How to Acquire Rare and Out-of-Print Books


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Last month I received a Christmas present from an avid reader of Christian Victorian Literature: a couple dozen rare and out-of-print Christian Victorian novels. Thanks to this generous contribution, I will not be wanting for material for my blog for quite some time, that’s for certain.

I’ve been intending for a while to make a post about how to acquire rare or out-of-print classic literature (if you aren’t fortunate enough to have people sending you them for free in the mail!). Several options present themselves for those readers seeking novels…

…that are a little more intellectually stimulating and theologically complex than many Christian novels of today;

…that actually speak from a time in history, rather than try to imagine or recreate it;

…that present grand, meaningful narratives that impart truth and wisdom, rather than disparate snapshots of the “messiness” that we call modern life;

…and that demonstrate a general competency in the English language that astonishingly exceeds contemporary fiction writing (ironically many of these were written by women who supposedly received an inferior education to women today).

If those criteria seem attractive, then literature from another century might be for you.

Many great Victorian novels, unfortunately, are no longer printed, and many that are do not draw enough popular interest for your local Indigo to stock them. So how does one acquire and read rare or out-of-print books? The good news is that all Victorian novels are in the public domain, which means their copyright no longer stands, making them cheap and, in some instances, free to access.

Online Bookstores

Of course Amazon is a great source for finding a wide selection of books. The Book Depository, based in Britain, carries many European books and offers free shipping.

The Advanced Book Exchange is the go-to source for rare and out-of-print books. Used bookstores around the world list their titles here, making it possible to find just about any book imaginable, including very old editions from the early 1900s (maybe even some from the Victorian era itself). Pay attention to the rating of the book’s physical condition; I no longer buy anything described as less than “good.” Select from the dropdown menu to sort by “lowest total price.”


If you don’t mind reading off of a computer screen, you can read most any Victorian novel for free at Project Gutenberg. If you have an e-reader, Amazon offers entire collections of authors’ works for only a few dollars. The Bronte collection is only 80 cents.


You can listen to Victorian novels read aloud for free at Librivox. Because the readers are volunteers, the quality varies, but some are equal to professional audio recordings.


A word about reprints. On Amazon and Abe you will come across brand-new printings of out-of-print books by publishers from India or other unusual countries. They will have some disclaimer saying that the book is a direct copy of the original, and so any publishing mistakes are from the original and such. Typically the books have a generic picture on the front that has nothing to with the story, such as a tree. I generally don’t recommend these because they are so aesthetically displeasing. The book is oversized, the margins are large, the font microscopic and uneasy on the eyes, and the formatting looks like amateur Microsoft Word. You may chance upon a better edition than I’ve described, but that has been my experience. The books I received from a reader pictured above are reprints published through Lulu, and look like they will offer a more pleasurable reading experience.

What rare books have you read and where did you acquire them? Have you ever read an out-of-print book, or is there one on your list?

Christian School Catechism Includes Excerpt From Jane Eyre


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Classical schools emphasize, among many other subjects, the study of classic art and literature, and the use of memorization to retain and internalize knowledge. Interestingly, a teacher of a Modern European Humanities class at Veritas School, a classical Christian school in Virginia, has included a powerful excerpt from Jane Eyre as part of his daily catechism for his students to recite and commit to memory.  Charlotte Brontë herself would have been educated in the classical method (as was Jane), so I think she would approve.

The excerpt from Jane Eyre, which answers question 8 of the the catechism, follows.

I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, themore I will respect myself.  I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man.  I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now.  Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be.  If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?  They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.

Read about how Jane Eyre is a Christian novel. 

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Introducing “The Shopkeeper’s Daughter” by George MacDonald


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“God’s love is not founded upon any merit – it rests only upon being and need.” -George MacDonald

Image result for the shopkeeper's daughter george macdonaldThe Shopkeeper’s Daughter is another abridged work by George MacDonald, edited and republished by Elizabeth Guignard Hamilton. Like in The Fisherman’s Lady, MacDonald presents the reader with the ideal Christian, only this time in the form of a lady, Mary Marston.

Most of the other characters in The Shopkeeper’s Daughter hardly know how to understand or categorize Mary, a Christian woman devoted wholly to the will and work of the Lord, who submits cheerfully to the tasks of her low station as shopkeeper and lady’s maid and yet disregards the importance and value of class.  Her willingness to accept work without pay and to lend aid to anyone she can is viewed with suspicion by those who do not care about or believe in God. Most – excepting Jasper Joseph, another individual seeking humbly to follow Christ’s footsteps, who recognizes Mary’s Christly virtue immediately – assume her to have selfish motives, because they themselves cannot conceive of any other kind of life.

