Saturday, March 03, 2007

Dickens' Fur Coat...

Just a few words today, about a terrific book.
Dickens' Fur Coat and Charlotte's Unanswered Letters: The Rows and Romances of England's Great Victorian Novelists, by Daniel Pool.
Pool's book is a well-paced survey of the industry that produced the greater (well-known) Victorian novels. By "industry" is meant process. He covers the development of publishing houses, writers, lending libraries, serials, trans-atlantic markets, and the innovative way that enterprising book distributors managed to bring their product to the public. It all combines for a fascinating story, and Pool does it well.

It could be said that he focuses on three writers, these being Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, and William Makepeace Thackeray. These three (along with Marian Evans a.k.a. George Eliot) played a vital role in the development of the Victorian novel, and they comprise the bulk of Pool's discussion.
The interaction and intrigues between the main three authors make for National Enquirer-like fodder... with the difference that this stuff is TRUE! Truly, there were "rows and romances" as the subtitle suggests.

The Victorian era was an exciting, but very demanding (downright scary) time to be an author. There were the restraints of format (the serial novel had to be written in self-contained installments; the "triple-decker" had to be able to be neatly split in three), there was the gender prejudice (one ought not to be a woman writer), and there was the ubiquitous spirit of cut-throat competition and jealousy in this burgeoning literary world.
Only the strong survived, and only the versatile were recognized at all.
The latter third of the book covers the rise of great writers like Wilkie Collins, Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, [<-- one of my favorite authors ever] and Henry James. The author takes a subject having the potential of being dry as crackers and presents it as a sprawling and wonderfully connected story. Good work. Reading this book made me realize that there is a HISTORY to the easy access to good literature we enjoy in our day and age, and made me appreciate those many pioneers who cut the swath to it.
Great wintertime reading!


Stefanie said...

This sounds like fun!

danielle said...

Ditto--It does sound fun. I am going to look for a copy.