Friday, July 7, 2017

Mount TBR #33

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2017. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

A House to Let – Charles Dickens

This novelette was first published in 1858 as the extra Christmas number of Dickens’ two-penny weekly magazine Household Words. The practice in the publishing industry then was for an editor to have authors collaborate on a connected tale with a Christmas theme. So this was written by Dickens himself, his friend Wilkie Collins (The Moonstone), Elizabeth Gaskell (Cranford) and Adelaide Anne Procter, a poetess second only to Tennyson in popularity at the time.

The plot concerns an old maid, Sophonisba, who is lovably despotic and feisty like Aunt Betsy Trotwood or Aunt Jemima Stanbury. She has moved from a quiet village to London on doctor’s advice to get a little excitement in her life. She gets more than she bargained for when she notices the glint of an eye looking from a window in an empty run-down house across the way. She orders her admirer Jabez Jarber (who regularly proposes to her) and her servant Trottle to find out what it is up with this house, which supposedly belongs to her cousin with whom she has not had any contact for a long time. The two rivals for Sophonisba’s  attention and favor investigate by gossiping with long-time residents of the neighborhood and come back with reports

Elizabeth Gaskell’s “The Manchester Marriage” tells the story of Alice Openshaw, who first marries her cousin, a sailor, who then goes missing, believed shipwrecked, but not before he has a child with Alice. The daughter, however, has a handicap. Believing her husband dead, she marries a well-off traveler after a couple years and begins a new life. But her sailor husband – well, I’ll let you guess. A good story, over the top in a nice way, by the author of North and South, who knew her Manchester people. Gaskell also has a gift for turning a phrase as in “the final goad” and “my mind misgave me.”

Charles Dickens’ “Going into Society” tells about a short-lived circus artist who wins a fortune in a lottery and fulfill his ambition to run in the best society. O Reader, dost thou think he will be disappointed in all his dreams and expectations and discover the people into wealth and property and owing and consuming are not virtuous? This is Dickens being moralistic and facetious so I was grateful this was a short story. I'm finding the older I get, the less patience I have for Dickens.

Adelaide Anne Procter’s “Three Evenings in the House” is a poem that tells the story of a faithful sister who gives up her own life for her brother and is considered as unfeeling by all and ultimately has to face the facts.

Wilkie Collins’ “Trottle’s Report” pulls everything together as to what is going on in the house opposite. Written before The Woman in White, he has yet to find his fluent style that neatly blends realism with sensation.

The novella is entertaining enough but only for the most hardcore readers of the well-known Victorians. You know, the kind of people that have read obscurities like No Name. Us. The same four authors wrote another together in 1859's The Haunted House which appeared in the Christmas issue of All the Year Round, the successor to Household Words.

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