Uncanny Lit: Why We Love Wilkie Collins’s “The Woman in White”

It is too hot to take autumn seriously, and yet we have turned early to Uncanny Lit:  Victorian sensation novels,  Gothic novels, and ghost stories by Sheridan Le Fanu rule the supernatural season. I am happily reading Wilkie Collins, master of suspense and sensation. I opted for The  Woman in White (1859), which was dubbed the first sensation novel, and outsold even Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the American best-seller of the 19th century.

Here is the link to the post.


A Delightful Read for Book Lovers: Allan Massie’s “Life & Letters: The Spectator Columns”

Allan Massie is a critically acclaimed historical novelist and a former book columnist at The Spectator.  His book columns have been collected in  Life & Letters: The Spectator Columns,  which happens to be one of my favorite books of the year.  If you enjoy Anne Fadiman’s essays on books, you will love this delightful collection. 

For avid readers only!

HERE IS THE LINK to the post at my new blog, Thornfield Hall Redux:


And if you would like to subscribe to my new blog by email, Thornfield Hall Redux, write to me at mirabiledictu.org@gmail.com

Can a Review Be Too Vicious?

Here is an excerpt from my new post at Thornfield Hall Redux.

 Long ago, in a different universe, before the internet bankrupted book review journals, I was a book reviewer.  I  loved receiving free books in the mail and seeing my reviews in print.  I was an avid reviewer of literary fiction, or the occasional biography, and though not all my critiques were glowing, they were not hatchet jobs… 

There is something horrifying about a truly well-wrought vicious review.  Human beings glory in schadenfreude.  I am a tougher bird than I used to be, and try to take the higher, if not the high, road.  Nonetheless, I was spellbound by Michael Hoffman’s brutal review in the TLS of Colm Toibin’s The Magician, a new historical novel about Thomas Mann.      

Here is the link to this post:


A Bracingly Intelligent Bildungsroman: Dorothy Whipple’s “Because of the Lockwoods”

Here is an excerpt from my latest post at Thornfield Hall Redux, and of course the link.

My eyes fell serendipitously on a copy of Dorothy Whipple’s 1949 novel, Because of the Lockwoods. If you are not familiar with the wonderful Dorothy Whipple, that means you have not yet crossed the Whipple line (more about that later).  Whipple is one of the  best-selling authors at the small English women’s reprint press, Persephone Books.

 I adored Because of the Lockwoods, a smart, pitch-perfect, absorbing bildungsroman, which reminds me slightly of W. Somerset  Maugham’s Of Human Bondage.  Funny, isn’t it, how the great middlebrow writers fall out of fashion?  Both Whipple and Maugham are masters of plot, characterization, and readability, and yet they are underrated.  Maugham’s books, or at least some of them, have remained in print, but Whipple fell into oblivion until Persephone revived her.


The Sympathetic Reader: A Bubbly Golden Age Mystery and the Theatrics of Star Ratings

I discover a bubbly Golden Age mystery, The Widening Stain (1942), by W. Bolingbroke Johnson, and hold forth on star ratings and the campy Goodreads experience.

Here is the link:


My Epic Summer Reading: Gene Wolfe’s “The Book of the New Sun”

The cover art does not match these superb literary SF novels.

This summer I set out to reread Gene Wolfe’s critically-acclaimed science fantasy quartet, The Book of the New Sun (1,125-pages).  It was a rewarding experience, though near the end it became a bit of a struggle. In June and July I was mesmerized by The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator, and The Sword of the Lictor, but only recently finished the fourth, The Citadel of the Autarch:  I got bogged down in a never-ending tale-telling contest – never my favorite literary device.
Critics often compare The Book of the New Sun to James Joyce’s Ulysses.  Wolfe, like Joyce, was a polymath and had a colossal vocabulary, but the literary comparison seems superficial. Wolfe’s psychedelic prose owes more to New Wave SF writers like Samuel R. Delany (I thought of Dhalgren). And in terms of the fantasy genre,  I see the influence of George MacDonald’s surreal Phantastes and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

You can read the rest at Thornfield Hall Redux:


New Post at Thornfield Hall Redux: “Book Jackets on or off? Kingsley Amis’s Librarian and Other Snobs”

Book jackets on or off? In one of the many party scenes in Kingsley Amis’s second novel, That Certain Feeling (1955),  John, a snobbish working-class librarian, satirically inspects the decor of his hostess’s living room. He sees, “right under my nose, the latest Graham Greene and Angela Thirkell lying, still in their jackets, on a copy of Vogue.”  Keeping the book jackets on is apparently Edie’s way of showing off. What I want to know is, Which Angela Thirkell is it?

Here is the link:


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