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The ten Victorian bestsellers published by Penguin Books in 2010, in the series "PENGUIN POCKET CLASSICS".

1. LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (9780141192338 )

2. PAUL CLIFFORD by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

3. JACK SHEPPARD by William Harrison Ainsworth
(9780141191898 )

4. THE STRING OF PEARLS by Thomas Preskett Prest (9780141192345)

5. THE WOMAN IN WHITE by Wilkie Collins
(9780141191911 )

6. THE MOONSTONE by Wilkie Collins
(9780141191928 )


8. A SICILIAN ROMANCE by Ann Radcliffe
(9780141191942 )

9. THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO by Horace Walpole
(9780140437676 )

10. THE MONK by Matthew Lewis
(9780141191966 )

ISBN numbers are all to paper editions; the books appeared between April and May 2010.

Feb 26, 2013, 7:26 pm

Jack Sheppard
Finished reading: 28 January 2013

In 2010, Penguin Books published ten Victorian bestsellers as "Pocket Penguin Classics". These novels appeared without introduction and notes, which make the Penguin Classics series such a wonderful resource. Missing this critical apparatus in the 2010 Pocket Classics series, is quite a loss.

One of these ten Victorian bestsellers is William Harrison Ainsworth's historical novel Jack Sheppard, which was first published in 1839.

The story of Jack Sheppard is set in the early Eighteenth century, between 1703 and 1724. The historical novel deals with the life of Jack Sheppard. The novel consists of a fictionalised account of Sheppard's life entwined with a fictional, more romantic plot line. The characters which appear in that part of the novel referring to Sheppard's life are historical figures, notably Jack Sheppard, Jonathan Wild, and Blueskin. Alongside the story line of Jack Sheppard's notorious life, the novel tells the story of Thames Darrell, which is a type of "pauper & prince" plot added to the historical story.

The novel belongs to the particular genre known as the "Newgate novel". Novels belonging to this genre often portray and glorify the lives of criminals. Dickens' Oliver Twist is usually mentioned as an example of this type of novel.

The historical figure Jack Sheppard was a young, and handsome fellow, who excelled at escaping from prison. His good looks and tender age, Jack was executed at the age of 21, and his marvelous exploits escaping from prison, won him the sympathy of commoners in the early Eighteenth century. The execution order was regretted, and in the months before his execution various pamphlets appeared describing his biography. One of these authentic pamphlets was written by Daniel Defoe. Sheppard was visited in prison and had his portrait painted. References to these biographical facts are included in the novel.

Jack Shepard's main adversary in the novel is another historical figure, named Jonathan Wild. Wild is a very complex character, and central to understanding the plot of the novel. While Wild appears as a character in Jack Sheppard, Henry Fielding has written a novel, called Jonathan Wild.

The novel Jack Sheppard consists of three parts. The first part is set in 1703, and has the sub title "Jonathan Wild". Without a proper introduction to the background of the characters, the role of Jonathan Wild is hard to grasp. The action in this part of the novel is swift and confusing, and rather puzzling, as two infants are swapped and multiple characters appear and disappear in successive scenes. Reading this part of the novel is not very smooth. The style of writing lacks the suaveness of the novels by Dickens, and more resembles the somewhat cruder style of Walpole's The castle of Otranto.

The second part of the novel, dedicated to Thames Darrell, describes the youth of Jack Sheppard; Again, large parts of the story line are obscure. Both parts one and two of the novel describe the character of Owen Wood as particularly benevolent, and Jack Sheppard, apprenticed to Wood as a carpenter appears as a very naughty boy, but the figure of Darrell remains unclear. An interesting, unusual feature of the early part of the novel is the inclusion of various ballads.

However, the third and longest part of the novel, called "The prison-breaker", set in 1724, Sheppard's last year, is very well-written. This part of the novel is very exciting. It described various exploits of Jack Sheppard, particularly his many successful escapes from various prisons. In this part of the novel the full, evil genius of Jonathan Wild is unfolded, and the romantic plot around Thames Darrell is fully developed.

The novel features a number of characteristics of Victorian novels. There are some heart-rending descriptions of the treatment of people in the mad house, as well as prison. There are extensive descriptions of the architecture of the Newgate prison, and the architecture of Jonathan Wild's house is quite a marvel. This part of the novel introduces various characters which, though not central to the plot, are very interesting, notably the prison wardens. Last but not least, in the final part of the book, the readers feelings toward young Sheppard are so successfully swayed that he is less looked upon as a criminal, the more as a noble youth, who would deserve a spectacular Robin-Hood-fashion liberation.

