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Tudor Book Recomendations > Good Article in Wall Street Journal about Historical British Novels

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message 1: by Joy (new)

Joy Abney | 6 comments I thought the group might enjoy this:

Historical British Novels
by Cynthia Crossen

I have a niece who's read ALL of the historical novels about the English; she loves Philippa Gregory. Is there an obscure novel she might not have come across that I could get her for her birthday?

—J.M., Cold Spring, N.Y.
Until last week, I had never read anything by Philippa Gregory. I was put off by the covers of her books—her best known is "The Other Boleyn Girl"—which suggest the subgenre of historical fiction that Hilary Mantel, author of "Wolf Hall," calls "chick-lit with wimples."

My library had Ms. Gregory's 2008 "The Other Queen," so that's what I read. It wasn't bad. Bosoms didn't heave, manhoods didn't throb, and the real historical characters seem to have done more or less what history says they did.

In my favorite historical novels of Great Britain, I can really feel the cold, smell the smoke and taste the mutton. Among them:

"Jack Maggs" by Peter Carey. Inspired by Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations," this is the story of an ex-convict who returns to London from an Australian penal colony in the 19th century.

"The Crimson Petal and the White" by Michel Faber. It's been described as bawdy—the heroine is a prostitute—but this novel of 19th-century England is about class, medicine, manners and hypocrisy.

"The Observations" by Jane Harris. The saucy heroine of this novel (set in Scotland) is tart in every way; though she's nothing but a servant girl, she outsmarts many of her so-called betters.

"The Quincunx" by Charles Palliser. This 800-page doorstop is one of the few modern historical novels that deserves to be called "Dickensian." It teems with plot, characters and the bare bones of 19th-century London.

"Rose" by Martin Cruz Smith. A mystery, a love story and a terrifying depiction of the lives of coal miners in 19th-century England.

"Restoration" by Rose Tremain. A doctor in the 17th-century court of Charles II survives the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London and, barely, his marriage to one of the king's mistresses.

"Fingersmith" by Sarah Waters. Crime and love in Victorian London as two women plot to escape their destinies—one as a petty thief, the other as a captive of her aristocratic uncle.

My promise: None of these falls into the category of historical fiction George Steiner once described as "improbable gallants pursuing terrified yet rather lightly clad young ladies across flamboyant dust-wrappers."

Write to Cynthia Crossen at cynthia.crossen@wsj.com

message 2: by Joy (new)

Joy Abney | 6 comments Thanks, Beth. I will check it out. Welcome to the group and welcome to Goodreads!

message 3: by Melisende (new)

Melisende | 19 comments Thanks for the post Joy!

message 4: by Beth (new)

Beth | 13 comments Of the list above I have read "Fingersmith" and I absolutely loved it!! I would recommend it to anyone interested in that time period. This novel has two major twists. I was totally blindsided by the first one; however, after that, I was constantly trying to guess the second one and I did.

message 5: by Colleen, Mod #3 (new)

Colleen (nightoleander) | 1106 comments Great post Joy, thank you!

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