Baca dan Posting Bareng Oktober 2014


Hi semuanya!

Bagaimana kabar kalian semua? Semoga selalu baik saja dan masih terus bersemangat ikutan posting bareng BBI ^^

Tentu kalian masih ingat tema posting bareng untuk bulan ini, kan?

a. Buku-buku terbitan Balai Pustaka:  Posbar 30 Oktober 2014
b. Buku yang diterbitin bertepatan dengan tahun kita lahir: Posbar 31 Oktober 2014

Hayoo, sudah siap mengungkap tahun kelahiran? XD

Jangan lupa cantumkan banner posting bareng seperti yang tertera di awal post, ya. Lalu, setor link kamu ke linky yang tersedia.

Selanjutnya, informasi untuk voting posting favorit kamu:

  • Voters adalah anggota BBI
  • Satu orang hanya diperkenankan memberikan satu vote
  • Vote bisa disetor langsung di kolom komentar di bawah ini.
  • Cara voting: Menyebutkan nama dan nomor induk BBI voters, lalu menyebutkan judul Review dan linknya
  • Voting dibuka selama satu bulan dan ditutup di pada akhir bulan berikutnya. Voting untuk posbar Oktober ditutup pada tanggal 30 November 2014 (bagi yang setor link terlambat maka resiko untuk kehilangan vote semakin besar, begitu juga voting yang lewat dari jadwal tidak akan dihitung ^^;)
  • Hasil voting akan segera dihitung setelah periode selesai dan tidak bisa diganggu gugat

Selanjutnya, sebagai pengingat tema PosBar November:

a. Newbery Book List: Buku-buku yang terdaftar dalam list Newbery Medal and Honor Books seperti Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park, dll

List: Http://

Posbar 27 November 2014

b. Buku yang ada unsur angka: Buku yang dalam judulnya ada unsur angka seperti Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot, 86 by Okky madasari, dll.

Posbar 28 November 2014

Nah, ditunggu partisipasi dari teman-teman sekalian, ya! Selamat bersenang-senang!


Salam baca,

Div. Event BBI

The 100 best novels: #26 – The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (1890)

In the summer of 1889, the managing editor of the American magazineLippincott’s visited London to commission new fiction from some up-and-coming authors. On 30 August, he held a dinner at the Langham hotel attended by Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle, among others. The upshot was an unprecedented and remarkable double: Dorian Gray and a new Sherlock Holmes novel, originally titled The Sign of the Four.

The influence of The Moonstone (No 19 in this series) is unmistakable from the moment Holmes’s client, Mary Morstan, presents herself in Baker Street. Her father, an Indian army captain, has gone missing. As a second puzzle, she reports that over the last several years, on 7 July, she has received six pearls in the mail from an unknown source. Mary Morstan can offer the great detective only one clue, a map of a fort found in her father’s desk, with the names of three Sikhs, and a certain Jonathan Small. It is, of course, enough.

The story that Holmes swiftly unravels will involve some potent aspects of India in all its mystery and romance: the “mutiny” of 1857; stolen jewels from Agra; and a Sikh plot. On only his second outing in a full-length novel, Holmes is on top form throughout, stimulated by injections of cocaine and his celebrated deductive method (“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”) Here, unmistakably, is the voice of the master.

Conan Doyle had stumbled on the idea of the brilliant detective and his stolid sidekick (a variation on a theme best known to literature in a double act like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza) in A Study in Scarlet(1888). In The Sign of Four he deepens the Holmes-Watson relationship and has the good doctor (also the narrator) fall in love with Mary Morstan (“A wondrous subtle thing is love,” declares Watson). They will eventually get married.

As a novel about a crime, The Sign of Four is inferior to The Moonstone, though superbly constructed and compelling, complete with poison darts, a disputed legacy, and an exciting chase down the Thames. It also marks the reappearance of the “Baker Street Irregulars” and an important step in the evolution of Holmes and Watson, the most successful and popular literary duo in Victorian magazine fiction.

Doyle was a keen cricketer who used to play with other writers, including the young PG Wodehouse. They became friends and Wodehuse eventually paid homage to his mentor when he created English literature’s supreme double act in his Jeeves and Wooster stories.

A note on the text

In his memoirs, Conan Doyle describes how he was commissioned to write this story over a dinner at the Langham hotel with Joseph M Stoddart, managing editor of Lippincott’s on 30 August 1889. Stoddart’s first idea was to produce an English version of his magazine with local, British contributors. In the end, only Doyle, with typical professionalism and efficiency, delivered his copy on time for its British publication in February 1890. On its first magazine appearance, the novel was titledThe Sign of the Four, following the description of the fatal symbol of murder in the text of the story. Thereafter, during several second serialisations in a variety of regional journals, the novel became known as The Sign of Four.

Eventually, Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes novel would appear in volume form in October 1890 from the publisher Spencer Blackett, again with the title The Sign of Four. Later editions have varied between the two versions of the title, with most editions adopting the four-word form. The actual text in the novel nearly always uses “the Sign of the Four” (the five-word phrase) to describe the symbol in the story.

