Haven’t written book related posts in a long while, and honestly missed it a lot.
I think I have mentioned many times, that my favorite genres in literature are fantasy and science-fiction. Whenever there’s a chance, I always pick one of these two. But when spring comes, my mood changes, and my soul wants something different, something lighter and even romantic, with fascinating nature descriptions, old castles, a little mystery and a happy ending. Maybe it’s also connected with the fact that I happened to read books that belong to romantic classics in spring, so it has become a sort of a tradition. There are many amazing authors and books in this genre, but in this post I’m going to discuss two of my favorite female authors, who lived and created in late 18th to early 19th centuries.
Jane Austen and Ann Radcliffe. I’m sure that people who have studied English literature, have definitely heard these two names together, have compared their works and styles, as they’re kind of intertwined. I first heard of Austen in early 2012 and read all of her published books way before Radcliffe’s. I also find that there’s a certain similarity in their works, but not in a negative or too repetitive way. I’m by no means a literature expert, just a big bookworm, so whatever I say is purely my opinion and feelings about these books and writers. Let’s start with Jane at first.
Jane Austen (16 December 1775-18 July 1817) was an English novelist, born in Hampshire, most known for her 6 published books. I’m not going to bore you with facts about her, because those can be easily found in internet. I found out about Jane by her most famous work- Pride and Prejudice. Or its movie adaptation starring Keira Knightley to be more precise. After watching the movie, I read the book, then read about the author, watched her biography film “Becoming Jane“, and I adored these two movies, since they conveyed the atmosphere of those times so well. Jane had quite a difficult life, poor family with many children, unhappy love story, and the conservative standards of that time, which didn’t allow her to live on her own and do what she loved-to write. Lots of her works have elements of her own life, but in contrast to her tough life, all her books have a happy ending. Just like with many other authors, once you start reading all of her books, you notice many similarities and to be honest that bothered me a little, and the last two books that I read of her didn’t impress me much. But anyway, let’s make an order from my most favorite to the least one.
1. Pride and Prejudice (1813). One of the most read books. I think even people, who see books less frequently than a planet parade, have definitely read it or at least heard of it (especially women). I hate being cliche, but yes, I also love it. This was one of the first classic books I read, when I first began reading something other than Harry Potter. And since I always had this special love for older times, especially old England, I instantly liked it. And while everyone was dreaming about finding their perfect rich Mr. Darcy, I was just dreaming about having a time machine and getting a chance to live in that period.
2. Northanger Abbey (1818). This is a satire of Gothic novels, especially those written by Ann Radcliffe. That’s why I liked it a lot. The main character has a strong love for everything mysterious and tries to find hidden secrets everywhere, especially when she gets to visit the old Northanger Abbey, which seems to be full of dark and strange mysteries. I find many similarities between me and the protagonist of the story, maybe that’s why I loved it so much.
3. Sense and Sensibility (1811) My third favorite novel of Jane. People often compare this to Pride and Prejudice (even though this was written and published earlier), just because the main characters are two sisters from a poor family, who try to “settle down”. You know what else I like about this genre. It’s the simplicity of life, lack of rush and big events. From the first sight it might seem boring, but in reality it’s really relaxing and soothing. Also it’s interesting to compare our lives nowadays, when almost every minute is planned, with the life of those years, when people had a ball or a visit coming in a few months, and that’s all they were thinking and talking about, preparing for it little by little.
4. Emma (1815). Here come my not-so favorite ones. I was initially enjoying Emma, but from some point I noticed that the numerous descriptions and backstory of characters are much longer and detailed than the actual plot. The main character, Emma enjoys matchmaking, so she tries to find the ideal partner for her friends and acquaintances. There are many issues discussed in this book, which was interesting to read and I’d definitely enjoy the book, if it wasn’t for the long and a little boring descriptions.
5. Mansfield Park (1814) and 6. Persuasion (1818). I’m writing these two together, because first of all I don’t remember almost anything from here, and second of all I remember not enjoying what I read. I still include them in the list, because they also rise several issues in that period, that might be entertaining for some people.
Ann Radcliffe (9 July 1764 – 7 February 1823), an English author and one of the creators of Gothic genre. I became acquainted with Radcliffe through Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey“, as well as her biography movie I mentioned, and I honestly fell in love with her style and works. I wonder why she isn’t as popular as Austen, since her novels are more interesting and deep. I only read 3 of her books, the most famous ones, and I can’t wait to read the rest. What I like about her books, is that it builds up the story from different perspectives of different characters. In the beginning everything is hidden in mystery and secrets, and through pages and chapters you start collecting the puzzles piece by piece and at the end you get the full image, which is really satisfying, because you kind of also feel yourself a detective, trying to link the dots and clues all together. Plus, there’s the unknown and suspicious presence of supernatural powers and beings and you have absolutely no idea, whether it’s actually a ghost or just a human. So I definitely enjoyed her books much more than of Austen’s and would recommend them more, especially if you love the gothic style. Let’s now talk a little more about her books separately.
1. The Italian, or the Confessional of the Black Penitents (1797). This was the first book I read from Radcliffe, which happened to be my most favorite one. Maybe because I wasn’t acquainted with her style yet, and everything was new and very exciting for me, all the things I’ve written above I had yet to experience for the first time, all the mystery and wondering whether there’s a ghost or it was a hallucination or just a human being. Also this novel has more “main characters“, meaning that the story is told by much more people than the rest of the books and hence why the story becomes more intriguing.
2. The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). The most famous work of Radcliffe. You can’t imagine how hard it was for me to find this book. I asked for it in literally every bookstore in here, even in Russia. I ended up buying the ebook version of it and then printing it, because it was too long and I wanted to read it on the paper. I thought that I’d enjoy this book the most, but once again, when the expectations are too high, the reality seems not as great, even if it actually is really good. But still I liked it a lot, and this was definitely the creepiest one, because the castle of Udolpho itself was like the perfect horror place. This one was quite diverse, because there are many changes happening with the main character, so you get to live with her in her little village, than travel through Europe, move to Udolpho, then escape it again. So there is definitely a lot of scenery changing, and every scenery is portrayed and expressed so beautifully and so well, that you can read those lines again and again and actually feel and see what the characters see.
3. The Romance of the Forest (1791). The main character happens to travel with a poor family and they end up finding a half-ruined and empty abbey in the middle of a big forest. They decide to stay in there, because the family was on the run to escape their creditors. And obviously there can’t be a huge forest with an ancient abbey without many hidden and dark secrets and mysteries. And even though I don’t usually like long descriptions of anything (just like in case with Emma), I enjoyed every single word and description of the forest and its surroundings. I felt so in peace, like I was the one walking in there, sitting on big roots, enjoying the total silence, only the bird singing. That’s definitely one of the pros of Radcliffe, her descriptions, especially the ones of nature are truly magnificent. I can imagine how amazing the movie adaptation of her books could be.
There are lots of other great authors and novels of this genre, so luckily there are so many to choose from. If you want to have a pleasant and light read, you will most probably like at least one of the books described above. And maybe reading a romantic classic will become a tradition of yours as well.