The Lesser-known Victorians

A look back on our inaugural summer book club! This summer, we read 6 books over the course of 12 weeks, all written during the Victorian era. Check out the livestream discussions and keep an eye out for updates on book club 2023.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
by Anne Brontë (1848)

Book One

Saturday, June 18 at 11am

Though overshadowed (and perhaps intentionally thwarted) by the success of her two sisters, Anne Brontë was a literary force in her own right — and her final novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is considered the most scandalous of any of the Brontë sisters’ works. Framed as a series of letters and diary entries, the 1848 novel chronicles narrator Gilbert Markham’s budding friendship with Helen Graham, a mysterious young widow who challenges the stringent society that constrains her. Largely considered one of the first feminist novels.

The Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole in Many Lands
by Mary Seacole (1857)

Book Two

Saturday, July 2 at 11am

A pioneering nurse, a literary trailblazer, and even a consequential figure in the Crimean War, Mary Seacole lived an astonishing life. Perhaps even more astonishing is her 1857 autobiography — considered to be one of the earliest such accounts published by an Afro-Caribbean woman. From her childhood in the West Indies to the frontlines of wartime medicine, this fascinating account brings an oft-overlooked figure to brilliant light.

Carmilla
by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1872)

Book Three

Saturday, July 16 at 11am

When hapless Lady Laura meets Carmilla, an enticing — if strangely off-putting — young woman, the two become intimate confidantes. But little does Laura realize, Carmilla has bloodthirsty secrets…Predating Dracula by over two decades, this eerie novella by Irish writer J. Sheridan Le Fanu is one of the earliest works of vampiric fiction, a masterful gothic tale with a startling female villain.

Cranford
by Elizabeth Gaskell (1853)

Book Four

Saturday, July 30 at 11am

Eshewing the Victorian tradition of lengthy and purposeful plot, Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell is a novel in sketches, propelled by character as opposed to a structured narrative. In a fictionalized hamlet remarkably similar to that of Gaskell’s true hometown, the arrival of retired Captain Brown disrupts the patterns of everyday life, and an interwoven tale of social class begins to unfold.

Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog)
by Jerome K. Jerome (1888

Book Five

Saturday, August 13 at 11am

George, Harris, Jerome, and of course, their dog Montmorency, set off on a boating holiday up the River Thames. What begins as a serious travelogue devolves into a raucous adventure, rife with cultural commentary and humor that feels shockingly modern. Upon release, this comedic book was dismissed as vulgar and immature — only to be rediscovered and cherished by later generations more open to, shall we say, a raunchier sense of humor.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde (1891)

Book Six

Saturday, August 27 at 11am

While sitting for a portrait, young Dorian Gray muses on the ultimate importance of beauty—and wishes that his portrait would bear the trials of aging instead of himself. As Dorian falls into a lifestyle defined by hedonistic impulses and the disregard of others, he discovers his wish has come true… and it has cursed him beyond repair. Published in 1891, this groundbreaking novel made Wilde the subject of much controversy, even causing one publisher to remove every single copy from shelves.

Meet the Moderator!

Evelyn Maguire (she/her) is a Digital Marketing Manager for Cape May MAC (Museums+Arts+Culture). She is currently pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, focused in Prose. She loves literature almost as much as she loves Cape May, and is the Managing Editor of the literary magazine Overheard. Her own writing has been published by North American Review, Cypress Press, Cosmonauts Avenues, and others. She is working on her first novel.