Like its prequel, A Study in Scarlet, published in 1888, The Sign of th e Four was not an overnight success. It was Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, published in the Strand magazine after 1890 that made Sherlock Holmes a literary immortal.

Three more from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892); The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902); The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927).

The 100 best novels: #25 – Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889)

An ancient river. The journey upstream of some impressionable young men into a mysterious, challenging interior. An inevitable reckoning at the source. Finally, the terrible return to reality. Here, surely, is pre-Edwardian English fiction at its classic finest.

But this is not Heart of Darkness, and the river is not the Congo. Actually, it’s the Thames, and the narrator is not Marlow but J, or Jerome, K Jerome. Published in 1889, 10 years before Conrad’s novel, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), is one of the comic gems in the English language. An accidental one, too. “I did not intend to write a funny book, at first,” said its author.

Humour in literature is often not taken as seriously as it deserves. Nevertheless, there are a few seriously funny books that remain great for all time. Three Men in a Boat is one of these. Ostensibly the tale of three city clerks on a boating trip, an account that sometimes masquerades, against its will, as a travel guide,Three Men in a Boat hovers somewhere between a shaggy-dog story and episodes of late-Victorian farce.

What’s it all about? Jerome K Jerome would probably say his masterpiece was “about one hundred and fifty pages”, but I would argue that Three Men in a Boat is about the cameraderie of youth, the absurdity of existence, camping holidays, playing truant, comic songs, and the sweet memories of lost time. You could also read it as an unconscious elegy for imperial Britain. Did I omit to say that it also features a dog named Montmorency? In short, like all the finest comic writing, it’s about everything and nothing.

Jerome K Jerome is more or less forgotten now. He was a jobbing freelance literary journalist who had just got married and needed to provide for his wife and family. Encouraged by his new wife, Georgina, Jerome intended his account of a boating holiday to be a popular travel guide for a booming market. In late-Victorian England there was a vogue for recreational boating on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford. This was the golden age of the Henley regatta. Rowing boats, steam launches, even the occasional gondola: in the Season, up to 800 vessels a day passed through Boulter’s Lock near Maidenhead. Here was an audience for a new river guide. In fact, Jerome’s descriptions of Hampton Court, Marlow and Medmenham are all that survive from the original plan for a travel book.

But something funny happened on the way to publication, perhaps because it was first serialised in a magazine. Jerome’s discursive comic voice took over. The river journey he makes with his friends George and Harris (and Montmorency) becomes the narrative line on which he hangs a sequence of comic anecdotes loosely associated with the journey upriver.

Jerome’s themes are airily inconsequential and supremely English – boats, fishing, the weather, the atrocities of English food and the vicissitudes of suburban life – perfectly pitched in a light comic prose whose influence can be detected later in the work of, among many, PG Wodehouse, James Thurber, and Nick Hornby. My favourite Jerome set piece is the episode with the tinned pineapple.

The three mariners have had a long, hard day on the river. They reach their evening mooring, dog-tired and ravenously hungry. When George unearths a tin of pineapple chunks “we felt” writes Jerome, “that life was worth living after all”. They were, he says, all of them exceedingly fond of pineapple. As the anticipation begins to build, he delivers the most perfect sentence in a book already buoyant with light comedy. “We looked at the picture on the tin,” writes Jerome; “we thought of the juice.”

Then they discover that they have no tin-opener. What follows is a passage of comic genius spun from nothing more – or less – than the banality of everyday life. Read it. This passage (“a fearful battle”) comes as the brilliant climax to chapter 12.

Three Men in a Boat is one of those rare classics that seems to come, as it were, out of nowhere, and to defy the odds. Jerome K Jerome later wrote a hit West End play, The Passing of the Third Floor Back, but he never recaptured the mood of careless comic joy that aerates the pages of his immortal masterpiece.

A note on the text

Three Men in a Boat began life as a travel commission for the magazineHome Chimes.

Its author later described what went wrong: “I did not know I was a humorist,” he confessed. “The book was to have been ‘The Story of the Thames’, its scenery and history… I never got there. It seemed to be all ‘humorous relief’. By grim determination I succeeded, before the end, in writing a dozen or so slabs of history and working them in, one to each chapter, and FW Robinson, who was publishing the book serially, promptly slung them out… From the beginning he had objected to the [since lost] title , and halfway through I hit upon Three Men in a Boat, because nothing else seemed right.”

Jerome sold book publication rights to the Bristol publisher, JW Arrowsmith, who had been having a big success with a three-and-sixpenny single-volume series (including work by Arthur Conan Doyle and Anthony Hope), a new phenomenon which had begun to supplant the great Victorian “three-decker” novels. The Education Act of 1870 had created a new mass readership, and Jerome was eager to reach this new audience. On publication, however, it seemed as if his cunning marketing plans had gone awry. He had not allowed for the critics.

