Pamela-Samuel Richardson (1740) – A Book To “Read Before You Die”

I’m a little confused about chronology.  Last time for this strand I read Henry Fielding’s “Joseph Andrews” published in 1742 in which Richardson’s main character is Fielding’s titular character’s sister and who makes an appearance.  I was surprised at the time that Peter Boxall’s “1001 Books To Read Before You Die” which I thought recommended books in the order that they appeared hadn’t mentioned “Pamela” but that’s because of my determination not to look ahead in the book.  I hadn’t seen it was the next title.  Dividing the recommendations into groups of five and choosing one, which has been my approach for this strand, here were my latest options:

Pamela – Samuel Richardson

Clarissa – Samuel Richardson

Roderick Random – Tobias George Smollett

Tom Jones – Henry Fielding

Fanny Hill- John Cleland

I think I can see what’s happened here.  Boxall has 1742 for the “Pamela” publication date, the same year as “Joseph Andrews” and has put Fielding before Richardson alphabetically.  I chose to read “Pamela” as I had a copy sitting unread on my shelves but this Penguin edition has the publication date of 1740.  It’s a bit of a moot point anyway as Richardson revised this book regularly and the edition I read was reworked by the author in the 1750s but remained unpublished until his daughters approved its appearance in 1801, which is the version Penguin Classics have gone for.  Sorry, if I’ve confused you thus far!

“Pamela” is highly significant as it was the first best-seller which spawned translations, parodies (Henry Fielding’s “Shamela” being the most famous), spin-offs by other authors (ie; “Joseph Andrews”) and sequels.  Merchandise appeared with “Pamela” references and it became an important landmark in both English and European literature. Its structure, whilst not original, was significant.  It is largely an epistolary novel, written as letters by Pamela mainly to her parents, the rest is her journal, also intended to be read by her parents- there’s only a small intervention from the author, who adopts the guise of editor.

This gives this novel a different feel to what had gone before, which tended to be rambling road tales with many a digression and stories within stories.  Pamela is dealing with things as they happen, the plot develops as it goes along because she is writing either on the day events occurred or just after.  The plot as such can be summed up in the subtitle “Virtue Rewarded”.  Pamela spends a chunk of this novel trying to preserve hers.  She is a lady’s maid whose mistress has died and the son, known throughout as Mr B., is after her and goes to great lengths in his attempts to seduce her.  Coercive behaviour is highly present in the fiction of today and here, 280 years ago, we have a chilling, persistent example with Mr B.  Spread over two volumes, the first for me does achieve greatness.  The master’s plots to seduce Pamela and her foiling his lustful plans really drew me in.  In the second volume we get quite a lot of Mr B., through Pamela’s words, including a 48 point treatise on what makes a good wife and things become admittedly more of a slog.

I do find the whole background of this novel fascinating.  Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) was a printer, not an academic, and the idea came from a commission to produce a set of standard letters that could be used as templates for would-be letter-writers.  Pamela is not a lady, although she has been brought up in that environment, the parents she writes to are much simpler folk.  Pamela knows she is likely to be ruined if she gives in to Mr B. and around her Richardson devises a set of memorable characters who will help or hinder Mr B.’s plans. 

In our modern world the resolution is not that satisfactory.  I wouldn’t trust Mr B. and the way things turn out would have been likely to have been surprising and yet pleasing to Richardson’s contemporary readers.  All in all, this is a highly important if not totally involving work.  I did feel, when I was mid-way through the first volume that this might be the earliest work I would give five stars to- but the protracted, more didactic nature of the second half meant that it was not quite there for me.

The Penguin Classics edition I read with an introduction by Margaret A Doody states that “Pamela” was first published in 1740.

100 Essential Books – Great Expectations- Charles Dickens (1861)

It’s been a good few years since I’ve read any Dickens novels (15 to be exact when I stumbled through “The Mystery Of Edwin Drood”) but I was certainly keen to do so after reading Peter Ackroyd’s majestic biography earlier this year.  I hadn’t read “Great Expectations” since I was at college and rediscovering this now has put Dickens back up into my Top 3 most-read authors (ironically leap-frogging over his biographer Peter Ackroyd). 

