The Rivals of Charles Dickens
Okay, the Olympics are almost over (with the Paralympics just to come) and we can all get down to some reading again. Notably absent from the opening and closing ceremonies; Charles Dickens – perhaps because he is almost as ubiquitous in London now as he was in his lifetime. This tirelessly energetic man was so committed to his work that it sometimes feels as if non-one else was writing in the Victorian era. But here are a few that were;
Dickens’ best known and greatest rival had little of his counterpart’s generosity of spirit. Most remembered now for ‘Vanity Fair’ and ‘The Luck of Barry Lyndon’, he was more satirical, sharper-tongued and more appealing to the burgeoning middle classes than Dickens, but most of his novels have completely disappeared from bookshelves.
Richard Harding Davis
For the true flavor of a damp, foggy Victorian London every bit as atmospheric as Dickens’s scenes, the handsome but detested US journalist Davis gave us ‘In The Fog’, an energetic, eerie pre-pulp read with multiple solutions to its puzzle. The book is better in its descriptive passages than in its almost-impossible-to-follow plotline.
Mrs Gaskell sympathetically depicted the plight of working class women and prostitutes, but much of her shorter fiction is now out of print. Dickens’ wrote several conjoined novels including ‘Mugby Junction’ and ‘The Haunted House’, to which contemporary women added their voices, including Gaskell, as well as Hesba Stretton, Adelaide Anne Procter and Amelia Edwards.
The credit for the first detective story belongs to Collins, not Poe. He and Dickens were contemporaries whose concerns (crime, social commentary) often intersected, but only two novels, ‘The Moonstone’ and ‘The Woman In White’, are easily recalled. With characters like Inspector Bucket and ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’, Dickens was going where Collins had been.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Many authors tend to get lost behind the roseate glow of Big Chuck. We think of Stevenson as a fantastical writer of children’s stories, forgetting that he was only 44 when he died, and was still developing his talents with satires like ‘The Wrong Box’, which tapped into the Victorian obsession with tontines, the insurance policies you could pay into and collect only when the last member remained alive. ‘The Wrong Box’ was made into a Really Not Very Good Film by Bryan Forbes.