This week’s TTT, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is a particularly general one: reasons why I love X. Now, I have to say, I don’t have any strong feelings about X. It’s pretty useless in Scrabble and will now forever make me think of ‘The X Factor,’ which is not something I need in my life. So, if it’s okay, instead of writing about one of the alphabet’s least useful letters, I’m going to write about why I love 19th century novels.
- Actual, proper love triangles
I wrote at length about this a while ago here, but if you can’t be bothered to read this extremely long post, know this: in the 19th century, who you married actually mattered. It’s not like you got to go out with them first and, you know, get to know them. This is evident in loads of 19th century novels, like Mary Barton, Pride and Prejudice and Far From the Madding Crowd. It adds genuine importance to the love triangle nonsense which we now see in every book ever.
- Proper, manly men
All my favourite book boyfriends are from the 19th century. Frederick Wentworth: strong, silent, capable of writing deeply emotive letters. Gabriel Oak: can save a sheep’s life by stabbing it in the side. Mr Darcy: shockingly poor social skills and massive house. All the important things.
- The fact that it takes about a million years to go anywhere
This particularly struck me in Sense and Sensibility; in the 19th century, going literally anywhere was a right performance. You had to find someone rich enough to have a chaise and four (a phrase, by the way, which I love) and then it would take you able three weeks to go down the road. This really puts in perspective my complaints about the 4 hours it takes me to drive to my mum and dad’s.
- The ridiculous problems
There’s something really escapist about reading a book in which a whole chapter is dedicated to someone’s bonnet, for example, or how good they are at playing the piano. It’s a helpful antidote to teens trying to murder each other or lost queens seizing back their empires.
- The actual, big problems
On the other hand, the problems people face in 19th century novels are often quite important. Getting wrongfully charged with murder, for example, or discovering that one of your children has killed himself and his siblings “because we are too many,” or not being able to leave your horrible husband because people just didn’t do that back then.
- Page number
Obviously there are some really long 19th century novels, but a lot of the brilliant ones – Wuthering Heights, Persuasion, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, for example – are very manageable.
- And lack of series
Apart from Anthony Trollope, nobody really wrote series in the 19th century. In a lot of cases I suppose this is because all the characters died in the first book so there wouldn’t be any point. But it’s nice to read something and know you haven’t just committed yourself to reading 28 books about the same thing.
- The urgency
For lots of 19th century writers, particularly women, writing was there only chance of making anything of their lives. The Brontës, in particular, saw writing as all they had, and I think you can sense that in the urgency of their novels.
I am not a huge fan of reading text messages or emails in novels. I do, however, greatly enjoy impassioned missives from emotional Regency characters: Frederick Wentworth’s letter to Anne Eliot in Persuasion, for example, or Lucy Steele’s annoying notes to Elinor in Sense and Sensibility.
- Annoying parents
You might think Mrs Bennet is really annoying, but I am here to tell you Mr Bennet is the real problem in Pride and Prejudice. Awful Mrs Gibson in Wives and Daughters is another favourite of mine. So many of the modern books I read are missing parents entirely, so I have immense love for the terrible and annoying examples we see in 19th century novels.