I have had a copy of this on my shelves for decades.  When I was 18 an Aunt bought me the introductory offer for a Charles Dickens book club from Heron Books.  I bought a few more myself over the next few months but became miffed that some of the bigger books were printed in two volumes and thus cost twice as much and so cancelled my subscription.  My aunt had thought it sensible that I should buy books that would last rather than paperbacks and she was right as my one chunky volume of “Great Expectations” has certainly lasted.

Once again my feelings about this, Dickens’ 13th and penultimate finished novel have been confirmed.  In the first part, really up until Pip goes to London, we not only have Dickens’ best writing and story-telling but one of the greatest opening sections of any novel ever.  (Ditto the 1946 film version which scared the living daylights out of me as child and may be one of the reasons why my response feels so entrenched).  The encounter on the marshes, the Christmas meal, the capture, Miss Havisham and Estella are all exceptional moments.  When Pip moves to London with his Great Expectations intact (or when John Mills becomes Pip in the film) the disappointment  begins to creep in.  His relationship with the Pocket family, Wemmick and his aged parent, Drummle and Startop would probably  involve me more in other of Dickens’ novels but here it feels like he is treading water, in reality, keeping the monthly editions churning.  Admittedly, as the plot thickens when Pip is faced with the truth about his fortunes things certainly pick up if not quite to the level of the sheer magnificence of the opening.

This does, however, taken as a whole, remain one of Dickens’ greatest works and deserves a lofty place in the canon of English Literature.  It is one of the great first-person narratives.  There is the controversy of the three endings which Dickens wrote, which I can vaguely recall but always find myself having to look up the information about that because I can’t seem to retain how they are different (although I do know how this aspect influenced John Fowles’ “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”).  The version I read favoured the third ending, although this is apparently not always the case in the published editions available.  I think, being of a cynical nature, I might have approved of the less happy ending which Wilkie Collins persuaded Dickens to revise- I’m not sure Estella could ever be trusted.

First published in 1861.  “Great Expectations” is available in many versions in all formats.

Joseph Andrews- Henry Fielding (1742) – A Book To Read “Before You Die”

Time for one of my occasional bursts of classic fiction taken from Peter Boxall’s book “1001 Books To Read Before You Die” (I’m using the 2006 edition with “The Clockwork Orange cover).  So far I’ve read “The Golden Ass”, “Don Quixote” and “Moll Flanders” which has taken me up to 1722.  I’m dividing the chronological recommendations into groups of five and choosing one.  The next five were:

Roxana -Daniel Defoe

Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift

A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift

Joseph Andrews – Henry Fielding

Memoirs Of Martinus Scriblerus

I have already read a Defoe this year and as I mentioned in my review of “Moll Flanders” my experience with Swift was not good, so I’d rather not and I wasn’t even sure what the last title was so that left Fielding’s second most notable work which dates from 1747 – so I added 25 years onto the time machine for a mid-eighteenth century reading experience.

Fielding (sort of) describes this as a comic epic and it once again had me looking up the definition of “picaresque” (I can never retain what that means) which came to mind when reading it.  It’s an “episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero”.  Well, the first part applies but not the second as Fielding’s titular hero is virtuous and honest and just a little bland- for a significant chunk of the book he doesn’t feel present at all but Fielding has catered for this with his full title “The History of The Adventures of Joseph Andrews, and of his friend Mr Abraham Adam” and it is this co-star, the goodly natured but often bumbling parson who gets into most scrapes.  Much of the novel takes place on the road and is thus very reminiscent of “Don Quixote” but here the humour is less broad and the shenanigans more quickly resolved.

It seems Fielding is doing something which still feels highly unusual in borrowing a character, Pamela, from Samuel Richardson’s 1740 best-seller as Joseph is her brother.  The edition I read also had “Shamela” Fielding’s parody of that book which I didn’t read because I thought I would have had to read “Pamela” to get much from it and whereas I had fully expected that book, often credited as the first English novel, to be one of Boxalls’ recommendations it wasn’t so I took the hint implicit in that and decided I may get round to it in the future.  Fielding also seems to have an obsession with one Colley Cibber, a contemporary of his who was a leading light in the theatre and Poet Laureate.  His 1740 memoir is poked fun at in the proceedings.  If you are planning to read this book I would suggest splashing out on a good version with notes etc. to support your reading.  I read an e-book by SMK (it did only cost 75p on Amazon) and it was without notes and had an uncredited and not especially helpful introduction.

