Wherein We Elect Our Favourite Novels of… the 1840's, pt. 1 (1840-1845)

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Inspired by pom's classical music threads and by a stray comment in the LRB that the 1840's were a great decade for novels. Have any of us even read half of these? Let's poll them anyway and be legends.

This is cribbed from wikipedia - I've only included books by authors I've heard of in the US, UK and France categories. Outside of that I've included whatever I could find as the rest of the world needs the support.

Poll Results

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol 9
The Count Of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas 4
The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens 1
Eurico, The Presbyter by Alexandre Herculano 1
Dubrovsky by Alexander Pushkin 1
The Bethrothed by Alessandro Manzoni 1
A Hero Of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov 1
Honorine by Honoré de Balzac 0
The Conspirators by Alexandre Dumas 0
The Mysteries Of Paris by Eugène Sue 0
Catherine: A Story by William Makepeace Thackeray 0
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas 0
Fanny Campbell, the Female Pirate Captain: A Tale of the Revolution  by Maturin Murray Ballou 0
The Luck Of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray 0
A Moreninha by Joaquim Manuel de Macedo 0
The Regent's Daughter by Alexandre Dumas 0
Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas 0
The Last Of The Barons by Edward Bulwer-Lytton 0
Autobiography of a Pocket-Handkerchief by James Fenimore Cooper 0
The Tower Of London by William Harrison Ainsworth 0
Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty  by Charles Dickens 0
The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens 0
Sab by Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda 0
Wounds Of Armenia by Khachatur Abovian 0
Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate by Walt Whitman 0
Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton 0
Consuelo by George Sand 0
The Fencing Master by Alexandre Dumas 0
November by Gustave Flaubert 0
The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf 0
The Cottage Outside The Village by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski 0
Sybil, or The Two Nations by Benjamin Disraeli  0

Daniel_Rf, Friday, 24 April 2020 13:56 (six months ago) link

Voted for the Herculano as no one else is gonna rep for the Portuguese novel in this. Also highly recommend "Sab", a Cuban-Spanish novel that is both anti-slavery and anti-marriage.

Daniel_Rf, Friday, 24 April 2020 13:58 (six months ago) link

No Brontës?

Maria Edgelord (cryptosicko), Friday, 24 April 2020 15:10 (six months ago) link


There is much that I haven’t read here but at first pass I’m tempted to go with Gogol. ‘Epic poem in prose’ ftw.

pomenitul, Friday, 24 April 2020 15:26 (six months ago) link

i haven’t read all of these but my instinctive vote would be for the lermontov. i’ll have to pick up my copy again and have a flick through but i recall a quite advanced for its time cynical romanticism and also a genuine lyricism.

Fizzles, Friday, 24 April 2020 15:33 (six months ago) link

Strike my earlier comment; the Brontës come later in the decade.

Maria Edgelord (cryptosicko), Friday, 24 April 2020 15:53 (six months ago) link

wonder if anyone will pick disraeli lol

Daniel_Rf, Friday, 24 April 2020 17:23 (six months ago) link

Dead Souls, Monte Cristo, or Hero of Our Times. Voted Dead Souls.

A is for (Aimless), Friday, 24 April 2020 19:06 (six months ago) link

Monte Cristo will walk this, surely

the Gotthelf is creepy folk horror, worth a look if you like that kind of thing

Brad C., Friday, 24 April 2020 20:24 (six months ago) link

I would have thought Gogol would walk it. Monte Cristo vote splitting with Musketeers.

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Saturday, 25 April 2020 12:14 (six months ago) link

I really like the black spider and a hero of our time (latter is excellent) but those are the only 2 I’ve read so won’t be voting :/

Microbes oft teem (wins), Saturday, 25 April 2020 12:30 (six months ago) link

Not going to lie, I've not read a single one. But I will read the winning text so choose well brave travellers.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Saturday, 25 April 2020 12:36 (six months ago) link

Dead Souls. I'm interested to read some George Sand at some point, though I'm not 100% convinced I'll love her style.

emil.y, Saturday, 25 April 2020 12:37 (six months ago) link

in another mood i would have very happily voted for the old curiosity shop. incredibly uneven - of course, it’s dickens - it does contain some of his strangest characters and set pieces. the malignant quilp who wakes up at one point thinking he’s been turned into an insect:

“The first sound that met his ears in the morning - as he half opened his eye, and, finding himself so unusually near the ceiling, entertained a drowsy idea that he must have been transformed into a fly or blue-bottle in the course of the night, - was that of a stifled sobbing and weeping in the room.”