Difficult to get into, and somewhat hard to read in the first 250 pages, especially the last part of the novel makes Jack Sheppard very well worth reading.

Feb 26, 2013, 7:31 pm

The string of pearls
Finished reading: 21 June 2012

The string of pearls or Sweeney Todd is a very entertaining, gruesome Victorian horror story.

The story is set in 1785, and the opening chapter quickly introduces the main characters and the leads of the story that will be developed over the about 400-page length novel: Lieutenant Thornhill is on shore-leave carrying a valuable string of pearls, which he is to deliver to Johanna Oakley, the lover of Mark Ingestrie who is supposedly reported as lost at sea. Thornhill never reaches Johanna and the trail leads to his mysterious disappearance from Sweeney Todd's barber's shop. The opening chapter strongly points out Todd as an evil personage, characterised by a disagreeable, mirthful, hyena-like laugh. He is described as an ill-fitted, ugly and weird person having a most terrific head of hair - "like a thickset hedge, in which a quantity of small wire had got entangled"- keeping all his combs in it, and some said his scissors as well. There is a strong suggestion that something must be going on at the shop in Fleet street, as we are told rents the whole building but only uses the first floor. He is extremely secretive, and utters the most violent threats at the address of his assistant, Tobias Ragg. When Tobias replies that he "won't say anything {as} I wish, sir, I may be made into veal pies at Lovett's in Bell Yard if I as much as say a word" this is an oddly ambiguous statement, which seems to refer to urban legend or suggests that Tobias already knows exactly what is going on.

Despite the fact that the reader realizes so early what the gruesome secret is, the reader is not aware of the details, the characters in the novel do not, and the story leads up to this horrific discovery, revealing one disgusting detail after another, and as the truth comes out (to the novel's characters) the revelation is still a gruesome climax to the reader.

Each strand of the story is cleverly and extensively developed to its fullest potential. The personal and business relation between Sweeney and Mrs Lovett, which is dominated by Todd's incredibly evil genius. The ingenuity of Todd's scheme and the connection between the shop in Fleet Street, Saint Duncan's Church and Mrs Lovett's pie shop in Bell-Yard. The hazards of selling the string of pearls. The involvement of Johanna, who dresses up as a boy to gain access to Todd's shop and the danger to which she exposes herself snooping around at the barber shop trying to discover Todd's secrets.

Sweeney Todd or The string of pearls also publshed under the title Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is an extremely entertaining story that deploys various story telling devices of the adventurous Victorian novel. There are only one or two chapters of digression from the story, causing attention to slack a bit, but most of the time the story is adventurous and engaging. The characters bear various traits of characters from Victorian literature, such as the chivalrous Colonel Jeffrey, but the characters are nonetheless real enough, as even Colonel Jeffrey admits to acting out of more than just chivalry, as he develops feelings for Johanna, which, however, he controls.

Tobias Ragg is a somewhat Dickensian character, reminiscent of Oliver Twist, and his experiences at the hands of Watson and Mr Fogg, the keepers at the madhouse belong to the best parts of the book.

While many people have heard of Sweeney Todd or The string of pearls , very few people seem to have read it, and the book is owned by less than 150 people on LibraryThing. Possibly this is caused by the fact that for the longest time the book was published anonymously, and still authorship of Sweeney Todd or The string of pearls is disputed.

The 2011 Penguin edition ascribes Sweeney Todd or The string of pearls to Thomas Peckett Prest a Victorian hack writer of whom little is known (not even date of birth and death are certain), who parodied Charles Dickens publishing novels with titles such as he Life and Adventures of Oliver Twiss, the Workhouse Boy, David Copperful and Nickelas Nicklebery beside another 14-odd novels. However, there is a considerable number of scholars who suggest that the real author of Sweeney Todd or The string of pearls was James Malcolm Rymer, another Victorian writer of "penny dreadfuls". Scholarship supports that Thomas Peckett Prest and James Malcolm Rymer jointly wrote Sweeney Todd or The string of pearls, authoring alternating chapters, originally published serialized over eight weeks. Such mixed or unclear authorship may be the reason why the novel is little read. On LibraryThing, various editions are listed by the name of their respective editors, while the novels are not combined.

Excellent stuff!

Lug 12, 2013, 10:26 pm

A Sicilian romance
Finished reading: 27 March 2013

A Sicilian romance was published before the period generally described as the Victorian era, but it was included in this series, apparently because Victorian readership loved it.