As expected with literature from this era there are many digressions and stories within the story which the readership at the time would have expected but which tends to trip us up today.  I kept up with it more than the admittedly much longer “Don Quixote”, but didn’t quite get the same level of overall satisfaction and didn’t enjoy is as much as “Moll Flanders” but where it is stronger is in a fuller cast of well-drawn characters and it does feel like it is getting somewhere faster than the Cervantes tome.  As I was wavering between a three and four star rating we had a bed-hopping farcical scene which actually had me chuckling 280 years on and everything was resolved highly satisfactorily which pushes it into four star territory as I would certainly consider reading this again in the future.

Joseph Andrews was first published in 1742.  I read an e-book edition which also includes “Shamela” (a few of them do) published by SMK.

The Sea The Sea – Iris Murdoch (1978)

Does anyone still read Iris Murdoch these days?  She seems to have gone out of fashion.  I haven’t read her since 1997 when “The Green Knight” (1993), one of her later novels, really did nothing for me but back in the early-mid 80’s I read quite a few and one of my favourites was this 1978 Booker Prize winning title. I couldn’t actually remember any details of what it was about but I have over the years experienced occasional echoes of what I recalled as a very atmospheric piece which has the sea central to the characters and plot.

Actually, on re-read the sea wasn’t quite as omnipresent as I thought I remembered.  This is the tale of Charles Arrowby, a notable aging thespian, who retires to a simple life in a pretty ropey house close to the sea in order to escape London life.  The novel starts off as his memoir, a record of the women in his life, until the people he is writing about appear back in his isolated existence.  At first it seems almost as if he is hallucinating, early on he spots what he believes to be a sea monster in the waves and with people from his past re-appearing the reader suspects he is losing his grip on his mental faculties.  But, however implausible their reasons for being back in his life they are there and this coming and going at one point resembles a theatrical farce.  When he re- encounters the person he saw as the love of his life the novel shifts into a record of obsession.

Mid-way through I was finding it quite magnificent with the always fairly obnoxious Charles out of control, misjudging situations and behaving inappropriately.  It feels like it has come to a conclusion in a couple of places but Murdoch continues the tale using her love of analysis and philosophy which is both characteristic of her as a writer and occasionally a little wearying which might explain why she is not read as much as she used to be. She is not an easy read, her references make the text quite dense and there is much navel-gazing from her characters.  I remembered why I liked her so much and why I also found her frustrating but I was left with the general impression that I didn’t enjoy this as much as I did the first time round decades ago. The world she creates seems more alien now, it is not always easy to get what is motivating the characters and particularly here why Charles Arrowby is considered an attractive proposition when he is so hard to like. I did very much like the magnetic pull of the sea which she describes brilliantly throughout.

I’m not sure whether the Iris Murdoch revival is imminent but I was glad to revisit as she is one of those people whose demise has overshadowed her work.  The accounts of her heart-breaking dementia in her final years have been famously portrayed by her husband in writing and film adaptation and the image I have had stuck in my mind is this fervently intellectual mind ending up devouring episodes of “Teletubbies”.  Reading a work from when she was in her prime has rebalanced this for me.

The Sea The Sea was first published in 1978.  I read a Vintage Classics paperback edition.

Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe (1722) – A Book To “Read Before You Die”

This was my third dip into Peter Boxall’s “1001 Books To Read Before You Die” which has already had me reading “The Golden Ass” and “Don Quixote”.  I’m dividing the recommendations into groups of five and choosing one. If I’ve read one before in the last 27 years it doesn’t count.  This made the next five choices:

The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan

The Princess Of Cleves – Marie-Madelaine Pioche De Lavergne

Ooronoko- Aphra Benn

Love In Excess – Eliza Haywood

Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe

I skipped past two titles because of the rules I’ve set myself.  “A Tale Of A Tub” by Jonathan Swift (1704) I read in 2005 and have no desire to read it again.  I really didn’t get anything from it, it was a 1* read for me and has probably put me off reading any more Swift for life.  The other, “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe (1719) I read in 2008, it wasn’t what I had expected and I rated it a disappointing 2*.  Very aware that what I have done up to now is choose the most recent in these chronological lists I balanced that with choosing the book with a celebration this year as it is 300 years since the publication of Defoe’s second most famous book “Moll Flanders”.

