Welcome back to another 3 Classics Review! These are the books I read for Victober. If you look back to my Victober TBR, you’ll see that I managed to read everything I planned to. Amazing! So let’s jump into the reviews.
The Professor by Charlotte Brontë
My Rating: 3 stars
The Professor was the only Brontë novel I hadn’t read yet, and I went into it with fairly low expectations. It was Charlotte Brontë’s first novel, written even before Jane Eyre, and she couldn’t get anyone to publish it while she was alive. I’d also heard from other reviewers that it’s kind of boring. Since I went in with low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. There were definitely a lot of boring parts, but no more so than in Shirley or even Villette, neither of which I enjoyed much. I even found myself quite invested in the first part when our narrator, William Crimsworth, is working as a clerk for his cruel brother. Unfortunately, Brontë doesn’t do much with that section and instead sends William off to Brussels, where things get duller. There isn’t much conflict in this section and William isn’t an especially compelling main character, though his romance with Frances is sweet.
The best part of this novel is seeing Brontë develop as a novelist and the ways in which ideas and themes from her later works appear here. The obvious comparison is to Villette since both novels are set in Brussels and are based off Brontë’s own experiences; she reworked much of the material from The Professor to use for Villette. I could also see some glimpses Jane Eyre’s independence peeking through in Frances’ insistence on continuing to work after marriage. And there is the teacher/student romance between William and Frances which is later repeated in Shirley with Shirley Keeldar and Louis Moore and Villette with Lucy Snowe and M. Paul Emanuel. Seeing how Brontë handled these themes and plot points as a younger writer and being able to trace her growth as a writer was delightful.
Overall, though it’s a fairly dull book, I’m glad I picked it up. I can now say that I’ve read every Brontë novel, and I have a better sense of Charlotte as a writer. However, if you aren’t a massive Brontë fan like I am, this is definitely one you can skip.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
My Rating: 4 stars
It’s hard to believe I never picked up anything by Oscar Wilde until now. How I’ve made it through so many literature classes without reading him is a mystery. And honestly, I really regret not reading this book sooner. Wilde’s writing is simply gorgeous! The preface alone was enough to make me fall in love. And this quote here! It’s beautiful! I also really enjoyed seeing a fairly blatant LGBT+ character in 19th-century literature. It doesn’t happen too often. Mostly for this time period you get some hints of homoerotism and modern readers speculating. But there’s no hinting or any room for confusion here: Basil is in love with Dorian. And apparently that’s with Wilde trying to obscure it through some edits. I’m interested to check out the uncensored edition and see how it reads in comparison.
I think Wilde did an excellent job crafting his characters. I felt so bad for poor Basil, and Lord Henry was a despicable jerk. And Dorian. Dorian, Dorian. At first I was just screaming, “You fool! You idiot!” at him for falling under Lord Henry’s influence. But I wanted to slap him for things with Sybil Vane, and after that I could only view him as an absolute selfish and cruel bastard. So likeable he is not, but as I’ve established before, I’m a fan of unlikeable characters. And the fact that Wilde has even created characters that elicit so much emotion shows what an amazing writer he is. My only real complaint with the book is that I wanted to see more of Dorian’s descent into sin. We get a chapter summing it up, but the details are kept vague. This is, of course, a result of the time period it was written in. Wilde couldn’t have included all that; the book caused a scandal just for the things that are included. But even so, the descent felt too quick for me and I wanted more.
Overall, this is an excellent work of fin de siècle Gothic literature, and I never should have waited this long to read it. It’s a beautifully written exploration of decadence and hedonism, and it is worthy of all the praise it has received.
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
My Rating: 5 stars
I can’t believe I’ve had this on my bookshelf since high school and never read it. I’m an idiot for waiting this long. Wilkie Collins has just surpassed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as my favorite classic mystery writer. I won’t go into many details because I wouldn’t want to spoil it, but this is such an excellently plotted mystery! There are so many twists and just as you think you have it figured out, something unravels it all again. So often I find myself figuring out the mystery early on, but that didn’t happen here. Collins had me guessing and changing my mind the whole time.
The real star of this book is the cast of characters. They range all over the place, from loveable to pitiable to irritating. We have several different narrators, the first of which is Gabriel Betteredge, the steward to Lady Verinder and easily one of my favorite characters. Is he slightly ridiculous? Yes. Does this ridiculousness make him an endearing narrator and the perfect assistant to Sergeant Cuff? Absolutely. The man turns to Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe for guidance on everything in life; how could I not love him? Also fabulous is the dreadful Miss Clack, a poor cousin of the Verinders’ whose holier-than-thou evangelism and absurdly named religious tracts made me want to throw her out a window all while laughing. They’re all just fantastic.
Overall, this is a mystery novel that should not be missed. It’s an incredibly fun and enjoyable romp that left a big smile on my face.