Jerome’s fascination with bank clerks and “the lower orders” was denounced up and down. “One might have imagined,” he later wrote inMy Life and Times, “that the British Empire was in danger. The Standardspoke of me as a menace to English letters; and the Morning Post as an example of the sad results to be expected from the over-education of the lower orders…”

To be specific, the reviews ranged from the vitriolic to the merely hostile. The use of slang was condemned as “vulgar” and the book as a whole abused as a shameless appeal to “‘Arrys and ‘Arriets” – sneering critical terms for working-class Londoners. The magazine Punch dubbed Jerome K Jerome “‘Arry K ‘Arry”.

Typically, the reading public paid absolutely no attention. Three Men in a Boat went on selling in vast numbers, defying gravity. It was also promptly pirated by unscrupulous American publishers. In Britain, Arrowsmith told a friend: “I pay Jerome so much in royalties, I cannot imagine what becomes of all the copies of that book I issue. I often think the public must eat them.”

The first edition appeared in August 1889, and remained in print until March 1909, when, after the sale of some 200,000 copies, a second edition appeared. In his introduction to this printing, Jerome states that he had probably sold another million (pirated) copies in America.

The book was also translated into many languages. The Russian edition was particularly successful and became a standard school textbook, possibly as a documentary account of life in the heart of the capitalist empire. Since its publication, Three Men in a Boat has never been out of print. I’m unashamedly fond of it, and chose it as my “desert island” book on BBC Radio 4 in 2000.

Three more by Jerome K Jerome

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1886); Three Men on the Bummel(1900); The Passing of the Third Floor Back, stories (1907), the play (1910).

The 100 best novels: #24 – Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

In a society shaped by the profound transformations of the 1870 Education Act, Robert Louis Stevenson stands apart from his late-Victorian contemporaries as a strikingly romantic artist, and literary celebrity. He held a very modern attitude to his profession and yet, nevertheless, somehow seemed to sacrifice life to literature. He, of course, disclaimed his commitment, telling an American admirer that he was “a person who prefers life to art, and who knows it is a far finer thing to be in love…” The record of his creativity suggests the opposite, only adding to the aura of enigma that still surrounds him.

So Stevenson remains an elfin, paradoxical figure. In his day, he was read avidly as the author of adventure stories for boys and bestselling horror/fantasy for adults. Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde were instant classics, each a brilliantly concise narrative of quasi-cinematic intensity. Both Jekyll and Hyde and Treasure Island were written incredibly fast, in a matter of days, or weeks. Perhaps this is why (more than many writers in this series), Stevenson was a master at capturing fictional moments with a single vivid image. This was his forte. It was RLS, for instance, who identified the footprint in the sand (in Robinson Crusoe, no. 2 in this series) as a narrative masterstroke.

Anyway, to me, Kidnapped is his masterpiece, an unforgettable novel of action that would inspire writers as varied as Joseph Conrad, John Buchan, Graham Greene and Muriel Spark. It is also a fascinating meditation on the complexity of the Scots character, half Celt, half Saxon. As in Jekyll and Hyde, it shows him obsessed with the divided self, and in the year of the independence vote, Kidnapped remains essential reading. I’ve chosen it for this series to represent Stevenson’s profound Scottishness as well as his genius as a writer.

The novel is deceptively simple. Although it’s presented as a boys’ story, rooted in historical reality, it also demonstrates Stevenson’s artistic sleight-of-hand. Indeed, Kidnapped achieves at least three things simultaneously. First, it’s an astounding action adventure in which Stevenson’s command of narrative, prose that’s pared to the bone, is never less than enthralling. As a reader, he leaves one almost breathless with excitement and admiration. Henry James, no less, was a great fan of the “Flight in the Heather” sequence of chapters. For storytelling verve, turn to chapter 10, “The Siege of the Round House”.

Second, Kidnapped takes an historical event, the Appin murder of May 1752, the killing of “the Red Fox”, and renders it into a compelling popular tale for the mass audience who first encountered it in the magazine Young Folks. Stevenson did not disdain the genre in which he was operating. Kidnapped, like Treasure Island, comes with a map, to elucidate the drama; his chapter titles alone are designed to sell his tale: “I Run a Great Danger in the House of Shaws”; “The Man with the Belt of Gold”; and “The House of Fear”.

Finally, Kidnapped stands out as an inspired and memorable study of the duality in the Scots character. David Balfour, the Whig, is a Lowland Scot of prudent Presbyterian stock whose shocking kidnap occurs as he sets out to claim his inheritance from his evil uncle, Ebenezer. Alan Breck (Stewart), described by Balfour as “a condemned rebel, and a deserter, and a man of the French king’s”, represents the proud spirit of the Highlands after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, fiery, reckless, romantic and doomed, with a brilliant line in memorable dialogue. As a pair, they make an unforgettable, often contentious, double act, and both revel (with Stevenson) in the good Scots tongue. Like a rich country fruit cake, Kidnapped is seasoned throughout with handfuls of dialect words, “ain” (one), “bairn” (child), “blae” (cheerless), “chield” (fellow), “drammach” (raw oatmeal), “fash” (bother), “muckle” (big), “siller” (money), “unco” (extremely) , “wheesht!” (shush!), and dozens more.