I do believe I have read this before, as a teenager or in my early 20’s, I certainly had a copy on my shelves for a number of years but as this would have been longer than 27 years ago I thought it was time for another go, hoping that it would not be a let-down as “Robinson Crusoe” was.  It is subtitled “…who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continu’d Variety for Threescore years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Years a Whore, five times a wife (whereof once to her brother), Twelve Years a Thief,  Eight Years a Transported felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest and died a Penitent”. The eighteenth century not at all concerned about plot-spoilers then!

Given this description it is far less sensational a work than I had imagined.  I’m wondering if I’ve had it confused in my head with John Cleland’s more notorious “Fanny Hill” from 1748, considered the first pornographic novel. In fact, Defoe’s work is also not quite a moral tract, but it is not that far off.  In the Introduction to the Wordsworth edition I read R T Jones explores the purpose of this novel and there is just too much joy within Moll’s cataloguing of her wrong-doings for it to be seen on self-improvement terms.  Defoe’s decision to guise his novel as a true account may have been a commercial one, attracting a younger readership guided away from the sensational novels of the era by parents who would allow their offspring to learn through what might be seen as a more pious journey of self-discovery.  This conceit of writing Moll’s narrative as if it was true does affect its readability however.  Most characters cannot be named and so “this gentleman” and “that gentleman” becomes confusing at times and just a tad tedious.  If only Defoe had felt able to give his cast names this would really have brought Moll’s tale and world to life.

Another purpose of Defoe’s penning this novel could have been to provide a lesson in street-life to the uninitiated.  Moll describes her crimes and those she has gulled and the methods by which she tricks them in a way that readers might learn not to be taken in thus (there’s another side of the coin here, the less honest could learn from the outlining of such crimes how to carry them off but it is unlikely that those keen to profit as Moll did would have been amongst the eighteenth-century readership). 

Moll comes across a vibrant, well-rounded character.  She’s on a continual slippery slope but blames no-one but herself and is able to put a brake on the road to ruin when needed.  Men do cause her downfall but she has a good relationship with them and is able to give as good as she gets.  Her incestuous marriage is a complete accident and leads to one of the most involving sections of the book.  I did enjoy this although it dragged for me in the mid-sections, the accounts of her youth and the latter part of the book (I can’t say declining years as there is no decline) provided a highly satisfying read and for me this book felt so much stronger than “Robinson Crusoe”.  We are not quite in 5* territory from my twenty-first century perspective of these earliest of novels but I’m sure we will not have to move forward too far chronologically before I start awarding my top rating.

I read the Wordsworth Classics Paperback edition of “Moll Flanders” from 2001 with an introduction by R T Jones.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman – John Fowles (1969)


If you had asked me 30 years ago to list my favourite books this would have featured prominently.  I’ve always felt an attachment to it because it was one of the first novels I read when I went away to college and an essay on works by John Fowles (of which this was my favourite) scored me a rare A-Grade.  I’ve read it a couple of times since but not for many years.  Last summer I went for a day trip to Lyme Regis and walked along The Cobb which has a prominent part to play in the novel as well as in the 1981 film adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons and whilst doing this felt once again that I wanted to be immersed in Fowles’ 19th Century world.  My copy was ancient and yellowed so I treated myself to a new one at Serendip, one of Lyme’s healthy smattering of book shops and have spent the last week or so discovering whether time has been good to this novel.

What remains impressive is how Fowles has condensed the foibles of Victorian society  in a way which makes it seem authentic.  This has been done many times since, most splendidly in Michel Faber’s “Crimson Petal And The White” and in other titles which tend to feature highly in my end of year lists.  What I hadn’t experienced before reading this the first time was Fowles the modern author stepping back from the Victorian novel to comment and digress using a modern perspective.  Once again this is a common trick now but when I first experienced it (and perhaps even more so when it was published a good decade before I got round to it) it seemed radical.    It’s enough of a feature of the novel for them to attempt to convey something of this in the film (not wholly successfully) by having a modern strand which stepped back showing the making of the film and depicting actors playing Fowles’ characters, so Meryl Streep was both playing Sarah Woodruff and the actress chosen to play her.

