill Sykes gets a fright


Thrills: Plenty to be had, the Murderous Sykes and the ghost of Nancy on the roof, the workhouse regime, the actual murder of poor Nancy, the match made in hell in the form of Bumbles wife (actually, that’s more comical) and the triumph of Bulleye as he escapes a drowning.  The man who stop Oliver with a punch when he runs off after they think he is a pickpocket – well he deserves a punch himself.  I love the way that all the threads come together in this story.  It is so well thought out and told and what an array of characters! 

David Copperfield 

David Copperfield

What I like about it:  the perils of a cruel stepfather and what happens when his mother dies.  The novel is very like Dickens’ own early life – including the factory.  Betsy Trotwood his aunt who proves a good sort.  Mr Dick is an enigma – I can’t quite make him out.   I love the idea of Peggotty’s relatives living in an upturned boat.  The sweet Emily.  Dora Davids fluffy but useless wife.  Big daft Ham who loves Emily, whose head is soon turned when she sets eyes on Steer forth. 

The Cheeryble brothers by Phiz


Thrills: Not many apart from Ham drowning to save Steerforth and poor Emily’s father searching all over London for his fallen daughter.  The creepy slimy character of Uriah Heep who is slowly plotting his takeover of Wicklow’s firm, swindling all who gets in his way. Ham and  Dora’s death is more sad than thrilling though. 

Nicholas Nickleby 

Nickleby makes himself comfortable at Dotheboys Hall


What I love about it:  Mr Murstone who kicks things off for Nicholas.  ‘Dotheboys’ Hall’, Wackford Squeers and his wife and especially the ridiculous Fanny Squeers who takes a liking to Nickleby.    The horrible uncle Ralph Nickleby, the pitiful Smike, the loyal Noggs. I like the bleakness of ‘Dotheboys’ Hall and the humour and general niceness of the Cheeryble brothers.  I am not keen on the theatrical bits of the novel, although the ‘Infant Phenomenon’ is quite an amusing character.


Thrills: Ralph Nickby who would compromise poor Kate, the cruelty of Squeers to those poor boys, especially to Smike who could have had a nice home and family. Pathos comes from the gentle Smike, secretly in love with Kate and his eventual death – very moving. 

Bleak House

Bleak House

What I like about it: Reputation was all.  I like the mysterious Nemo, the bored Lady Dedlock and Miss Flyte and her birds.  I’m not keen on Jarrdyce versus Jarndyce, which gets a bit monotonous, but I like Esther Summerson and the simple way that she accepts everything, she has no pity for herself at all I also like the way that the court case makes people act in ways they wouldn’t normally act – putting their life on hold for an outcome that is by no means a forgone conclusion.  Skimpole the ‘child’ who is anything but, kind Mr Jarndyce who has seen this Will fever ruin many a poor man.  I like the way that secrets which get into the wrong hands can be lethal – there must have been a lot of blackmail around in Victorian times.

Esther Summerson and Caddy Jellyby by Phiz

Thrills: Absolutely lots!  the opium dens, Krook the rag and bottle merchant who finally combusts literally –  only a pair of smoking legs are left.  the murder of blackmailer Tulkinghorn by Hortense.  This is a wonderful book with a great plot and a very dark and mysterious aura about it.

A Christmas Carol

What I like about it: Who doesn’t like this Christmasy tale!  This story has got everthing really.  It’s sentiments unfortunately are rarely thought about apart from at Christmas time.  Charity and the turning over of a new leaf cheers the reader on and the thought occurs that it’s never too late to trun over a new leaf.

Scrooge and dead partner Marley by Leech

Thrills;   It has to be the ghosts of course: the rattling chains, the ghostly light, the pointing finger, the glimpses into what the future could hold….

Little Dorrit

Fanny and Little Dorrit calll on Mrs Merdle

What I like about it: The exciting glimpse into the Marshalsea prison where debtors carry on like they were at home and are encouraged to do so.  I love poor little Amy Dorrit and despair of her selfish father.  The story is full of lots of little sub stories that make it more complicated than most.  However, Little Dorrit is a lovely character, full of kindness, patience and  self-sacrifice – which are rewarded in the end 

Thrills include the mystery of the paper in the back of the watch case.  The very strange luring away of Tattycoram (what a name!).  The murderous Rigaud and the strangely weird Mrs Clennham and Miss Wade. 

The Old Curiosity shop

daniel cattermole illustration Quilp in the background grinning


What I like about it:  The cast of characters.  The hideous hunchbacked Quilp who lends money to Nell’s Grandfather putting him in debt.  Nell and grandfather become homeless and wander as beggars as Quilp takes their shop.  Kit, Nell’s friend, Dick Swivvler and Nell’s brother all join in the search for Nell and grandfather , aided by the nasty Quilp. 

Little Nell's death

Thrills:  Not a lot, this is a very sad book, as Little Nell dies in the end of fatigue.  Critics said that this particular novel was over sentimental – and so it is in places, the death scene in particular is a real tear jerker.  I still like this book though more than some of the others. 

Martin Chuzzlewit

frontpiece for Martin Chuzzlwitt by Phiz


What I like about it:  It’s alright – that’s about it really.  I didn’t enjoy this as much as some of the other books and I think this is down to  Chuzzlewit’s adventures in America (reflecting Dickens’ opinion). I am amazed that Dickens thought this his best novel.  It is the least popular with most people.


Hard Times

Gradgrind catches Louisa and Tom at the circus


What I like about it:  Very different to other Dickens books.  I have only read it once and found it quite sobering.  it is political, set in fictitious Coketown and about Class, education and trouble at t’ mills.  I can’t remember much about it to be honest, but it is something I wouldn’t read again, but I would choose it over  Martin Chuzzlewit. 

Tale of Two cities

Tale of two cities by Phiz

What I like about this book: not a favorite, but great if you are interested in the French Revolution.  Basically its about one man sacrificing himself for another because he loves the others wife.

Tale of two Citoes frontpiece Darnay and Carton

Thrills; Lots of intrigue and underground Revolutionists.  Sydney Carton who starts out a dissipated man ends up a martyred hero.  It’s not a book I would read again, but it has been translated quite well into very watchable films. 

Pickwick Papers

Mr Pickwick addresses the club


Why I like it?  I just don’t.  I have read this book twice and I cannot for the life of me see what others see in it.  To me it tries to be too clever.  Sam Weller really gets on my nerves.  I know it’s not his fault poor chap, but Dickens gives him an impediment that makes his character hard to read.  Idon’t care much for their ‘hilarious’ adventures either.  But, having said this, I shall at some time try again to read this book – I might actually ‘get’ it eventually 

The Victorian websiteDickens pages HERE