The Scots dialect words somehow give Kidnapped an inexhaustible fire and brio, but its inner mood is sombre. Stevenson, in Balfour’s voice, expresses this as he lives over again “the worst part of my adventures… Ransome carried below, Shaun dying on the round-house floor, or Colin Campbell (the Red Fox) grasping at the bosom of his coat…”

Balfour survives, of course, but for almost everyone else their fate is death. Stevenson himself died suddenly of a stroke on the island of Samoa on 3 December 1894, aged 44.

A note on the text

Kidnapped was written as a “boys’ novel” and first published in serial form in the magazine Young Folks from May to July 1886. The novel first appeared in book form from Cassell and Company in July 1886. In theCollected Works of Stevenson, it boasts one of the longest and most elaborate subtitles in English literature: “Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751; How he was Cast Away; His Sufferings in a Desert Isle; His Journey in the Wild Highlands; His Acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other Notorious Highland Jacobites; with All that He Suffered at the Hands of his Uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, Falsely So-Called. Written by Himself and Now Set Forth by Robert Louis Stevenson with a Preface by Mrs Stevenson”.

Kidnapped was well-received on publication and has since attracted the admiration of writers as diverse as Henry James, who praised its narrative brio, Jorge Luis Borges and Seamus Heaney, among many. An inferior sequel, Catriona, was published in 1893.

Other important Stevenson titles:

Treasure Island (1883); The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde(1886); A Child’s Garden of Verses (1886); The Weir of Hermiston(1896, posthumous).

The 100 best novels: #23 – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884/5)

Mark Twain began his masterpiece, he said, as “a kind of companion toTom Sawyer“. Drafted in the 1870s, the first chapters of the new book continued the old mood with the sharp ironic humour of its famous opening line: “You don’t know about me, without you have read a book… made by Mr Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”

But when, after a troubled hiatus, he returned to complete the manuscript in 1883, what had begun as a reminiscent celebration became a darker elegy for a lost world. His alter ego, Sam Clemens, was appalled by the trend of American life in the fading century. For Mark Twain, the surest bulwark against the sterilising tide of progress became his pen.

With Huck Finn, he could recall life on America’s great river as a permanent thing, a place of menacing sunsets, starlit nights and strange dawns, of the confessions of dying men, hints of buried treasure, murderous family feuds, overheard shoptalk, the crazy braggadocio of travelling showmen, the distant thunder of the civil war, and two American exiles, Huck the orphan and Jim the runaway slave, floating down the immensity of the great Mississippi. Huck’s is a journey that will transform both characters, but in the end, Huck, like his creator, breaks free from bourgeois inhibition, from those who would “adopt” and “sivilise” him. “I can’t stand it,” he says. “I been there before.”

Another American from the midwest, TS Eliot, addressing Twain’s genius, wrote that he was “one of those writers, of whom there are not a great many in any literature, who have discovered a new way of writing, valid not only for themselves but for others”.

Hemingway put it more succinctly. “All modern literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn… It’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”

The voice of a new America resounds loud and clear from the first page to the last. Huckleberry Finn, inspired by a prequel (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) that was for boys, is a book that celebrates the lost world of childhood, the space and mystery of the midwest. Above all, it mythologises the issue – race – that had tormented the Union for so many decades. So Huck Finn floats down the great river that flows through the heart of America, and on this adventure he is accompanied by the magnificent figure of Jim, a runaway slave, who is also making his bid for freedom.

A note on the text

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn began as a manuscript originally entitled Huckleberry Finn’s Autobiography. Twain eventually abandoned it following Huck Finn’s development into adulthood. Twain wrote the bulk of the story in pen and ink between 1876 (the year of Tom Sawyer) and 1883. A later version became the first typewritten manuscript delivered to a printer. Ever since the publication of his story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Twain was famous throughout the English-speaking world, and news of the book soon spread outside of the United States. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finnwas eventually published by Chatto & Windus on 10 December 1884 in Canada and the United Kingdom, and then on 18 February 1885 in the United States by Charles L Webster and Co. (The American edition was delayed thanks to a last-minute change to an illustration plate.)

Even now, this great novel remains vulnerable to the censoring attentions of provincial reactionaries and classroom bigots, calling for the novel to be banned. In 2003 high school student Calista Phair and her grandmother, Beatrice Clark, in the state of Washington, proposed eliminating the book from the Renton school district, because of the frequent use of the word “nigger”. In 2009 a Washington state high school teacher called for the removal of the novel from the school curriculum, stating that all “novels that use the ‘N-word’ repeatedly need to go”. I’m happy to report that elsewhere in the world, Huckleberry Finnis still read, and taught, as an American classic.

Other essential Mark Twain titles

The Innocents Abroad (1869); Roughing It (1872); The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876); Life on The Mississippi (1883).

