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The Victorian and the Romantic: A Memoir, a Love Story, and a Friendship Across Time

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  535 ratings  ·  138 reviews
History meets memoir in two irresistible true-life romances--one set in 19th century Rome, one in present-day Paris and London--linked by a bond between women writers a hundred years apart

In 1857, English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell completed her most famous work: the biography of her dear friend Charlotte Bronte. As publication loomed, Mrs. Gaskell was keen to escape the
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published August 7th 2018 by Doubleday Books
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Kiki One is the British edition, one is American. Guessing because Americans are not nearly as familiar with Elizabeth Gaskell (the Victorian) and most…moreOne is the British edition, one is American. Guessing because Americans are not nearly as familiar with Elizabeth Gaskell (the Victorian) and most Brits are.(less)

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Diane S ☔
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 5000-2019
I wasn't particularly fond of Nell's story. Dramatic pinnings of a lost love. Also, couldn't make heads nor tales of her random meanderings in Mrs. Gaskells life. I do, however, admire her creativity in trying a new, or new to me, form of memoir. It did also spark my interest in Gaskells biography of Charlotte Bronte and in reading a biography of Gaskells herself.
Katie Lumsden
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have to say, I completely adored this. It's an unusual, odd and intensely powerful novel, a story of love, books, writing and self-discovery. It's not often I read a book that discusses the theme of reading and the love of reading so brilliantly and so well - and of course, I loved the presence Elizabeth Gaskell has in this novel. I found it intensely moving, and would highly recommend.
I was ambivalent about the author’s first book (Bleaker House), but for a student of the Victorian period this was unmissable, and the meta aspect was fun and not off-putting this time.

If the mere thought of reading about someone else’s thesis is enough to make your eyes glaze over – trust me, I know: my husband’s currently in the throes of writing up his PhD in Biology – never fear; Stevens has a light touch, and flits between Gaskell’s story and her own in alternating chapters. One strand
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For some time I have had, “Bleaker House,” by Nell Stevens on my reading radar. It lingers on my seemingly endless, ‘to be read,’ list – has lingered so long, in fact, that her next book came out, “Mrs Gaskell and Me.” Having decided that I should just get on and read something by Ms Stevens, whose work intrigues me, I settled down to try this and I am so glad I did.

This is something between a fictionalised biography and a real life memoir; interspersing the author’s work on her PhD thesis, and
Roman Clodia
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This might be a bit of an acquired taste as Nell Stevens, a PhD student at Kings, London, writes a book about ‘Nell Stevens’, a PhD student at Kings, London... The introduction states upfront that ‘this is a work of imagination’ – and in a way it’s the anti-thesis that Stevens couldn’t write telling as it does the imaginatively-reconstructed story of Elizabeth – Lily, who knew? – Gaskell’s understated but important love affair with Charles Eliot Norton, an American whom she met in Rome. ...more
3.5 stars. This was a cross between a memoir of a time in the author's life when she was going for her Ph.D and a biography of part of Elizabeth Gaskell's life as well. I enjoyed it; it does make me want to read more of Gaskell's work, but I didn't love it.

I think Stevens is a good writer though, and I look forward to trying her novel that she is apparently working on now.

I'm glad I read this book, but for me, there's nothing bright and shiny about it. On to the next!
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I adored this book! I generally don’t like novels that weave between a historical story and a modern day researcher/historian trying to figure her own life out as informed by this other past life (how is this a genre, much less one I know well enough to have an opinion about) but actually this is a memoir and a lovely depiction of a real person grappling with a subject she’s trying to write about and understand—and I do relate to that! I'm heading out now to pick up her other book.
Beth Bonini
”’I’ve read all your work,” she says, ‘and I have to say, I’m still not entirely sure I understand what your point is.’
‘My point?’
‘Your argument. What is it, exactly, that you are trying to say?’
‘I want to say . . . I’m trying to say . . . I’m writing about ways of being close to people,’ I say. ‘I’m writing about the places where artists come together, and the ways they obtain closeness.’”