True, Mary’s character is not the most developed and her saintliness is perhaps too perfect, apart from a weak struggle with temper she overcomes early in the novel. The Shopkeeper’s Daughter does not achieve the depth and interest of The Fisherman’s Lady, but it offers a light, interesting read nonetheless. It is mostly worth reading for the sake of, firstly, tracing the origins of C. S. Lewis’ thoughts, and, secondly, for encountering beautiful expressions of truth such as follow below.

“But what is love and loss and even defilement, what are pains and hopes and disappointments, what sorrow and death and all the ills that our flesh is heir to, but means to this very end, to this waking of the soul to seek the home of our being – the life eternal?”

“On the contrary, He is the only Man who is no exception. We are the exceptions. Don’t you see? He is the very One we must all come to be like, or perish!

“She knew there is no bond so strong, so close or so lasting as the truth. In God alone, who is the truth, can creatures meet.


Read a review of George MacDonald’s Phantastes, a totally different kind of novel. 

Other books about the ideal Victorian lady:


Agnes Grey – Anne Brontë

Fruits of the Spirit in Agnes Grey

The Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte M. Yonge

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Prejudice and Suffering in North and South

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth E. Prentiss

Introducing “The Fisherman’s Lady” by George MacDonald


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“If God be light, then death itself must be full of splendor – a splendor probably too keen for our eyes to receive.” – George MacDonald

I typically avoid abridged books (condensed, edited or simplified versions of classic literature) because too much of what makes a classic enjoyable in the first place is removed – eloquent writing, beautiful imagery, profound metaphors. Plot alone does not make a classic; as every good writer knows, all the elements of literature – plot, character, setting, theme, figurative language – work together to produce a harmonizing work of art. Reading an abridged classic is akin to plunking out the melody of the Hallelujah chorus on the piano with one finger. The effect is just not the same.

Unfortunately, some classics contain archaic language, the unfamiliarity of which renders them more or less inaccessible to today’s reader. (As a side note, even university students rely on footnotes to understand Shakespeare.) Thus the reason why many Victorian novels have fallen into obscurity. I have even abandoned reading a couple myself for this blog. If a talented writer could carefully and respectfully edit an obscure classic, to make it comprehensible for today’s reader, while still maintaining the original style, charm, and richness, that would be ideal.

Michael Phillips has done this with The Fisherman’s Lady by George MacDonald, originally titled Malcolm and published in 1875. In the original text, the characters speak Scots, making much of the dialogue incomprehensible to modern-day readers (see an example here). Phillips desired to stay as true to MacDonald’s original work as possible, aiming to retain for the 20th century reader (The Fisherman’s Lady was published in 1982) the style, tone, themes and language which first drew him to MacDonald and inspired him to resurrect his works so that others could enjoy them too. The result is a suspenseful gothic tale set in the rustic countryside of Scotland, peopled with a range of noble and evil characters. Some scenes are quite humourous and memorable, and throughout the book you can see foreshadowing of C. S. Lewis’ thoughts in the dialogue and themes (C. S. Lewis said that he never wrote a book in which he did not quote George MacDonald).

Malcolm is the ideal Christian man in The Fisherman’s Lady, the Victorian exemplar of the noble gentleman, a man who strives to be the picture of Christ – always serving others, putting himself last, acting humbly, seeking to please God above all else, no matter the cost to his life or his reputation – in a word, chivalrous (a term that has unfortunately become soured). The Victorian theme of station and class pervades the novel, but it is juxtaposed with Biblical teachings such as wealth being an obstacle for salvation, the equality of the rich and poor in God’s eyes, and God’s prioritizing of the heart rather than the appearance. Pleasing God is Malcolm’s preeminent ambition, and so when he seeks advice from Miss Horn upon being wrongly accused of a wicked act and she says “Who wouldn’t rather be accused of all the sins of the Commandments than to be guilty of one of them?”, Malcolm immediately accedes the truth of this statement and bothers himself little more about the scandalous gossip.

Malcolm also takes the teaching about being obedient and submissive to one’s master very seriously, seeking to honour the Marquis, his employer, even though the Marquis himself does not always act honourably and honestly. Malcolm answers first and foremost to God.  And he shares the truth about Christ and his coming kingdom with others from a variety of places on their spiritual journeys, resulting in rich, interesting theological ideas and questions being parried about between the characters in their conversations. Malcolm is also quite witty and playful in his speech, and that delight combined with the mystery of his birth and the intrigue of the horrific “wizard’s chamber” make this tale a thoroughly enjoyable, unputdownable read, brimming with potential for a great Christian movie, if anyone’s listening.