The 100 best novels: #22 – The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)

Anthony Trollope is the epitome of the 19th-century English writer, indefatigable, popular and tightly wired-in to his society, a monument of productivity. In the course of his 67 years, Trollope published more than 40 novels including two series (the Barchester Chronicles and the Pallisers) that anchored him in the public mind as the model of the Victorian literary man.

His peers were less complimentary. To Henry James, he was “a novelist who hunted the fox”. After the disastrous publication of his AnAutobiography, his reputation became damaged by his ruthless attitude towards his art (so many words per day; his characters clinically subordinated to the needs of his narrative, and so on). Trollope’s facility was held against him, and so was his popularity with a middle-class reading public. However, if there is one Trollope novel, written in a white heat during 1873, that rescues him from accusations of shallow commerciality, and puts him in the premier league, it must be The Way We Live Now.

The novel, fuelled by indignation, began as a satire. Trollope, who had been living in Australia for 18 months, had returned to London in 1872, to find a society (as he saw it) mired in corruption. He was appalled, he wrote later, by “a certain class of dishonesty, dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places… so rampant and so splendid that there seems to be reason for fearing that men and women will be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to be abominable.”

At first, what he called “the Carbury novel” was to be focused on Lady Carbury, a coquettish fortysomething operator “false from head to foot” on the brink of a shameful literary career. Here, Trollope’s portrait owes something to his redoubtable mother, Frances Trollope, the bestselling author of Domestic Manners of the Americans. But once he introduced the character of Augustus Melmotte, one of English fiction‘s most memorable monsters, all literary equilibrium was lost. Perhaps because Trollope was now untethered from a lifetime of careful plotting, and scrupulous narration, he was able to plunge deeper into his subject unencumbered by the restraints of literary technique. The Way We Live Now has a raw and edgy vitality (fading towards the end) that’s often missing in Trollope’s more routine novels.

Melmotte, based on some scandalous financiers of the 1870s, is a figure we have come to know only too well: arrogant, ruthless, corrupt and so unfeasibly rich he believes he can buy anything, including political influence. In painting this character, Trollope’s satirical fury is at full stretch. Melmotte is a “horrid, big, rich scoundrel… a bloated swindler… a vile city ruffian”. How often, in the 1980s and 90s – Robert Maxwell comes to mind – have we not seen such characters in contemporary English life ?

Melmotte’s story, which occupies the heart of The Way We Live Now is the tale of a railway fraud, mad speculation and, finally, the bursting of the bubble in a crash that utterly disgraces the deluded interloper. This is hardly the moment to reveal Melmotte’s fate, which must be implicit in his corruption. Suffice to say that, once he has left the scene, a more familiar cast of bounders and rogues takes over: Lady Carbury and her feckless son Felix, whose contemptible ambition is “to marry an heiress”; Hamilton Fisker, Melmotte’s crooked partner; “Dolly” Longstaffe, the pointless clubman; Mrs Hurtle, the social climbing American, plus an entertaining galère of literary types (Trollope has fun here) from Broune and Booker (yes!), Yeld, Barham and Alf, any one of whom could step into British literary prize management today, no questions asked.

One of my favourites in this series, The Way We Live Now is a wonderful, melodramatic tale-of-the-times, by a master of his craft. It begins in satire and finally resolves into entertaining social comedy. As a savage commentary on mid-Victorian England by a marvellously addictive writer steeped in every aspect of an extraordinary society, it could hardly be bettered. No wonder the first reviews were atrocious.

A note on the text

Trollope, professional to his fingertips, often kept a calendar for the composition of his fiction. Before starting The Way We Live Now he made the following, slightly chilly, calculation: “Carbury novel. 20 numbers. 64 pages each number. 260 words each page. 40 pages a week. To be completed in 32 weeks.”

But he was wrong. The “Carbury novel”, begun in May 1873, took just 29 weeks, and ran to about 425,000 words. Incredibly, Trollope also polished off another work of fiction (Harry Heathcote of Gangoil) simultaneously. Meanwhile, the publishers Chapman & Hall had already made a contract with Trollope (an outright sale for £3,000) for The Way We Live Now, securing serialisation as well as volume rights. But the heyday of magazine publication was over. The novel did badly in serial form, from February 1874 to September 1875. A two-volume edition was published in July 1875, pre-empting the last stages of the serialisation. The reviews were poor. Trollope himself rather defensively wrote in An Autobiography: “I by no means look on the book as one of my failures; nor was it taken as a failure by the public.” The Way We Live Now would not be recognised as the masterpiece it is until the 1940s. Now it is seen as his greatest achievement.

Other Anthony Trollope titles

The Warden (1855); Barchester Towers (1857); Can You Forgive Her?(1865).

The 100 best novels: #21 – Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-2)

Middlemarch is one of those books that can exert an almost hypnotic power over its readers. Few other titles in this series will inspire quite the same intensity of response. When, for instance, in 1873, the poet Emily Dickinson referred to the novel, she wrote in a letter: “What do I think ofMiddlemarch? What do I think of glory – except that in a few instances ‘this mortal [George Eliot] has already put on immortality’.