Nell Stevens decides to write a PhD dissertation about Elizabeth Gaskell - partly because she loves the
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Victorian and the Romantic is a genre-bending narrative that is immensely readable and at times funny and poignant. Part modern-day memoir, part historical examination, we follow dual narratives: that of the author as she embarks on a PhD in literature, and that of her research subject-Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell. Separated by more than a century, the lives of the two women parallel each other in interesting ways. Both are writers who long for more out of life and both of them love ...more
Janille N G
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing

To be clear, I am definitely the target audience for The Victorian and the Romantic because I have a Master's in English and I specialized in Victorian literature...and of course, like most academics, I considered for many years going on to do my PhD. I myself was interested in the works of female authors in the 19th century, mainly Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell, and so I knew I would relate personally to Nell Stevens' recounting of her time studying
Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
What I did like:
Her creative process - taking her own life and reflecting on the life and attitudes, experiences, and emotions of a 19th C author.

I liked looking at Stevens's experience and looking at what she wrote about Gaskell and trying to see what was going on for Stevens- but basically I used fictional analysis on her work. I felt like I was reading fiction. Well, partly, it was weird and weird mix of bio and memoir.

What I did not like:
I would have preferred to read her Ph D thesis on
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely wonderful and enjoyable memoir written by a woman working on her doctorate regarding Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell. Nell Stevens s fascinated by Gaskell and her friendships and her fascination with Rome and especially, her unrequited love for younger \American Charles Eliot Norton. Ah, but the road to her doctorate is not a smooth one. Reflecting herself in the story of unrequited love, Nell is also madly in love with an American: the elusive Max. And when he finally does ...more
Moray Teale
I received a free advance copy through Netgalley and Pan Macmillan in return for an honest review.

I should really stop reading stories that are by/about writers failing at their PhDs, they so often end up occupying a no-mans-land between fiction and academia that I find intensely irritating. In this offering of fictionalised biolgraphy and autobiography Nell's thesis on Mrs Gaskell is plagued by vagueness and a lack of commitment as well as the long-distance relationship she struggles to
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ms. Stevens: I love you.
Edwin John Moorhouse Marr
Normally I no longer write Goodreads reviews. But this book is one I really feel I need to, because this is one of the strangest reading experiences I have ever had. If I had read this two months ago, or read it in two months time, I would hate it. It would easily be a 2 star review for me, because in many ways this book does so many things I can't stand. It makes stuff up, it plays around with history in a fairly self-indulgent way (Samantha Ellis springs to mind), it intersperses reality with ...more
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
I fell in love with Stevens' first book, Bleaker House, because she lived a life as I daydreamed about: dramatic escapes with the (possibly) deluded hope of being jolted into brilliant creativity. In this, Stevens settles for the more mundane: the painful pragmatism of everyday life, made all the more boring by a deep yearning. In her case, for an almost constantly out-of-reach lover; for Mrs. Gaskell, a life lived differently.

This is a fast read, breezy; Stevens fictionalizes Gaskell's life, a
Julie Mebane
Oct 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
If only I could make my own dissertation fun to read about...
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bloody loved it!
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
Many scholars would like to write memoirs or novels, and many novelists would like to be scholars. British writer Nell Stevens has mastered all these skills. In her new book, The Victorian and the Romantic, Stevens combines two stories: an account of her own romance with an American named Max, and a retelling of the flirtation between British novelist Elizabeth Gaskell and American critic Charles Eliot Norton in 1857. Rome is the center of Mrs. Gaskell's adventures, and Stevens renders the place ...more
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I LIKED bleaker house but I LOVE this book which has so much about heartbreak and love and the shades of affection. Like bleaker house this book weaves stories and styles but keeps a true character at the center— it reaches out on a limb like bleaker but catches itself.
Possibly in Michigan, London
I’m glad I read this when I was in the right mood! Nell Stevens is v good at filling the page with herself (a description of Mrs Gaskell by the narrator who is called...Nell Stevens). This is largely a good thing - I really enjoyed her account of the break up of her relationship (which sounds wrong but she tells it well) and her PhD woes.

