I got out my calendar a few days ago and counted how many weeks I have left of my summer. I’m almost half-way there. Having no children in school—and not being in school myself—I’ve had the freedom the past several years to set the arbitrary, if reasonable, borders of June 1st to August 31st. September can never be summer to me, no matter how hot (and believe me, it’s hot in Georgia in September!) any more than airy May can. Perhaps eight years of public school did it to me, but September will always mean a new tartan dress and fresh beginnings and May will ever represent the last radiant triumph of Spring.

But June, July and August—these are the months of homemade ice cream and fireflies in the backyard and sundresses and white shoes. (Only till Labor Day on the latter, mind you! ;)) And, ever since my teenage years and the miraculous discovery of a tiny old and rare bookstore in my hometown, it has meant the delicious prospect of Victorian novels…

There are so many I’ve befriended over the years, so many that have opened portals into other worlds and welcomed me graciously to wander at will among English castles and New York brownstones and forgotten gardens. Such beautiful and poignant realms, bounded with values and morals all but forgotten in our ‘anything goes’ world; peopled with men of valor and women of virtue. And, of course, a nasty villain or two.

I thought I’d pass on a few of my favorites and perhaps some of you will have time to lose yourself in a few of them before these sweet, slow days pass away.

The Magic Garden by Gene Stratton-Porter

I think that I copied half of this book into my quotation journal. Oh, it’s the purest, sweetest love story, and brimming with the beautiful observations of flora and fauna and human love such as only Gene Stratton-Porter can give us. This book is especially meaningful if you’re a ‘lady in waiting’, as the example of both heroine and hero will be sure to inspire.

“And when he came…she would be able to say, ‘I have not gone with the crowd. I have waited apart. I have kept myself something sacred, something holy, waiting for you…”

When Knighthood Was in Flower by Edwin Caskoden

I will never forget the spell this book cast over me. This is one—though I’ve read it since—I still wish I had the pleasure of reading for the first time. It is the story of Henry XIII’s willful, impetus, beautiful sister, Mary Tudor and the dashing knight, Charles Brandon. Of impossible love and danger and sacrifice. And an ending that made me lay back on my bed and weep.

St. Elmo by Augusta Evans

From a girlhood fraught with tragedy to a triumphant womanhood Edna Earl passes through a series of remarkable events that each make their indelible stamp upon her character. The dark but dashing St. Elmo Murray is a source of conflict throughout the tale, but the heroine’s resolution is reminiscent of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Beautifully written, with a surprise on almost every page and a liberal sprinkling of references to Classical writers and allusions to Greek mythology, a truly edifying story is woven in the inimitable style of one of the South’s greatest novelists.

The Master’s Violin by Myrtle Reed

My sister and I used to scoop up Myrtle Reed books—our beloved bookseller would set them apart especially for us. These books are Victorian novels of the highest order. The heroines are beautiful and brilliant and the stories are brimming with sentiment that’s never overdone. It’s been a long time, but I remember this one being our favorite.

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

Here’s a delightful swashbuckler thrown in for good measure. A friend leant me this one years ago and I could not put it down. A case of mistaken identity in an invented European country leads an ordinary Londoner on a quest to rescue the king he bears a striking resemblance to, all the while courting the favor of the lovely Princess Flavia. Full of intrigue and swordplay and romance, this one will make for an exciting afternoon’s reading! There’s also a sequel–when you get to the end you’ll be wanting one!–called Rupert of Hentzau.

The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett This is the one I have the pleasure of devouring this summer. I’m half-way through, and it’s already haunting my dreams at night! It’s a brilliant and surprising story, framed around British-American marriages of the nineteenth century. It’s worth reading just for the breath-taking descriptions of the English countryside, but the tale itself will be sure to captivate. A note of warning: the heroine is rather depressingly perfect . 😉 And, yes, this is the same Frances Hodgson Burnett as wrote The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy. Her intimate and loving knowledge of both America and England makes this book a compelling and insightful read.

Happy reading! 🙂

-by Lanier

10 Comments

  1. A friend sent me a beautiful old copy of St. Elmo for Christmas. It is a gem!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Lanier the books you shared sound like keepers. Since I’m a teacher I have my summmers free and reading is one of my absolute favorite things to do. I’ll definitely look for a few of the books you shared.

    Bernadine

  3. Thanks for these suggestions. I’ve read books by a couple of the authors but haven’t heard of any of the books you mentioned.

  4. How odd that you would mention When Knighthood Was in Flower! I had never heard of the book before last Sunday when a friend at church asked me if I had read it, and when I said I hadn’t, she promised this Sunday to bring it for me to read. 😀 She LOVES the book!

  5. Oh, thank you, Lanier! I’m definitely going to look for all of those! I’ve very much enjoyed several of Gene Stratton Porter’s books…like The Girl of the Limberlost, Laddie, The Harvester (I really want to read that one again…it’s been a long time), but I’d never heard of The Magic Garden? before…but it sounds simply delicious!

    I still wish I had the pleasure of reading for the first time.

    How funny…I was just thinking the same thing about the Anne books today! I’m re-re-re-reading them and though they seem to get better each time, sometimes it would be nice if I didn’t know what was going to happen…but then if I didn’t know, I guess I’d lose the delight of anticipating it too!

    Thanks again for the recommendations…and if you have anymore, I’d love to know what they are…good, beautiful and wholesome novels are hard to find…

    Have a glorious rest of summer!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Wow Thanks so much for taking your time with sharing us your favorite books. They sound so sweet and innocent and wholesome :))
    I definitely have to get the Magic Garden and St. Elmo..they sound so interesting!
    Thanks so much!

    Also thank you Elizabeth M for mentioning the gutenberg.org site i wouldn’t have been able to find any of these books without that site…thanks so much for mentioning it! I really appreciate it! 🙂

    Thanks girls!

    Jane.

  7. Natalie Marie Nyquist says:

    fabulous Lanier! The Magic Garden is one of my all-time most cherished books also.

    Wishing I could spend part of my summer with you–sometime that will happen!

  8. Oh how I wish my summer could be slow and free like the one you discribe here! I long for those days again…..
    I suppose being unmarried, and needing money puts a damper on that dream 😉
    Anyways, those books sound wonderful! I’ve been looking for some good books to read, and those certianly look like some I would enjoy! Thanks Lanier!

    ~Katie

  9. Elizabeth M says:

    I just checked and several of the books noted are available on Project Gutenberg…

  10. Elizabeth M says:

    Goodie! I just love delicious wholesome old novels. =) I’ve stumbled across a several on http://www.gutenberg.org, a free online library. It has some some unwholesome books as well, so you have to be careful, but it’s be fun to read books that aren’t in our local library. Of course, it’s not the same as holding a book in your hand…

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