Thursday, December 05, 2013

The obscure



This week’s post about the 100 best novels compiled by Clement K. Shorter in 1898 is filled with even more obscure books than the last. I have to skip seven books before I come to an author I recognise. Of those seven, five are delightfully written by women. All books were written in 1860s. Their literary value, however, is largely forgotten.

First one is Sweet Anne Page (1868) by an English poet and author Mortimer Collins. Nothing is said about the book in Wikipedia, but as a poet, his lyrics with their “light grace, their sparkling wit and their airy philosophy” were unequal to anything of their kind in modern English, according to Encyclopædia Britannica in 1911. And I’d be interested in reading his Transmigration (1873), “a fantasy of multiple incarnations of which the middle one is set on a utopian Mars.”

Amelia B. Edwards was an English novelist, journalist, traveller and Egyptologist. Her book, Barbara’s History from 1864 is a “novel of bigamy” that made her fame. Uncle Silas (1864) is a Victorian Gothic mystery-thriller novel by Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu, an Irish writer. Uncle Silas is “notable as an early example of the locked room mystery subgenre.”

Next on the list is Lost and Saved by the Honourable Mrs Norton (1863), an English feminist, social reformer and author who seems to have achieved a lot. Among other things, her campaigning led to the Custody of Infants act in 1839. Her book, however, is completely unknown to Wikipedia. Nor does it say much about The Channings (1862) by Ellen Wood. It does mention, however, that she is best remembered by her earlier book East Lynne. Why Shorter chose this one from her rather substantial work is unknown.

Margaret Oliphant is another largely forgotten woman writer, a Scottish novelist and historical writer, whose works encompass “domestic realism, the historical novel and tales of the supernatural”. Salem Chapel from 1862 is only one of her numerous novels, but Wikipedia doesn’t reveal why that would have been the best she had to offer.


It’s not until the book number 86 that I recognise the author: Gustave Flaubert. From him, Shorter has chosen SalammbĂ´ (1862). Modern lists usually go with Madame Bovary, but Shorter liked a book set in Carthage during the 3rd century BC better. No wonder. Its described as an epic story of lust, cruelty, and sensuality and is held to be one of the best French novels. I haven’t read the book, but I think its a good one to end the post with. More next week.