Charles Smithson, a keen fossil-hunter and fan of Darwin spends the summer of 1867 in Lyme Regis where his betrothed, the somewhat vapid Ernestina is holidaying with her aunt.  There, on The Cobb, which stretches out to the sea they encounter a swathed, mysterious figure known locally as Tragedy, reputedly waiting for her French lover to return.  Charles becomes obsessed with this woman which challenges Victorian beliefs in decency, class and duty with the double standards we now expect from this period.

I love the plot.  Fowles, however, does like to move away from it and remind us of the artifice of his fiction.  At one point he inserts himself into the action observing Charles in the midst of his dilemmas.  It is a very intelligent work which does make demands of the reader and on this re-reading I must admit it does occasionally seem a little too clever for its own good (perhaps that was also true of the me who read this many years ago!) and occasionally a little inaccessible.  This accusation could be levied at other of Fowles’ work which may explain why his reputation has faded in the years since his death in 2005.  There were a couple of titles I can remember abandoning (and this from someone who has done this very rarely) due to this inaccessibility, although I do have a copy of “The Collector” (1963) which I also loved and should get round to re-reading to see how that holds up.

This is an impressive novel of great richness and worthy of a five star rating yet it still has flaws which seem a little more  obvious this time round.  I’ve never fully got my head around the multiple endings which makes the last third of the novel less satisfying.  I could tell from my trip to Lyme that the townsfolk are still proud of this novel (as they are of Jane Austen who features it in “Persuasion”) and actually it is only when it moves away from Lyme that it slightly falters.  I still feel very attached to it, however.


The French Lieutenant’s Woman was first published in 1969.  I read the Vintage paperback edition.

London Belongs To Me- Norman Collins (1945)


This is a book I read as a teenager. I can remember the quite plain but striking blue covers of this British author’s work in the public library of my youth and I either read this just before or after an ITV adaptation from 1977 which featured a very memorable Patricia Hayes and which I loved. There’s also a 1948 film version which stars Alastair Sim and Richard Attenborough which is good but hasn’t lingered as long in my memory as the book and TV series.

These memories were brought to the forefront when I found Norman Collins listed as one of Christopher Fowler’s picks in his “The Book Of Forgotten Authors” (2017). Collins (1907-1982) was a fascinating, very twentieth century character. His writing career saw him working for the Oxford University Press, editor of “The Daily News”, a role which Charles Dickens (quite significantly) had taken before him and deputy chairman of Gollancz publishing firm. Moving to broadcasting in the early 1940s he moved up the ranks in the BBC to being in charge of the Radio Light Programme where he created the immortal “Dick Barton-Special Agent”. Not long after this novel was published he was Controller of the fast-growing world of television and in the early 1950’s helped set up the Independent Television Authority becoming one of the important early figures of ITV. Throughout this time he was publishing with a total of 16 novels and two plays of which the vast majority are now out of print. This book and his London set “Bond Street Story” are the most significant of his works.

Rereading this many years on I think it is excellent. I highlighted the Dickens reference earlier because Collins’ writing style is reminiscent of a mid-twentieth century Dickens, the way he pulls back as narrator, gives us overviews and then focuses back on a set of very memorable characters in this London setting feels appropriately Dickensian. It’s a real warm hug of a book focusing on a group of residents of 10, Dulcimer Street, Kennington over two years from Christmas 1938 to Christmas 1940.

It is a closely observed novel with no real ongoing narrative drive or issues other than the lives of the characters. This gives it a feel of early soap-opera and that again has the feel of Dickens. It doesn’t have the burning social issues of the Victorian novelist but it works beautifully as a commentary on everyday existence. With its focus on ordinary folk at a time of uncertainty making their preparations for war it is first class and its sense of impending doom whilst the everyday continues resonates with our recent events.

And there’s great characters. The kindly, stolid, central Mr Josser, struggling home with a retirement gift clock at the very beginning, the canny canary-loving Miss Coke and the charlatan spiritualist Mr Squales will linger on in the memory. There’s a German spy who pops in for the odd vignette who seems a little out of place and the adenoidal glutton Mr Puddy’s speech patterns might have worked better in its day but he is still a character to be reckoned with. There’s also the unsettled youth Percy Boon whose involvement in a crime is the closest the novel gets to a central thread involving all the characters in some way.