Read a review of George MacDonald’s Phantastes, a totally different kind of novel. 

Other books about the ideal Victorian gentleman:

Lorna Doone – R. D. Blackmore

The Heir of Redclyffe – Charlotte M. Yonge




Introducing “Sonnets From the Portuguese” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.” – Sonnet XXVI

Image result for sonnets from the portugueseIt should come as no suprise that poets, who tend to feel passionately and think intensely, should fall passionately and intensely in love. “First time he kissed me, he but only kissed / The fingers of this hand wherewith I write,” swooned Elizabeth Barrett Browning in her love poems to her husband, Robert Browning, in Sonnets From the Portuguese (1850), and went on to describe how that kiss affected her hand so that her hand almost takes on a life of its own, as does the imprint of the kiss itself. Barrett’s gaze of love imbues inanimate objects with life, as if love enables one to see the very atoms and molecules of the universe dancing.

The adoration E. B. Browning declares for her husband in Sonnets is so passionate that it might come across to modern Christian readers (who are typically unfamiliar with not only classic poetry in general but sonnets in particular – the classic love poem which sets the beloved as an object of worship and admiration) as idol worship, but I would humbly suggest such a reaction might indicate how little we adore God himself, as our veneration for him ought to be even greater (and our love for our spouses greater as well).  But E. B. Browning writes in Sonnets that “God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame,” revealing how the greatest gift of her life, her husband, who is a more wonderful gift than she could ever have dreamed of, proves God’s superior goodness and worthiness.  “Atheists are…dull, who cannot guess God’s presence out of sight,” she scoffs in Sonnet XX; gifts must come from a giver, and a good gift comes from an even greater giver. Image result for the barretts of wimpole street

Browning’s life story was dramatic. Robert Browning became enraptured with her poetry, and arranged to meet the poet on her sickbed, whereupon he fell deeply in love with her. However, to elude Elizabeth’s tyrannical father, who refused to consent to any of his children marrying, Elizabeth and Robert married secretly and fled to Italy, where she recovered her health and they lived happily. The Browning’s romance was dramatized in a 1930’s film titled The Barretts of Wimpole Street, which was nominated for two Oscars.

The title for E. B. Brownings Sonnets From the Portuguese arises from Robert Browning affectionately calling her “my little Portuguese,” because of her dark hair and complexion. One of the most famous poems from the collection, “Sonnet XLIII: How Do I Love Thee?”, follows.


How Do I Love Thee? 

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Read more about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s novel Aurora Leigh on CVL:

Introducing “Aurora Leigh” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Faith vs. Works in “Aurora Leigh” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Introducing “The Heir of Redclyffe” by Charlotte M. Yonge


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“His eyes filled with tears,
[and] the most subduing and healing of all thoughts – that of the great Example – became present to him; the foe was driven back.” – The Heir of Redclyffe

Although you may have never heard of it before, The Heir of Redclyffe (1853) was one of the most popular novels of the Victorian Era. It was Charlotte M. Yonge’s first novel and proved immediately successful. The Heir of Redclyffe, though perhaps a little difficult to get into in the beginning because of its somewhat obscure conversational banter, rewards perseverance with its plot surprises, original characters, and, as with a multitude of Victorian novels, profoundly intelligent narration of human experiences.

The EdmonstoneImage result for the heir of redclyffes, a devout Christian family, take under their wing a young, recently orphaned distant relative, Sir Guy Morville. Reared only by a reclusive grandfather with an unscrupulous past, Guy looks to the loving guidance of the Edmonstones, and Mrs. Edmonstone in particular, as they seek to gently direct his spiritual maturation by teaching him self-discipline, particularly of his passionate temper. Romances ensue, drawing lines of loyalty between certain family members, and when suspicious evidence concerning Guy appears and accusations arise against him, the family becomes divided about his innocence and trustworthiness.

The Heir of Redclyffe is a study in sanctification, which is the striving after Christ-likeness this side of heaven. Of course, there are two sides to Christ-likeness: aiming to follow Christ’s example (good deeds), and recognizing where we fail to do so (repentance), and we see both of these elements of Christian sanctification in the novel. The true Christian must reach a state of repentance for his or her sins. With such a theme completely dominating novel, it is not hard to see why the book has fallen out of print and has never been adapted to film, unlike many popular Victorian dramas. Additionally, in the introduction to the Wordsworth Classics edition, the editor herself states that The Heir, with its affirmation of the patriarchal family and the submissive role of women, is definitely not a feminist work. The Heir of Redclyffe probably holds little value for today’s secular reader.