A Sicilian romance by Ann Radcliffe is a short and rather muddled story. A tourist visiting a ruined castle in Sicily, gets drawn into the story of the unhappy daughters' love romances. A huge, half-ruined castle, full of crags and corners, mysterious lights, tunnels, etc., the plot takes as many unexpected turns as the labyrinthine extravagances of the imagined architecture of the castle.

When Ann Radcliffe wrote A Sicilian romance she had never visited Italy. The imagined landscape and architecture are therefore a stock pile of cliches about Italy, and so are the turns and twists of the plot. There is no real development of a story; merely a tumbling from one outrage into another.

Very disappointing.

Giu 25, 2015, 6:02 am

>3 edwinbcn: I just stumbled across this group and this thread by accident (okay, by an LT group suggestion), and this sounds like a fascinating read! Thank you for the review.

Modificato: Lug 9, 2015, 7:00 am

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Giu 28, 2015, 4:47 pm

>6 Foxhunter:
Maybe they all did well in Melbourne?

Giu 28, 2015, 8:21 pm

Mrs. Radcliffe was the closest to the
Victorian Era, dying only a decade and
a half, or so before Vʻs coronation.

Another sometimes mistakenly called
Victorian is Jane Austen. Not sure
she even lived into the 1820s.

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Giu 29, 2015, 4:10 am

>7 thorold:,>9 Foxhunter: ...another weak joke expires painfully :-(

Bestsellers are defined according to when and where a book is bought by large numbers of people. Melbourne is, if I remember my school geography lessons correctly, the biggest city in Victoria. If there's a sudden craze for the works of Mrs Radcliffe there next week, she will automatically become a Victorian bestseller (provided Penguin can keep up with the demand...).

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Giu 29, 2015, 4:19 am

Fifteen all!

Modificato: Lug 9, 2015, 7:01 am

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Modificato: Giu 30, 2015, 5:00 am

When I was at primary school in the sixties, I learnt that there were only three important periods in History:
- The Romans
- The Vikings
- The Victorians
I've checked with a couple of parents I know who send their children to British schools, and they confirm that this is still the case, although there is now also a kind of "zeroth period", The Dinosaurs. Later on, of course, you learn that there are also The Normans, The Tudors and The Civil War who have to be squeezed somewhere into the tiny gap between longships and dark satanic mills.

Giu 30, 2015, 3:01 pm

I'm a little confused: Victorian "bestsellers" without Dickens, Thackery, and the Brontes? Did I miss something (I'm a scanner more than a reader)?

Giu 30, 2015, 4:09 pm

>16 Limelite:
Joking apart, I assume that what Penguin are trying to do here is draw attention to some writers who were popular with Victorian book-buyers but nowadays aren't seen as "great literature": the Dan Browns and P.D. Jameses of the day, not the guys who might have got on to the Nobel shortlist. And they obviously aren't being completely altruistic about the exercise: they have picked fairly sensational books by writers most of us will have heard of but not read, so they probably have a decent chance of selling a few. And if they aren't paying anyone to write notes and an introduction, it will be a pretty cheap exercise for them. All they need is a cover designer and the text from the archive, and they can send it off to the printer.

Giu 30, 2015, 4:17 pm

>16 Limelite: "I'm a little confused: Victorian 'bestsellers' without Dickens . . ."

Dickens wrote sympathetically of the Confederacy. Thus, all of his works have recently been taken off the market.

Giu 30, 2015, 6:49 pm

>17 thorold:

Agreed. Just a little miffed that strictly speaking (as was pointed out), more than one of the authors shouldn't be classified as Victorian.

Thanks for talking me down.

>18 cpg:

So now you've become a bloviating stalker? Sorry, I don't "hear" humor in your post.

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Lug 1, 2015, 9:34 am

>19 Limelite:

A stalker. Right. I was posting in the Victoriana group before you even discovered LibraryThing.

The fact is that Dickens did write sympathetically of the Confederacy. For example, in 1862 he wrote: "The Northern onslaught upon slavery was no more than a piece of specious humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the Southern states." He was a Lost Causer before the Cause was even Lost. I say let's ban him.

Lug 1, 2015, 10:33 am

>21 cpg:
He wasn't alone. The blockade of the southern states put a lot of people out of work in Britain, especially in the Lancashire cotton industry. You can probably find a lot of other British writers of the time saying negative things about the North. (Mrs Gaskell?)

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