Although the Victorian era is famous (or notorious, depending on how heavy you like your books) for its thousand-page tomes such as Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son, William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair or George Eliot’s Middlemarch, 19th century literature does include some lighter fare, still worth the sampling.
1. Agnes Grey (1847) by Anne Bronte
In Agnes’ lonely and friendless life appears a conscientious and principled young rector, stirring the governess’s heart to flame with hope for a future of Godly companionship. (102 pages) Read more here and here.
2. Cricket: A Tale of Humble Life (1886) by Silas K. Hocking
Cricket tells a simple but heart-warming tale of two impoverished youths living in Liverpool whose trials draw them into a friendship with one another. Billy, who has been homeless from a young age and never entered a church in his life, learns first of Jesus Christ from Caroline (Cricket), and her life becomes a living testimony of the truth of the gospel in a way that the mystifying Sunday sermons in the local chapel cannot. (248 pages) Read more here.
3. Lady Susan (1871) by Jane Austen
Lady Susan, a flirtatious scheming widow (with a grown daughter, no less) gets “thrills” out of seducing the attentions of even married men for her own amusement. One might consider Lady Susan to be George Wickham’s female double. This time, though, we get to hear the story from the reprobate’s point of view. (94 pages) Read more here.
4. Cranford (1853) by Elizabeth Gaskell
While typical Victorian novels uphold romantic, marital love as the penultimate relationship, Cranford appreciates sisterly and neighbourly love. Christians, too, often idolize the love between husband and wife as the sublime picture of Christ and his bride (the church), forgetting the other picture of humble submission and kindness – love between brothers and sisters within the body of Christ. (192 pages) Read more here.
Thank you for this–very valuable, in an age when most of us don’t seem to have as much spare time as our great-great-grandparents!
Here are some word counts of classic Victorian short novels (all by authors whose writings contain explicit affirmations of faith in Christ):
Lady Susan (Austen): 23,268
A Christmas Carol (Dickens): 28,448
Mr Harrison’s Confessions (Gaskell): 29,548
The Rose and the Ring (Thackeray): 29,683
The Cricket on the Hearth (Dickens): 31,398
The Maiden and Married Life of Mary Powell (Manning): 36,449 (its little sequel, Deborah’s Diary, adds a further 18,467)
Cousin Phillis (Gaskell): 40,331
The Princess and the Goblin (MacDonald): 50,616 (its sequel, The Princess and Curdie, adds a further 55,730)
The Old Chelsea Bun-House (Manning): 55,000 (approximately)
The Doctor’s Family (Oliphant): 55,251
The Carbonels (Yonge): 56,383
Countess Kate (Yonge): 63,914
Phantastes (MacDonald): 68,929
Agnes Grey (Anne Brontë): 69,381
Two Penniless Princesses (Yonge): 70,244
The Warden (Trollope): 71,593
Cranford (Gaskell): 72,398
Doctor Wortle’s School (Trollope): 76,187
My Lady Ludlow (Gaskell): 77,612
Sister Louise (Whyte-Melville): 80,000 (approximately)
The Curate in Charge (Oliphant): 82,875
In fact, you can read really characteristic samples of the best work of just about all the major Victorian novelists without ever going over 80,000 words.
At the other extreme, Trollope’s longest novel (The Way We Live Now) has 348,866 words; Dickens’s longest (David Copperfield) has 357,489; Thackeray’s longest (The Newcomes) has 372,418; Miss Yonge’s longest (The Pillars of the House) has 468,921. (For comparison, the Project Gutenberg text of Richardson’s Clarissa weighs in at 968,282.)
I personally have enjoyed and found value in all the above (except Pillars of the House, which I’ve never read).
Word counts are from http://victorian.lang.nagoya-u.ac.jp/concordance/, where available; otherwise from Project Gutenberg texts (carefully removing all the Project’s own matter); approximate estimates are taken from OCR texts.