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.
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.
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! 🙂