As well as moving its admirers to rhapsody,Middlemarch is also supremely a work of serious literature. According to Virginia Woolf, it is “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”. Later in the 20th century the influential critic FR Leavis made Middlemarch a central element of his “Great Tradition”. Today it stands as perhaps the greatest of many great Victorian novels.

George Eliot’s masterpiece, Middlemarch, appeared after the deaths of Thackeray (1863) and Dickens (1870). This is hardly an accident. Subtitled “a study of provincial life”, the novel has a didactic realism that’s a world away fromVanity Fair or Great Expectations. Indeed,Middlemarch looms above the mid-Victorian literary landscape like a cathedral of words in whose shadowy vastness its readers can find every kind of addictive discomfort, a sequence of raw truths: the loneliness of the disappointed failure, Dr Lydgate; the frustrations of his discontented wife; the humiliation of a good woman, Dorothea; the corrosive bitterness of Casaubon, and so on.

Few of Eliot’s characters achieve what they really want, and all have to learn to compromise. Some learn the lessons and achieve a temporary happiness. Others refuse or are incapable of learning, and spend their lives resenting their situation, and blaming others. And others still realise their mistakes but are trapped by a wrong decision and never escape. Dr Lydgate is especially emblematic of Middlemarch: dying young, a bitter and disappointed man who knew he had married the wrong woman and could do nothing about it.

The action takes place some 40 years before the moment of composition. As well as making allusions to the death of George IV, outbreaks of cholera and the passing of the Great Reform Bill of 1832, its characters discuss the coming of the railway and the impact of industrialisation on a settled Midland English world. Here, the organising metaphor of Middlemarch becomes “the web”, Eliot’s representation of English society in all its airy complexity and resilience. In the middle of this web we find the character whom all readers ofMiddlemarch will argue about and identify with, the fascinating figure of Dorothea, wife of the cold-hearted monster Rev Edward Casaubon. Dorothea becomes a true heroine because – despite all she suffers, her humiliations and heartache – she still tries to be a good person, and to do the right thing. Lydgate, in particular, sees this and understands to his great sorrow what sort of woman he should have married and how different his life could have been. In a larger sense, Dorothea’s fate (and also the torments self-inflicted by Rosamond Vincy) dramatise another of the novel’s major themes, the place of women in a changing but still patriarchal society.

There are no easy resolutions in a great novel. Some readers will be dismayed to find, in the final chapters, Dorothea discovering fulfilment in her work for Will Ladislaw as he becomes a reforming MP. But Eliot has the last word, a famous and deeply moving valedictory page celebrating Dorothea’s “finely-touched spirit”. Here, Eliot concludes that “the effect of [Dorothea's] being” was “incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs”.

A note on the text

At the beginning of 1869, George Eliot listed her tasks for the coming year in her journal, including “A Novel called Middlemarch”. However, progress was slow, interrupted by the fatal illness of Thornie Lewes, the second son of her partner George Henry Lewes. By September, only three chapters of the story had bee completed, and by the time Thornie finally died in November 1869, Eliot had stopped work on a novel that was at this stage just a study of Middlemarch society, with Lydgate, the doctor, and his ill-matched wife Rosamond Vincy, as the main characters.

However, more than a year later, in November 1870, she began work on a new story entitled “Miss Brooke”, which introduced Dorothea. Eventually Eliot combined Dorothea’s story with the Lydgate-Vincy narrative, and began to unfold the full majesty of the Middlemarch we have today.

As it took wing the work became so unlike the traditional Victorian “three-decker” novel that Lewes, acting as his partner’s agent, requested John Blackwood, the publisher, to launch the novel in eight parts, at two-monthly intervals from December 1871. Once Blackwood had agreed, the eight books appeared throughout 1872, culminating in the closing chapters of November and December 1872, although the title page of the first edition bears the date 1871. Middlemarch was immediately recognised as a work of genius, and secured Eliot’s place high in the pantheon of English fiction. The first one-volume edition was published in 1874, and sold well to an enthusiastic reading public. In 2003 the novel was chosen as no 27 in the BBC survey “the Big Read”.

Some other George Eliot titles

The Mill on the Floss (1860); Silas Marner (1861); Daniel Deronda(1874-6)

The 100 best novels: #20 – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9)

Little Women is probably unique in this series: it was conceived, and commissioned, by a publisher. An instant bestseller, and a coming-of-age classic, it continues to appear in polls of Anglo-American reading, and remains among the most widely read novels of all time.

Born in 1832, Louisa Alcott had grown up as the second of four daughters to a well-known Boston educationist with a penchant for reading aloud to his family from The Pilgrim’s Progress. As a girl, Louisa was always “scribbling”, selling her juvenile efforts to a range of publications aimed at the market for young women.

By her mid-30s, Alcott had published books for children, a first novel entitled Moods, and some journalism about her experiences as a nurse in the American civil war (Hospital Sketches). Pseudonymously, she had also written several romances and adventure stories for a variety of “penny-dreadful” publications.

