Like Dickens? You May Also Like…
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.
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.
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.
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.