Whether the story of her romance and Mrs Gaskell’s own thwarted romance with an American hang together, I’m not totally sure - but i think I just really admire
Aug 05, 2018 rated it liked it
I was interested in this book because I liked Stevens’s previous work Bleaker House and also the work of Elizabeth Gaskell. And, well, this combination memoir-imaginative biography (biographical novella) combining Stevens’s work for her PhD about 19th century artists, her love for Gaskell’s work and the unfulfilled love affair (?) between Gaskell and Charles Eliot Norton is a strange hodge-podge of styles. The choice to use 2nd person narration for the Gaskell bio parts took a while to get used ...more
Alyssa  McNaughton
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
*I received an ARC of this novel on Net Galley in exchange for my honest review*

Wow Wow Wow. I absolutely ADORED this half biography of Mrs. Gaskell’s life/ real life memoir of the author. It was refreshing, witty, emotional and relatable. I was surprised how much I fell in love with the struggles of Nell and how she wrote about them so honestly. It takes a lot for a writer to have this level of transparency and still communicate their feelings with such an eb and flow of beautiful words.
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thank you to Doubleday Books for the free review copy & Out of Print epigraph print!
I spotted this book floating around Instagram as part of the second Doubleday summer box giveaway and I couldn’t resist requesting a review copy of The Victorian and the Romantic. First, that cover: millennial pink, the trench coat? (YES, I choose way too many of my books based on the cover art alone but I can’t resist a killer aesthetic above all else!)
I was an English major so this book truly spoke to me. I
Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I wasn't expecting to get so much out of this 250-ish page memoir but it was, in an odd way, magical. I was transported into the world of Mrs. Gaskell, of whom I had never heard of previously. But then, her story was pleasantly juxtaposed with Nell Stevens own accounts and struggles. It was like JULIE AND JULIA but for English majors, not chefs.

Mrs. Gaskell's section was told in second person which I have honestly never read a book in the second person that wasn't a choose your own adventure.
Jan 23, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Very mixed feelings about this book.
I like the idea - two writers a century and a half apart but apparently finding common ground in their lives.
Nell Stevens describes her personal and academic life over a few years in chapters alternating with that of the life of Mrs Gaskell in her late 40s when she met Charles Eliot Norton.
The main problem for me was Steven's relationship with 'Max', a man who practically had 'keep away' stamped on his forehead - how could she not have heard those warning
Jun 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is sits in a space triangulated by memoir, biography and fiction which might make you think it’s going to be a disaster but it’s actually a very creative and fascinating account of two lives, lived a over century apart.

Stevens is an endearing writer and I really enjoy her perspective on life, and in this case, history.

Possibly not for everyone but definitely for the literature buffs. And anyone who’s ever had anything to do with the frustration of academia.
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having heard Jen Campbell talk about this book on her channel, I knew I needed to pick it up. Not only do I love Elizabeth Gaskell, but I also really enjoy reading memoir/essay collections and this one satisfied my craving for memoir and fiction. Sitting somewhere in the middle, Stevens beautifully tells the story of her years writing her PhD, whilst simultaneously exploring Gaskell's life and her time in Rome. She beautifully pins down the feeling of wanderlust - of chasing unreachable desires ...more
Lauren Straley
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I adored every word of this book. As a lover of Victorian art, literature, and culture, this book couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. The interwoven story line between the author and its heroine, Mrs. Gaskell kept the narrative steady and poised throughout. This is one story you shouldn’t miss!
I like the spirit of this book. It is an imaginative memoir. Nell is writing her PhD on Elizabeth Gaskell and the community of writers and artists that lived in Rome for a period. The chapters flip between Nell's life in the 2000s and an account of Mrs. Gaskell's life in the nineteenth century. I found the use of the second-person to tell Mrs. Gaskell's narrative a bit jarring. Nell's struggles and wallowing in the rare book library reminded me why I chose not to put myself through the mental ...more
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Nell Stevens has a degree in English and creative writing from the University of Warwick, and studied Arabic and comparative literature at Harvard. She received an MFA in Fiction from Boston University and is currently pursuing a PhD in Victorian literature at King’s College London.