Fizzles, Saturday, 25 April 2020 12:48 (six months ago) link

!! Uneasy dreams and all that

Microbes oft teem (wins), Saturday, 25 April 2020 12:58 (six months ago) link

ashamed at the number of these i haven’t heard of tbh

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Saturday, 25 April 2020 14:46 (six months ago) link

Non-omniscience is shameful indeed.

pomenitul, Saturday, 25 April 2020 14:57 (six months ago) link

Only one on here I’ve read is Count of Monte Cristo, so probably that one. I expect the only other one on this list I’m particularly likely to ever read is Three Musketeers.

silby, Sunday, 26 April 2020 03:05 (six months ago) link

Count of Monte Cristo’s very good btw

silby, Sunday, 26 April 2020 03:06 (six months ago) link

Dead Souls is a dire title but it is a good book

am interested in Alexandre Dumas

Dan S, Sunday, 26 April 2020 03:32 (six months ago) link

Within his genre Dumas is a giant.

A is for (Aimless), Sunday, 26 April 2020 03:35 (six months ago) link

Haven’t read everything on this list but Monte Cristo in a heartbeat. I presume Vanity Fair is in the other half because that’s probably the one book of the 1840s which would give me pause over choosing Monte Cristo.

American Fear of Pranksterism (Ed), Sunday, 26 April 2020 03:47 (six months ago) link

Wrong half of the decade, of course.

American Fear of Pranksterism (Ed), Sunday, 26 April 2020 04:06 (six months ago) link

dead souls is an untranslatable title iirc (not really iirc, i just looked it up)

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Sunday, 26 April 2020 08:11 (six months ago) link

1840-1845 is of course the first 3/5 of the decade, not the first half

silby, Sunday, 26 April 2020 08:23 (six months ago) link

ashamed at the number of these i haven’t heard of tbh

quite, especially that they’re by forrigeners, the same english literature course responsible for me having read a few more here than i would otherwise have done (eg Sybil) also responsible for something of a tunnel vision wrt global literature. lermontov, dumas, manzoni and the pushkin are ones that i have read here. have strong inexplicable desire to read Wounds of Armenia.

Fizzles, Sunday, 26 April 2020 08:43 (six months ago) link

the cottage outside the village and the black spider as well. they sound exciting!

Fizzles, Sunday, 26 April 2020 08:44 (six months ago) link

i read the betrothed when i was working in milan about ooh 13 years ago now, and was projecting writing a novel about miasma and plague in milan. although i found much of the betrothed quite boring, it is notoriously excellent on plague.

i’ve just gone back to the notes i took then, (taken in google notes! like reader, quite a useful tool, i guess subsumed in docs now):

Those physicians who were opposed to the belief of contagion, unwilling now to admit what they had hitherto derided, yet obliged to give a generical name to the new malady, which had become too common and too evident to go with-out one, adopted that of malignant or pestilential fevers;—a miserable expedient, a mere play upon words, which was productive of much harm; because, while it appeared to acknowledge the truth, it only contributed to the disbelief of what it was most important to believe and discern, viz., that the infection was conveyed by means of the touch. The magistrates, like one awakening from a deep sleep, began to lend a little more ear to the appeals and proposals of the Board of Health, to support its proclamations, and second the sequestrations prescribed, and the quarantines enjoined by this tribunal. The Board was also constantly demanding money to provide for the daily expenses of the Lazzaretto, now augmented by so many additional services; and for this they applied to the Decurioni, while it was being decided (which was never done, I believe, except by practice) whether such expenses should be charged to the city, or to the royal exchequer.


I have deemed it not out of place to relate and put together these particulars, in part little known, in part entirely unknown, of a celebrated popular delirium; because in errors, and especially in the errors of a multitude, what seems to me most interesting and most useful to observe, is, the course they have taken, their appearances, and the ways by which they could enter men’s minds, and hold sway there.

Fizzles, Sunday, 26 April 2020 08:51 (six months ago) link

One thing I enjoyed about getting the titles together in this was getting a firmer grasp of who were contemporaries - I think in my head Thackeray and Pushkin were decades earlier than Dickens and Balzac.

Also man did Balzac and Dumas crank them out, they have like seven books each in this period that I didn't include.

Daniel_Rf, Sunday, 26 April 2020 10:16 (six months ago) link

i was going to ask about that actually. and i should probably know this, but what’s with four or five major, long novels, having the same publication year (dumas and dickens)? is this publishers taking episodic literature and deciding to issue it in one go because cheaper in terms of production, publicity and marketing?

Fizzles, Sunday, 26 April 2020 13:59 (six months ago) link

I've only read Three Musketeers and Monte Cristo. Both good, but I'm not sure I'll ever want to read them again.

jmm, Sunday, 26 April 2020 15:19 (six months ago) link

Only read a couple (Lermontov and Gogol). I would need to re-read bits of both but I don't have these books with me rn. Toss of a coin if I were to vote at all.

A suggestion here: maybe worth a look at novellas (I was thinking of de Nerval's Sylvie) as a thing that could be included (?) in later decades.


Also looking at that list I wonder if that comment in the LRB is right re: 1840s. We have the second half to come.

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 26 April 2020 21:22 (six months ago) link

I’ve read 13 of these. List is missing some stuff— The Deerslayer, Le cure de village, The Black Sheep.

I voted The Bethrothed.

