Project Gutenberg has hundreds of old Victorian and Edwardian novels available for free download, and some of them make a cracking read. I went through this list of Edwardian novels on Flavorwire recently and read The Benefactress, by Elizabeth von Arnim (available here). It’s just the sort of romance I love – the author is funny, there is a strong heroine and a charming hero, an unusual setting, and a great cast of supporting characters. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
The Victorian psychological thriller
The Victorians were all about Christmas, and while looking for a Christmas read I came across a book called The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. This is a book for children, but I discovered that ME Braddon was one of the most popular and prolific authors of the late nineteenth century, writing what we’d call psychological thrillers today.
Psychological thrillers seem like a modern invention, but Mary Elizabeth Braddon was writing the same gripping and twisted plots a hundred and fifty years ago, only then they were known as “sensation novels”. Her books are Gothic novels “set in a modern bourgeois home, where nothing is quite what it seems”, according to this description by Henry James. I love this description. They are exactly the sort of book that, if they were popular today, would have the subtitle on Amazon: “A gripping psychological thriller with a twist you won’t see coming!”
Murder most foul
ME Braddon’s most famous book is Lady Audley’s Secret, which she published when she was only 27. This book is based on the story of real life murderess Constance Kent. It shocked Victorians at the time with its ambitious and ruthless female lead (at a time when women were supposed to lead a life of quiet refinement) and with its plot featuring bigamy. This Guardian review says it contains that essential of a psychological thriller, a “wonderfully obscured plot twist”. Lady Audley’s Secret became a bestseller, and Braddon wrote an astonishing ninety or so further novels.
If you’re interested in reading these old Victorian novels, besides Project Gutenberg, The British Library also offers free downloads of some of these books, plus a wonderful collection of images which you are able to use freely.
This is a dramatic image from ME Braddon’s Ralph the Bailiff and Other Tales, and you can download the book free from The British Library here.
ME Braddon’s children’s book The Christmas Hirelings is a short, charming read and is also available for free download at The British Library.
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I’m looking forward to reading some gruesome Victorian psychological thrillers over Christmas! Since this is my last post before the holidays, here is another lovely Victorian Christmas illustration from The British Library collection:
Wishing you a happy and peaceful Christmas – and happy reading!