Like Dickens? You May Also Like…

Books

mysteries-cover-issue-25

I hate those Amazon pop-ups that recommend other books, because the algorithms completely misunderstand my reading habits – which are lateral-swinging, to say the least. Here are some rivals to Dickens that you might consider instead.

George W M Reynolds

Charles Dickens, whom he outsold, despised him. The literary establishment wrote him out of literary history. But when Reynolds, journalist, political reformer, Socialist and novelist, died in 1879, even his critics were forced to declare that he was the most popular writer of his time. The Mysteries of London, which was published in 1844 in weekly instalments, was his greatest success, selling 50,000 copies a week and over a million more when published in volume form. It’s gigantic- well over 1,000 pages long, and now back in print in two volumes. However his prose is pedantic and shows every sign of being hammered out quickly. It’s very basic and has none of the joy of reading Chuck. It’s too huge to read as a single novel, carrying too many plots – but gives a great insight into sone of the scandals afflicting London then (like butchers illegally selling horse meat). Some of you may have got further than I did – I’d  be interested to know what it’s like. File under; life’s too short.

Wilkie Collins

The credit for the first detective story really 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 already been. Collins’ mindset was closer to the modern-day mystery writer’s.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Many authors tend to get lost behind the roseate glow of Dickens. We think of Stevenson as a fantastical writer of children’s stories, forgetting that he was only 44 when he died, and still developing his talents with satires and mysteries like ‘The Wrong Box’, which tapped into the Victorian obsession with tontines, and ‘The Suicide Club’, a tale-cycle concerning the club where members take their lives.

William Thackeray

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. 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 personally detestable US journalist Davis gave us ‘In The Fog’, an energetic, eerie pre-pulp read with multiple solutions to its puzzle, better in its descriptive passages than its ludicrously convoluted plotline.

Elizabeth Gaskell

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 Ms Gaskell, as well as Hesba Stretton, Adelaide Anne Procter and Amelia Edwards.

 

4 comments on “Like Dickens? You May Also Like…”

  1. Chris Webb says:

    Recommendation engines work by grouping together large numbers of customer’s purchases together and looking for patterns, so if you buy a certain book (or anything else) you’ll probably be recommended the things that the most number of people who also bought that item also bought. Therefore if you are a lateral swinger (!) your particular tastes are going to be smoothed out in the ocean of data.

    “You might also like” Algorithms of the Intelligent Web by Haralambos Marmanis and Dmitry Babenko. Or you might not, unless you are a software engineer or data scientist. A couple of books of the type you find in the Popular Science section are Super Crunchers by Ian Ayres, and They’ve Got Your Number by Stephen Baker.

    Peter Ackroyd wrote an excellent biography of Dickens, and more recently one of Wilkie Collins which I haven’t got round to yet. Nineteenth century novels can be rather heavy going, with implausibly contrived storylines and absurdly formal and long-winded dialogue, but I think Collins is one of the most accessible.

  2. Brooke says:

    I vote for Mrs. Gaskell, Amelia Edwards and Thackeray. I found them through our last independent bookseller where the sales assistants are graduates of literature and their algorithms involve 1) broad and deep reading; and 2) listening to the customers.

  3. Roger says:

    If you’re going to go in for “Mysteries of…”, go for Sue’s original “Mysteries of Paris” or “Les Miserables” – Hugo’s version, of course. Harrison Ainsworth probably influenced Arnott’s “The Fatal Tree”, which you recommended recently and he was – by Victorian standards – .sexually realistic. Arnold Bennett’s “The Grand Babylon Hotel” is a wonderful Edwardian “shocker”, with all of the twists you’d expect and less dependent on clichés than most.

  4. Vivienne says:

    Wilkie Collins No Name is particularly good, and Armadale too. Thackeray wrote a children’s book, The Rose and the Ring, probably suitable for 10year olds, which I remember as great. Do I have time for The Mysteries of London?

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