Friday, January 15, 2016

Dickens' Fur Coat and Charlotte's Unanswered Letters: The Rows and Romances of England's Great Victorian Novelists by Daniel Pool {Book Review}

Social historian Daniel Pool first caught my attention last year when I read his earlier book, What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England. It is a great reading companion and resource for all the major 19th century stuff that intrigues. In Dickens' Fur Coat and Charlotte's Unanswered Letters, Pool gives an excellent cultural history focusing on major (and some minor) authors during the Victorian period in England. More than just a book of trivia, this is an in-depth look at how some of our favorite classic authors came into and functioned within England's literary world. I'll admit---there was a lot of new information for me in this one---which is what made it such a great read!

Some of the best takeaways were actually things I could have gone without knowing. For instance, I have a developing loathing for Charles Dickens after learning a bit about his personal life---a disappointment, for sure, since I was so positive we would have been groupies should I have been writing a couple centuries ago. Once I get round to reading his biography later this year, I'm sure I'll completely despise him. I also couldn't help feeling bad for poor Arthur Bell Nichols, the husband of Charlotte Bronte. From finding out his wife agreed to marriage as a last resort, to having his personal life plastered across the pages of a best seller, to being lied to and cheated by money-hungry thieves, the poor guy just couldn't catch a break.

The Bront√ęs meet Thackeray at the offices of Smith and Elder: 
one of 8 wooden door panels at 3, Cornhill, London.

Other things learned were really interesting and fun---like the coincidences regarding the publishing of Jane Eyre and Vanity Fair. Not only do the titles rhyme (I know!!!), but their stories are similar and, once you learn the personal stories of their authors, you'll see why there was quite the scandal surrounding rumors of an affair between Thackeray and Charlotte Bronte. (Anyone remember to whom she dedicated the second edition? Hmm...)

A few things annoyed me about the writing style. For one, the book runs chronologically so it's a little confusing as he's constantly jumping back and forth between people he's discussing. It's a little difficult to follow in some places---and a lot difficult in others. In addition, he makes weird choices like using George Eliot's real name, Marian Evans, (which really isn't her actual real name---I know!!!) instead of the pen name that everyone knows her by. If he's discussing her as an author, it seems more appropriate to use her author. name. for clarity. But, you know...

Still, it was definitely enjoyable and I've managed to add several new books and authors to my Victorian reading list. It's horrible, but I think I would have been one of those "sensation novel" readers---and authors too, probably.

Dickens' Fur Coat and Charlotte's Unanswered Letters fulfills the following Reading Challenges:
Victorian Reading Challenge at Belle's Library
Victorian Reading Challenge at Becky's Book Reviews for Nonfiction Book about V. Era
Full House Reading Challenge for "Thought Provoking Book"
Mount TBR Reading Challenge -- #9

You can see all the Reading Challenges I've joined here.


  1. Hmm I can see how interesting this book would be! Now I am wanting to know what Charles Dickens had in his life that you did not like!!