At over 700 pages of quite small print in the Penguin Modern Classics paperback edition this is lengthy but it’s a real treat and I felt quite sad coming to the end. If Norman Collins has other books of this quality in his canon (Christopher Fowler’s favourite is “The Governor’s Lady”) then this is a seriously under-rated author due for a revival with this five star twentieth century classic leading the way.


London Belongs To Me was first published in 1945. I read the Penguin Modern Classics paperback edition.

Sanditon – Jane Austen & Another Lady (1975)



I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Andrew Davies adaptation for ITV and was fascinated to find out more about what was actually just a fragment of a novel.  Jane Austen probably intended it to be her seventh novel beginning it in early 1817 and of which the first approximately 26,000 words survive.  Midway through Chapter 11 she became unable to continue due to ill- health and passed away in July of that year.  It took until 1925 for the unfinished work to be published for the first time.  It is this fragment which Andrew Davies chose to finish for television, in his style.  He was not the first to do this.

No further plot outlines or developments were left but in the mid 1970’s the anonymous “another lady” who was “an established author in her own right” had a go at completing the work and has done a remarkably good job.  This “lady” was later revealed to be Marie Dobbs, an Australian-born author who lived and worked in many countries yet gained most fame for her version of the small, minutely observed world of Jane Austen and her creation of the seaside town of Sanditon.  There have been other continuations since, the most recent being the 2019 novelisation of the TV series by Kate Riordan, but this first version is for me thoroughly satisfactory.

Charlotte Heywood is spared by her family to spend the summer at the developing seaside settlement.  (Austen based it on Sidmouth but placed it geographically near Peacehaven) under the care of the Parker family led by Tom, a keen supporter of and investor in the town.  Here she meets the somewhat fierce Lady Denham (played brilliantly by Anne Reid in the TV version) living with her favoured relation Clara Brereton, whose presence threatens the inheritance of two other of Lady D’s kin, Sir Edward Denham and his sister Lucy.  Other visitors to the town include the heiress Miss Lambe, from a West Indian family and the rest of Tom Parker’s brothers and sisters, a bunch of hypochondriacs apart from the dashing Sidney who Austen had most likely earmarked for the hero and eventual love interest for Charlotte.

From here the TV adaptation went for Sidney emerging naked from the sea (not too many complaints with Theo James in the role), another working class man interested in Charlotte, a furtive relationship between Miss Lambe and her beau (complicated further with her being Sidney’s ward) and an odd relationship with the younger Denhams which looked incestuous but wasn’t.  “Another Lady” went for much gentler fare- a trip to a neighbouring seaside town and a Ball but there is much talk of elopement and a probable upping of Austen’s original plan in the drama stakes with a little more forthright flirting than we might have anticipated and an abduction which actually happens rather than being reported which was how Austen sometimes dealt with her more dramatic twists.  But having said this, I for one thought it was continued seamlessly and couldn’t see any joins (some of the later continuations dispense with Austen’s opening altogether) and I actually enjoyed myself more than I did when I last re-read “Pride And Prejudice” which may surely have Austen fans clutching at their corsages in horror but I totally relished this joint effort and it is one of this years’ reading highlights which I never would have discovered without ITV taking a chance on it.


This continuation of Sanditon was first published in 1975.  I read the 1976 Corgi paperback edition.

Abbeychurch – Charlotte Mary Yonge (1844)



Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1901) was a highly popular and prolific author in the Victorian period whose work is now largely forgotten and hard to find in print. Her most notable work is “The Heir Of Radclyffe” from 1853. I discovered I could buy very cheaply off Amazon the mammoth complete works in a Delphi Classics Kindle edition. This contains all 53 (!) novels (so plenty of reading there then), together with her shorter fiction, plays and non-fiction. Yonge certainly stuck with this writing game for as well as all these publications she also edited a magazine “The Monthly Packet” for almost fifty years

Charlotte lived all her life in Otterbourne in Hampshire and was involved in a bustling village life and, inspired by her local vicar, in the Oxford Movement, which had High Church sympathies and developed into what we would refer to today as Anglo-Catholicism.

“Abbeychurch” is one of her earliest works published when she was barely in her twenties. The fictional town of Abbeychurch St Marys is in need of a new place of worship as the town is developing with more properties being built. The novel begins with preparations for the consecration of this new church.