At first, when, in 1867, the editor of the Boston publisher Roberts Brothers asked her to write “for girls”, Alcott demurred. She wasn’t interested, she said; but the idea stuck. Plus, she had some family debts to settle and, as a professional writer, Alcott would have been well aware of the booming market in contemporary fiction for young women.

As early as May 1868, she confided to her journal that although she was now at work on “Little Women” (the title also came from her publisher), she did not “enjoy this sort of thing” because she “never liked girls nor knew many, except my sisters; but our queer plays and experiences may prove interesting though I doubt it”.

Rarely has an interim verdict on work-in-progress been so far from the mark. Alcott’s use of her sisters’ lives is crucial. The structure of Little Women was loosely inspired by The Pilgrim’s Progress (No 1 in this series), but its material is mostly semi-autobiographical, drawn from Alcott’s childhood memories. She, unequivocally, is Jo, the fearless girl (and aspiring writer) who longs “to do daring things”, and who struggles to escape the Victorian prison of her gender. Jo March and her sisters would become vital role models for many subsequent generations of American woman.

Another key to the success of Little Women is Alcott’s direct and easy style which is grounded in the reality of everyday life. The four girls – Jo, Margaret (Meg), Elizabeth (Beth), and Amy – speak and feel like regular young American women of their day. The device of the absent father (away serving as an army chaplain in the civil war), enhances their independence and places this lively quartet at the fulcrum of the narrative. In turn, this is conceived in a wholly original voice that’s deeply realistic. For instance – spoiler alert – in the chapter (“The Valley of the Shadow”) where Beth dies, Alcott draws, documentary-style, on her own journal of her sister Elizabeth’s premature death.

Finally, Alcott’s use of Bunyan’s “quest”, together with the romantic elements she weaves into her tale of “little women” (whom we might call “young adults”), ensured that her all-American girls became an immediate hit with the public. Little Women was published in October 1868. By 1 November, in the same year, Alcott was already at work on the sequel. Since then, neither book has ever been out of print.

A note on the text

The Roberts Brothers edition of Little Women appeared on 1 October 1868 in a print run of some 2,000 copies. This success continued the following year with the publication of Little Women, Part Two, sometimes called Good Wives. Now the reprints of both titles were averaging about 1,000 copies a month. In 1881, both texts were revised, reillustrated and republished in a single volume.

Meanwhile, in England, although Sampson Low was the “official” publisher, he did not have a free market. In the absence of copyright agreements between the US and Britain, there were several competing editions from rival publishing houses (notably Routledge, Warne, Blackie etc). Among UK readers, Little Women has never held quite the same iconic place it occupies in the United States.

Some other Louisa May Alcott titles

Little Men (1871); Jo’s Boys (1886)

The 100 best novels: #19 – The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)


The Moonstone is often said to be the godfather of the classic English detective story, its founding text. TS Eliot, claiming that the genre was “invented by Collins and not by Poe”, declared it to be “the first, the longest and the best of modern English detective novels”. Dorothy L Sayers, a queen of crime in the 1930s and 40s, echoing Eliot, pronounced it “probably the finest detective story ever written”. Its influence continues to animate the work of crime writers such as PD James.

Certainly, Collins adheres faithfully to the rules of detective fiction: a mysterious and compelling crime takes place in an English country house; a large cast of potential suspects is assembled, each with plenty of motive, means and opportunity; an incompetent constabulary is replaced by a celebrated sleuth/ investigator who, after a “reconstruction” of key elements in the crime, comes up with a satisfying explanation of the puzzle, based on a brilliant analysis of the clues. Finally, there’s a denouement replete with surprise, excitement and a plausible solution. The Moonstone has this, and more, all of it brilliantly executed.

The original crime in The Moonstone, the theft of the Tippoo diamond after the fall of Seringapatam, is Collins’s masterstroke. It connects every detail of the plot to the great imperial drama of India, the society over which Queen Victoria would eventually declare herself “Empress”. The Indian factor imbues the tale with the sinister mystery of the east. Mid-century, this “moonstone” is given to a young Englishwoman, Rachel Verinder, on her 18th birthday and then mysteriously disappears. A quest ensues in which, after murder and marriage, the Moonstone is restored to its Indian source.

However, although this is classic detective fiction, its greatness really lies in its qualities as a novel. Collins signalled his ambitions for the book in the preface to the first edition, in which he wrote: “In some of my former novels, the object proposed has been to trace the influence of circumstances upon character. In the present story I have reversed the process.” So it’s the enthralling interplay of character (Rachel Verinder, the hunchbacked servant girl Rosanna Spearman, Sergeant Cuff, the great detective, and compelling Franklin Blake, Rachel Verinder’s cousin) that will hook the interest of most readers. Rosanna’s tragic obsession with the adventurer Franklin Blake is among the most poignant renderings of thwarted love in Victorian literature. The fascinating and eccentric figure of Cuff (based on Scotland Yard’s real life Inspector Whicher) introduces a figure central to the unravelling of the mystery on whom most readers come to dote.