Charlotte M. Yonge was an Anglican, and viewed herself as ‘a sort of instrument for popularising church views.’  She never married, wrote over a hundred works and edited a women’s church magazine for forty years.



Shorter Christian Victorian Novels


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
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 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 

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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 

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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

Prejudice and Suffering in “North and South”


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Contrasts and Reconciliation

“I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you don’t understand me.”  –North and South

North and South begins as a novel of contrasts, as its title portends. The North is the new, progressive industrial sector of society, while the South is the old, aristocratic, land-based gentry. The North is urban, bustling, grimy and noisy with the grinding of machinery, while the South is rural, slow-paced, cultured, pristine and quiet. John Thornton, a successful factory owner in the busy manufacturing town of Milton, represents the North, and Margaret Hale, a parson’s daughter from the naturally beautiful village of Helston, symbolizes the cultured, intellectual South. Other characters fall on either side of this North and South divide, and some straddle the middle. Each side has its pathetic and shallow characters (Fanny from the North and Esther from the South) and its noble ones (Higgins from the North and Mr. Bell from the South), Thornton and Margaret being the most admirable of all, as the hero and heroine. The divisions arise from many factors (economic, social, technological) which would take a proper history lesson to explain, but suffice it to say that England’s societal fabric at this time was changing and Gaskell was seeking to dramatize and perhaps reconcile the above hostile segments of society in her novel.

The hope of the classes reconciling, in North and South, depends on the hero and heroine’s ability to resolve their differences and fall in love, and to fall in love Thornton and Margaret need to overcome their prejudice and learn to understand each other – likewise with the clashing classes, North and South and master and hand. If only they really understood each other, if only they took the time to get to know each other, the rift could turn into a bridgeable gap.

Thornton and Margaret’s acquaintance begins by completely misunderstanding each other, only able to view each other through preconceived notions of the other “class” of people. When Thornton begins to see and understand the sympathy for the working class behind Margaret’s proud scorn of the masters, and Margaret learns the sense and intelligence behind why Thornton makes the decisions he does, and how they have led him to his current success and capacity to employ – and thus feed and clothe – the many workers that he does, only then do they see each other for who they really are. Thornton and Higgins reconcile in a similar way; Thornton visits Higgins’ home and sees the orphans he cares for, and gives Higgins the opportunity to speak to him face to face. Elsewhere, upon meeting Thornton and actually hearing what he has to say, many from the South (such as Henry lennox) change their minds about him. The final picture of Thornton and Margaret’s reconciliation is when she offers to collaborate with him financially in order to save his mill. At this point Thornton realizes Margaret has come to understand him and returns his affections.

However, Gaskell is a masterful, intelligent writer and a closer reflection on the novel reveals that Thornton and Margaret’s characters are not fully or neatly explained by “North” and “South.” For, we get the sense that Margaret is somewhat atypical of the South, and Thornton likewise of the North, in that they are exceptionally noble people, who represent the best of their worlds. Additionally, by the end of the novel, neither Helstone (the South) nor Milton (the North) themselves seem the same. The former has gained some vices and the latter has lost some. The novel North and South reflects the complicated reality of life, where issues are never simple; there is both good and bad in the mill workers and the mill owners, and there is suffering in both the North and the South. The contrast between the North and the South, then, blurs and erodes as the protagonist lives new experiences and grows and matures in her thinking.

Faith and Suffering

“I wish I could tell you how lonely I am. How cold and harsh it is here. Everywhere there is conflict and unkindness. I think God has forsaken this place. I believe I have seen hell and it’s white, it’s snow-white.” -North and South

The narrative of North and South contains many scenes of disappointment or grief. Very little positive or uplifting happens to Margaret, except her friendship with the Higgins and the sense of community it provides. Even the dreamlike entrance of Frederick is cut very short. He never returns, never overturns his death sentence, and four close family members or friends of Margaret die.