Muswell Hillbilly Elegy (President Keyes), Sunday, 26 April 2020 23:46 (six months ago) link

I’ve read 13 of these. List is missing some stuff— The Deerslayer, Le cure de village, The Black Sheep.

A suggestion here: maybe worth a look at novellas (I was thinking of de Nerval's Sylvie) as a thing that could be included (?) in later decades.

ILX has a 50 options limit for polls; Cooper and Balzac both have other works on the list so I cut these. Also why I didn't include novellas.

and i should probably know this, but what’s with four or five major, long novels, having the same publication year (dumas and dickens)? is this publishers taking episodic literature and deciding to issue it in one go because cheaper in terms of production, publicity and marketing?

Yeah, I think that's it.

Daniel_Rf, Monday, 27 April 2020 10:31 (six months ago) link

Shamefully I've read zero of these. Of the authors listed the one I've enjoyed most is Balzac. I should probably read Honorine at some point, the synopsis sounds promising.

o. nate, Monday, 27 April 2020 15:30 (six months ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll is closing tomorrow.

System, Tuesday, 28 April 2020 00:01 (five months ago) link

wiki re Honorine v. intriguing spoilers, although I'm sure the way Balzac tells it makes spoiling irrelevant.

dow, Tuesday, 28 April 2020 17:05 (five months ago) link

so far there's not a lot of fencing (or plot) in The Fencing Master, but it's entertaining anyway

I wouldn't have voted for Cooper's The Deerslayer but I think it's read and taught more than Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief ... anyway that was the case when I was in high school in the 1840s

Brad C., Tuesday, 28 April 2020 17:32 (five months ago) link

Walt Whitman wrote a novel? Is it good?

Guayaquil (eephus!), Tuesday, 28 April 2020 18:04 (five months ago) link

I read a lot of Balzac in college; few of those novels are dull.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 28 April 2020 19:28 (five months ago) link

To give a fuller picture, here are some of the non-novels published in this timeframe:

Poe- Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque
Two Years Before the Mast
Democracy in America Part 2
Emerson- Essays
Kierkegaard- Fear and Trembling
Robert Browning- Dramatic Lyrics
Dickens- American Notes, A Christmas Carol
HC Anderson- New Fairy Tales
Ruskin- Modern Painters
Engels- Conditions of the Working Classes in England
The Narrative of Frederick Douglas
Margaret Fuller- Woman in the Nineteenth Century

Muswell Hillbilly Elegy (President Keyes), Tuesday, 28 April 2020 20:50 (five months ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll's results are now in.

System, Wednesday, 29 April 2020 00:01 (five months ago) link

Barry Lyndon was a fun read btw

Muswell Hillbilly Elegy (President Keyes), Wednesday, 29 April 2020 00:22 (five months ago) link

Should try that, I love the film.

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 29 April 2020 11:18 (five months ago) link

Read 7 of these. If I hadn't missed the poll would have been torn between Gogol and Lermontov.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Wednesday, 29 April 2020 12:22 (five months ago) link

Voted Lermontov. Dead Souls a worthy winner.

Fizzles, Wednesday, 29 April 2020 12:43 (five months ago) link

called it

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Thursday, 30 April 2020 08:55 (five months ago) link

On a whim I read The Black Spider, it was a heck of a ride. As a Christian morality tale it's about as convincing as the Book of Job - despite no personal appearances from the big man he's just as much of a colossal prick - but as weird/macabre fiction it's excellent. It takes a while to get going - the first quarter is a well observed but rather impersonally related framing story - but eventually you get a Machen-esque sense of the curtain being lifted on a universe far more inhuman and frightening than previously known, and a wild carnival of terror and death that rivals Poe. The initial image of the spider growing out of a woman's cheek and malevolently glaring at people is darkly comic but I was soon more emotionally engaged and full of sympathy for the peasants helplessly trapped between their brutal feudal lords, the murderous devil, and a vengeful and jealous God who offers no aid but will strike down with great fury on those who do not honour and obey him.

a slice of greater pastry (ledge), Monday, 4 May 2020 09:44 (five months ago) link

That sounds rad, will have to check that one out.

Daniel_Rf, Monday, 4 May 2020 14:34 (five months ago) link

It really is great

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Monday, 4 May 2020 23:46 (five months ago) link

Has anyone read Fanny Campbell? wikipedia calls Maturin the godfather of pulp fiction which sounds like it might be a good romp.

American Fear of Pranksterism (Ed), Monday, 4 May 2020 23:59 (five months ago) link

I have not, but am planning to give it to my wife for her birthday, as she is deep into pirates after watching Black Sails. So I'll let you know how it works out.

Daniel_Rf, Tuesday, 5 May 2020 09:12 (five months ago) link


This is a pretty cool resource to see what was coming out month by month

Muswell Hillbilly Elegy (President Keyes), Friday, 8 May 2020 15:12 (five months ago) link

nice, thanks for the link

Brad C., Friday, 8 May 2020 20:45 (five months ago) link

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