Relations of the Reverend Woodbourne gather together for this celebration. The central characters are the three daughters from his first marriage, especially Lizzie, a live wire who pals up with her cousin Anne for many of the discussions that take place throughout the novel. The tone is light throughout, there’s a lot of chat between all the girls mostly about family but it also wanders off in directions that would not mean much to the average modern reader, on fictional characters and historical figures, at some length, for instance. There’s also an extended section about a parlour game which wouldn’t be hard for most modern readers to skip over. The girls’ love of chivalry leads them into making a decision which pits the more uncertain future of the town against the conservatism of the present.

Not a lot happens, in fact, although we get build-up to the consecration and analysis afterwards the actual event is dispensed with in a couple of sentences. Given the author’s strong beliefs perhaps she felt she could not do this momentous sober event justice with her rather fluttering set of lead characters. There is an unexpected fatality but nobody seems to take it that seriously.

This is a light, fluffy entertaining read which would be a good introduction to this author who I would imagine would have more substantial offerings amongst her work.


Abbeychurch was first published in 1844. I read the Kindle Delphi Classics edition.

The Book Of Forgotten Authors – Christopher Fowler (2017) – A Book About Books Review




Now, this is just the sort of book to throw out my reading schedule. Novelist Christopher Fowler briefly examines the careers of 99 authors, who either used to be big but have faded from prominence or who deserved to be more popular than they were. It’s a fascinating, highly readable book which is both illuminating and nostalgic. The author has always been a voracious reader and book purchaser and he’s certainly done the groundwork for us here.

Christopher Fowler need not have any real fears of being forgotten, certainly not by me. You wouldn’t know it from this blog as this is probably his first mention in over 400 posts but since I’ve been keeping my own meticulous records of what I’ve been reading (I’ve always done this but lost a book which went back quite a few years), so we’re talking the last 23 years here, he is the author whom I’ve read the largest number of books by.

This book puts the Fowler total up to 15 (+ 1 I’ve read twice in this time) which pushes him further ahead from his nearest competitors , Charles Dickens (12) and Peter Ackroyd (11 + 2 re-reads). I’ve still got plenty of Fowler to discover, a quick tot-up of his books listed inside the front cover suggest 43 publications in total. I did gobble up a number of his horror novels in a short space of time in the mid to late 90’s after discovering “Spanky” (1994), a Faustian tale of a pact with the devil, which I still consider to be his best. In recent years he has concentrated on the Bryant & May detective series. I realise, with a fair amount of shock, that the last of his books I read was the third in this sequence “77 Clocks” and that was 10 years ago now! I haven’t forgotten you, Mr Fowler, honest! (I did last re-read “Spanky” in 2013).

Here the author tackles his findings alphabetically with considerably more than 99 names actually being thrown into the mix as in addition to the potted biographies and commentaries on individuals there’s also sections of forgotten authors linked to themes and genres.

It wasn’t long before I found myself making lists of those I’ve already read (not many and those a long time ago), those whose books I have unread on my shelves (5), those I can get from the library (36), those I can get on Kindle for free (4), for under £1 (8), or at a higher price (8) and those I can buy from Amazon (32). This left just those whose books do not seem readily available (4) or just too collectable for my budget (2). So thanks for all this, Mr Fowler, I’m supposed to be reviewing, not spending my time making lists!
And now I’ve got said lists I’m going to have to use them! So starting with what I have on my shelves already I hope over the coming months to unforget as many authors as possible. So this would include Margery Allingham, (a Golden Age of Crime Fiction writer who appears time and time again on recommended lists), I have a copy of her “Police At The Funeral” to start me off. There’s also Edmund Crispin (I bought a set of his Gervaise Fen novels from “The Book People”), Patrick Dennis (I bought his “Auntie Mame” because I love the Rosalind Russell film version and it’s pretty pricey on DVD), Barbara Pym’s “Excellent Women” (Book People purchase set again) and Edgar Wallace (a mammoth Wordsworth publication of “The Complete Four Just Men” taking up considerable shelf space). I’m adding these to the reading mix over the coming months and will of course be letting you know what I think and then I’ll move onto the others. Christopher Fowler has whetted my appetite so much I want to read them all!

This book would make a great present for bibliophiles – even those who claim to have “read everything” may find some hidden gems. A number of them are names that you’d remember from bookshop visits from your past, but may have never read. It could be time to put this right.


The Book Of Forgotten Authors was published by Riverrun in October 2017.