Classics for Your Collection:
Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, George Moore, Walter Besant and Henry James are the contributors in this collection of short Victorian stories.
"The Manchester Marriage" (Elizabeth Gaskell) - Probably the most romantic of the tales, and the most sentimental as well as the most predictable.
"A Mere Interlude" (Thomas Hardy) - Thomas Hardy always seems to have a knack for creating stunningly flawed characters, and the female lead, Baptista, is no exception. Her flaw is that she has no self-esteem, confidence, or ambition, but seems content to a vapid existence where all decisions are made by others, including an abusive ex-boyfriend.
The success of her marriage seems to be in that she eventually finally figures out a way to be at least moderately in charge of her own life, via being forced to take charge of her husband's children.
"A Faithful Heart" (George Moore) - Here's where the feeling of "Successful Marriage" being a euphemism for "Women enduring bullying men" really comes to the fore. Speaking from the stance of a modern woman without children, you will find the treatment endured by the Major's wife appalling, and could never imagine putting up with, let alone being thankful for, such contemptible conduct - but it is better than being cast off and censured as a fallen woman in Victorian England.
"The Solid Gold Reef Company" (Walter Besant) - Probably the most interesting aspect of this story is the way that it is told: almost purely through dialogue, with nearly no explanation of characters or who is speaking. It is left to the audience to deduce the characters and their motivations, thus making it a story in which truly, the characters really speak for themselves - there is no narrator to speak for them. You will find some of the dialogue interesting, for 1895, with modish slang and terms of address that seemed quite ahead of their time.
"The Tree of Knowledge" (Henry James) - James' mastery of character is evident in this short story about a proud man, Peter Brench, who is in love with his best friend's wife but has never revealed it. While not a lot of physical movement happens in this story from scene to scene, we see the depth of his insecurity as the story progresses. Peter discovers that, despite all his knowledge, his overconfidence has caused him to be wrong about one tiny fact, which completely changes the meaning of his life. It's beautiful, sad, and powerful.
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