Sometimes it can be tempting to think that “back then” people dealt with tragedy and grief better because death occurred more often, but Gaskell’s characters still experience significant despair and depression upon the loss of a love one. Gaskell’s novel shows, contrary to the timeworn sentiment that faith is a kind of “crutch” to cope with hard times, that Christians can feel the farthest from God in the midst of suffering. Even so-called “applicable” scriptural comforts can seem trite at this time of mental numbness. Consider Mr. Hale a few days after his wife’s death. A former parson whose strong religious convictions compelled him to give up his career and home, he finds little solace in his faith upon the death of his wife, with what faith he yet clings to, as he admits God’s will in this matter appears entirely obscure to him. His daughter mechanically repeats Bible verses to comfort him, and in the familiar repetition he finds only a modicum of comfort. Mr. Hale knows God exists, but in this time of loss he staggers under the weight of his emotions and grief, and, like any child undergoing discipline, has difficulty feeling the love of his heavenly Father. For Mr. Hale, God’s will has become as hazy, obscure and impenetrable as the masters’, from the viewpoint of the hands. Again, this is not a moment of atheism for Hale. Rather, he is experiencing the natural and “right” effects of death. We would not long for that place where there are no more tears or suffering if such experiences were not awful. These periods of weakness prove the Hales’ faith to be all the more authentic and believable, firstly, because they are relatable, and secondly, because they are natural and true.

As humans we can’t help being subject to our emotions, to a degree, to feel despair in our suffering (not to be confused with despairing of salvation itself). Jesus himself felt the real agonies of suffering, forsakenness, loneliness and depression on (and preceding) the cross, crying out to his Father and questioning his will. To suffer is to feel forsaken, because we cannot see the face of God at that moment; not that he is not working (and working at his best – again I think of the cross) but perhaps his work at this time is so profound and holy so that we cannot look upon it with earthly comprehension. As for Margaret, although she walks through the valley of the shadow of death, the deep imprint of God’s law on her heart keeps her faith anchored.  Her greatest mental anguish arises from not only regretting lying to the police inspector about having been on the train platform the night Leonards dies, but from discovering that Thornton knows about her lying, which fills her with shame. Even though God’s will may at times be obscure, his laws (the part of his will that he has revealed to us) prove his goodness, Margaret knows full well, and it is right for people to obey them. For Thornton to think that she had abandoned her faith is more than Margaret can bear, and it is at this point that she realizes her love for him.


Introducing “North and South” by Elizabeth Gaskell


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North and South begins as a novel of clear, seemingly deep contrasts that eventually begin to dim and complexify as the protagonist grows in knowledge and understanding of the world and realizes her own prejudices. These juxtapositions of alien classes of people (North and South, factory owner and employee), with all their antithetical philosophies, customs, manners, fashions, landscapes, architecture, types of labour, leisure activities and more, are crocheted by the narrator in exquisitely fine detail for the reader to ponder, as exquisite as the lace fabric some of the characters wear. The Victorian novelist is inarguably the master of detail, and Gaskell is one of the best. I believe North and South to be her most excellent novel, and her discriminating, profound and often poignant descriptions of people, places, thoughts and emotions make this a book for the soul (the beautiful romance helps, too).

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I appreciate the photo of the protagonist,
Margaret Hale, from the most recent film adaptation of the book (on the right). The actress’s fully absorbed, introspective look betokens the intellectual nature of the novel; there is just so much to think about, in North and South, for both the protagonist herself, whose world is dramatically upended by change and sorrow, and the reader, who shadows her through Gaskell’s lifelike, transporting description. Unfortunately, the film all but erases the Christian faith that is Margaret’s guiding light and sure foundation, and which anchors her soul amidst upheaval and grief.

Elizabeth Gaskell was the wife of a Unitarian minister, and often wrote about the problems of industrialization, especially for the poor. Her desire in North and South, as well as in Mary Barton, was to see the factory owners and workers come together in the spirit of Christ in order to overcome their differences.

Further reading about Elizabeth Gaskell on Christian Victorian Literature :

Introducing Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

The Body of Christ in Mary Barton

Introducing Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell

The Great Victorian Sin in Ruth

The Fall of Women in Victorian Novels

Introducing Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Thank Queen Victoria for the Christmas Tree



File:Godey'streeDec1850.GIFThe origin of the Christmas tree is a complicated and sometimes uncomfortable history for Christians as we all recognize, to some degree, that it is pagan. Whatever your opinion on the appropriation and conversion of pagan customs by Christians, fans of the Victorian Era and its beloved monarch will be pleased to learn that historians credit Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for starting the domestic Christmas tree tradition in the West by setting up an elaborate one in Windsor Castle for their children. This was apparently the first Christmas tree in England. (Prince Albert brought over this custom from his native Germany.)

Read more here.