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Sample Sunday: The Classic Selection

This week candidates for Sample Saturday are novels that were on my Classics Club list but never got read. I think I acquired them more than ten years ago when they were on a supplementary reading list for a course I was taking on the nineteenth century novel. I no longer need them for academic reasons so the question is whether they would still hold my interest or is it time to let them go.

Evelina by Fanny Burney

Evelina or to give the book its full title The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World, was published anonymously in 1778 as a satire on Georgian society. It’s meant to be a notable significant precursor to the work of Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth.

Told in epistolary style, it traces the experiences of an unacknowledged but legitimate daughter of a dissipated English aristocrat. At the age of 17 she gets to leave her secluded country home to take a holiday in London. The visit opens her eyes to the delights and dangers of society.

I’m thinking No. I’ve tried epistolary novels from this period (and earlier) previously and never found them very entertaining.

The Verdict: Abandon

Belinda by Maria Edgeworth

Belinda is an 1801 novel that forms part of a tradition of society novels where bright young women are in search of a good marriage. Belinda was rather different however because it features an inter-racial marriage.

In the first two editions of the book, Edgeworth has an African servant on a Jamaican plantation who marries an English farm-girl and a potential marriage between the eponymous heroine and a rich West Indian Creole. By the third edition, published in 1810 both plot lines have been toned down. The servant character is omitted and Belinda only esteems the Creole and never agrees to marry him. One theory is that Edgeworth’s father insisted on the changes.

I don’t much care for the early society novels – they can be rather tedious. But the inter-racial dimension makes this one more interesting.

The Verdict: Keep

The Egoist by George Meredith

A tragicomic novel published in 1879 about the marriage intentions of a self-absorbed knight who can’t understand why any woman wouldn’t jump at the chance to be his wife. One of the women in his sights is strong-willed however and has no interest in getting hitched to this vain man.

There’s a theme in the book about the difficulty of being a woman in Victorian society, treated as an object to be traded between fathers and potential husbands. That would encourage me to read the book but it’s the description of a comic narrative that sets alarm bells ringing. My sense of humour isn’t on the same level as the original readers of the book so I have a feeling I’d find it silly or irritating

The Verdict: Let Go

Unless you strongly disagree and tell me I’m making a big mistake with Burney and Meredith, my TBR is now lighter by two books. The idea of Sample Saturday isn’t to get rid of books but to make sure my shelves have only books I do want to read. What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached – if you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear from you.

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