19th-century literature

HSchinske at aol.com HSchinske at aol.com
Fri Jul 27 18:23:19 EDT 2001

In a message dated 7/27/2001 1:18:27 PM Pacific Daylight Time, Jacob 
Proffitt" <Jacob at Proffitt.com writes:

> To me, this is the real question.  You seem to think that there are a
>  lot of people asking for these books, but I don't see it.  I'd be
>  interested in either a) sales figures or b) polling data to see how
>  popular these things really are.  I think most of these works are things
>  that people like to talk about in knowledgeable ways even if they've
>  only seen the movie.  It makes them look smart to talk knowledgably
>  about "Little Women", but I'll bet that most people would admit that
>  they've never actually read the book by Alcott.  How many of us depend
>  on Disney for our knowledge of "The Jungle Book"? 

Considering that I regularly have knock-down drag-out fights with people over 
whether Jo should have married Laurie, or whether Amy was a jerk, it seems to 
me that _Little Women_ is still one of the most-read classics around. Anthony 
Trollope fans are quite common (Trollope's books aren't all that widely 
assigned, by the way, being mostly too long -- people read him for love, just 
as much as they read the Aubrey/Maturin novels or Lois McMaster Bujold). I've 
never had any trouble locating people who read and loved _Jane Eyre_ as 
children (well, young teens, anyway, and not for school). _Anne of Green 
Gables_ is 19th-century, though late. Lewis Carroll. At least some of Edward 
Lear is still popular, though few children get the full Nonsense Books 
anymore. Sherlock Holmes fans, good gosh, they're a phenomenon! George 
MacDonald's children's books -- less read by children, perhaps, but very 
widely read by fantasy fans. (There are even some fans of MacDonald's 
non-fantasy books out there, enough that they've all been reprinted in the 
last half-century, in their proper form as well as the odious rewritten and 
abridged versions.) _Huckleberry Finn_. G.K. Chesterton. Emily Dickinson. 
Christina Rossetti. (Yes, the last two are assigned, but you also see them 
quoted everywhere and obviously loved.) _What Katy Did_ is still extremely 
popular in England (far more so than in its native US, which puzzles me very 

Granted, plenty of titles are still in print mainly because 
parents/grandparents/auntsnuncles buy them for the children (Scribner's 
Illustrated Classics series is one I always wonder about -- it has, or had 
recently, some real oddities like _The Scottish Chiefs_ that aren't a bit 
famous any longer, so I wonder who buys them). I'm pretty sure that sales of 
_Ivanhoe_ and _Kidnapped_ are nearly all in this category.

I've just been reading Q.D. Leavis's _Fiction and the Reading Public_ (1932), 
which basically says that Serious Reading Is Doomed, and is quite a fun read 
for reasons unintended by the author. For instance, he says "The only writer 
of the past who could do anything like this [increase sales of a book by a 
favorable review as much as Arnold Bennett did] was Andrew Lang in the '80's 
... and deplorable as his taste and influence were, they did not interfere 
with serious standards. He was a single case, and faded into obscurity before 
he could do any real harm." I think Leavis must be referring to Lang's 
championship of adventure stories like _King Solomon's Mines_. Leavis also 
bashes Chesterton, Kipling, Dickens, Shaw, H.G. Wells, and all the other 
authors who made the mistake of being rather more commercially successful 
than Virginia Woolf or James Joyce. 

Helen Schinske (who hasn't even STARTED on her FAVORITE nineteenth-century 
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