A second, crucial element to the success and longevity of The Moonstone is less about detection than storytelling. This is Collins’s virtuoso exploitation of the narrative viewpoint. In this series, we have already seen the power of epistolary fiction (Clarissa, No 4; andFrankenstein, No 8). Collins first uses garrulous Gabriel Betteredge, then meddlesome Miss Clack, then the solicitor Matthew Bruff, and then the opium addict Ezra Jennings (drawing on his own opium habit). The narrative dividend for Collins is that he can use these different voices to vary the tone and tempo of a complicated (but not impossibly so) plot.

The upshot is his masterpiece, a brilliant marriage of the sensational and the realistic. In short, a classic.

A note on the text

The Moonstone was originally serialised by Charles Dickens, a close friend of Wilkie Collins, in his magazine All the Year Round between 4 January and 8 August 1868. It was published in three hardback volumes on 16 July 1868 by Tinsley Brothers of Catherine Street, in Covent Garden. A second, revised edition was issued in 1871. In 1877, Collins adapted the novel for the stage, a production that ran for about two months.

Subsequently, there have been many film, radio and television adaptations. In 1934, The Moonstone was made into a critically acclaimed American film. In 1959, the BBC made the novel into a TV serial; in 1972, it was remade for Britain and the United States. In 1996, it was remade again, also in the United Kingdom, for television by the BBC, starring Greg Wise as Franklin Blake and Keeley Hawes as Rachel Verinder. It continues to earn its reputation as the founding text of the classic English detective story.

Other essential Wilkie Collins titles

The Woman in White (1860); No Name (1862)

The 100 best novels: #18 – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)

On 4 July 1862, a shy young Oxford mathematics don with a taste for puzzles and whimsy named Charles Dodgson rowed the three daughters of Henry Liddell, dean of Christ Church, five miles up the Thames to Godstow. On the way, to entertain his passengers, who included a 10-year-old named Alice, with whom he was strangely infatuated, Dodgson began to improvise the “Adventures Under Ground” of a bored young girl, also named Alice. Wordplay, logical conundrums, parody and riddles: Dodgson surpassed himself, and the girls were enchanted by the nonsense dreamworld he conjured up. The weather for this trip was reportedly “overcast”, but those on board would remember it as “a golden afternoon”.

This well-known story marks the beginning of perhaps the greatest, possibly most influential, and certainly the most world-famous Victorian English fiction, a book that hovers between a nonsense tale and an elaborate in-joke. Just three years later, extended, revised, and retitledAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland, now credited to a pseudonymous Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland (its popular title) was about to become the publishing sensation of Christmas 1865. It is said that among the first avid readers of Alice were Queen Victoria and the young Oscar Wilde. A second volume about Alice (Through the Looking-Glass) followed in 1871. Together these two short books (Wonderland is barely 28,000 words long) became two of the most quoted and best-loved volumes in the English canon.

What is the secret of Carroll’s spell? Everyone will have their own answer, but I want to identify three crucial elements to the magic of Alice. First, and most emphatically, this is a story about a quite bad-tempered child that is not really for children, while at the same time addressing childish preoccupations. (Who am I? is a question Alice repeatedly vexes herself with.) Next, it has a dreamlike unreality peopled with some of the most entertaining characters in English literature. The White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Mock Turtle, the Cheshire Cat and the King and Queen of Hearts are simply the most memorable of a cast from which every reader will find his or her favourite. Third, Carroll possessed an unforced genius for the most brilliant nonsense and deliciously mad dialogue. With his best lines (“What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?”) he is never less than intensely quotable.

As well as the enchantment of Carroll’s prose, both volumes of Alice contain numerous songs and poems, many of them parodies of popular Victorian originals, which have passed into folklore, like Alice herself: You Are Old, Father William; The Lobster Quadrille; Beautiful Soup; and (from Through the Looking-Glass) Jabberwocky; The Walrus and the Carpenter; and The White Knight’s Song.

Finally, for 21st-century readers, it is now almost obligatory to point out that these books are pre-Freudian, with a strange, bruised innocence whose self-interrogations also evoke the tormented banality of psychoanalysis.

A note on the text

On 26 November 1865, the Reverend Charles Dodgson’s tale was published by the house of Macmillan as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandby Lewis Carroll, illustrated by John Tenniel, with whom Dodgson had a most uneasy relationship. Indeed, the first printing, some 2,000 copies, was withdrawn after Tenniel objected to the print quality of his drawings. A new edition, released in December of the same year, but carrying a new date, 1866, was rushed out for the Christmas market.

Later, the discarded first edition was sold with Dodgson’s approval to the New York publisher, Appleton. The title page of the American Alicebecame an insert cancelling the original Macmillan title page of 1865, and bearing the New York publisher’s imprint with the date 1866. Here, too, the first print run sold quickly. First editions are now rare and highly prized. Both Alice books have never been out of print. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been translated into about 100 languages, including classical Latin.

Other essential Carroll Titles

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871); The Hunting of the Snark, An Agony in Eight Fits (1876).