I’ve never seen someone get so excited over books before. You’d think they were diamonds.”
-Will Herondale, Clockwork Angel
Admittedly, we are complete and utter book nerds at Novel Novice. And while we focus on Young Adult books, we also enjoy other genres. My area of expertise is 19th-century British literature, so I completely geeked out when I read Clockwork Angel and discovered Tessa and I have this in common!
Author Cassandra Clare told us she immersed herself in the literature and poetry her character, Tessa, would have read.
There are a few things you should know about Victorian literature:
- The novel reigns supreme, including serial novels (those published in installments)
- Class and gender come to the forefront
- Children’s literature takes off as more children get the opportunity to learn to read
- Gothic tales continue to be popular — think Bram Stoker’s Dracula
- The first detective novels are written
- Sensation novels enthrall readers with shocking tales
Here’s what Cassie had to say:
When I started Clockwork Angel, I knew I wanted to write a readerly heroine, because Clary was such a painterly, visual person, not a word person at all — Tessa’s much more at home in books, and she thinks of people in terms of heroes and heroines from books she’s read. In fact she sometimes thinks of herself in those terms. Tessa on her own appearance: “Nate, with his fair good looks, was the one in the family generally agreed to have inherited her mother’s famous beauty, but Tessa had been perfectly content with her own smooth brown hair and steady gray eyes. Jane Eyre had had brown hair, and plenty of other heroines besides.”
Now, I also knew that in wanting Tessa to be a reader she was going to have to read the way I did when I was her age — pretty avariciously, and without an enormous amount of quality control. Sure, she’s an Austen fan. Jane Austen remained wildly popular through the Victorian period. Sure, she loves Dickens, whose work is beloved to this day. But there were plenty of other Victorian writers just as popular whose work has been forgotten, in the main because it was pretty bad. Tessa loves dreadful adventure novels and what was called “domestic fiction” — fiction mostly written by and for women, about women’s struggles and heartaches.”
Cassie was kind enough to highlight some of the books mentioned in Clockwork Angel:
The Wide, Wide World: This is a very American novel, and in fact, when Tessa mentions it to Will, he hasn’t heard of it. It’s been called America’s first bestseller, and was written by a woman, Susan Warner. It’s the incredibly sentimental story of a girl named Ellen, who has to leave home and her mother, to whom she is insanely devoted, to go live with her cruel aunt. Hardship upon hardship besets poor Ellen: her mother dies, her aunt won’t let her go to school, although none of it is very adventurous, and to be honest, the novel is kind of a boring read for modern readers. Nothing much happens except that Ellen grows spiritually (and becomes ever more annoying) and she has sort of a love interest in a guy named John, but he seems chiefly interested in her spiritual growth as well. However, this was hot stuff for American 19th century readers and the book sold hugely. (In Little Women, Jo is reading a copy of it.)
The Lamplighter: This one’s a lot like The Wide, Wide World and to be quite honest I never managed to get through it (though Tessa doesn’t indicate it’s a big favorite of hers, either.) Another bestseller, this one is about Gertrude, who is rescued from a cruel upbringing by a kindly lamplighter who teaches her spiritual values. Nothing else much happens: Gertrude grows spiritually and suffers a great deal. Pathos and sentimentality were the backbone of a lot of these books in a way modern readers just wouldn’t tolerate. In the end, if the heroine stayed strong, she was rewarded with marriage and money.
Lady Audley’s Secret: Ah, the good stuff. By Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Now, this book is not in fact about Lady Audley’s spiritual growth, but about whether she is or is not guilty of marrying her rich husband for his money — after murdering her first husband and, I if I recall, setting his lawyer on fire. Mrs Audley is a lot more fun than Gertrude or Ellen even if the novel is not, one might say, strictly on her side. She’s punished in the end, as all Victorians villains are, but it was probably as popular as it was because of all the homicide, insanity and bigamy, rather than despite. Tessa loves this book (and Will has clearly read it, even if he says he likes Trail of the Serpent better. Trail is also by Braddon and is a pretty unreadable mystery-adventure involving mute detectives and people wrongly accused of murder and a town called Slopperton, which I hope doesn’t actually exist, but may.)
The Moonstone: This is probably the most famous of this bunch. The Moonstone has never been out of print and is often called the first detective novel in English. It is told from multiple viewpoints and centers around the Moonstone, a huge diamond — with, of course, a terrible curse attached to it — which is stolen from a girl named Rachel Verinder, and the efforts of Scotland Yard and amateur detective Franklin Blake to get it back. The fun of the novel is in the differing viewpoints and the strength of each character’s voice — many of them are not likeable, especially the horrible Ms. Clack, but their humanity shines through. Tessa also likes The Woman in White, by the same Author, Wilkie Collins, and mentions Armadale, which is about six or so different people all named Armadale, and which I couldn’t get through at all, so she has more stamina than I did.
A Tale of Two Cities: I won’t say much about this because, like a lot of books that are mentioned in Clockwork Angel — Alice in Wonderland, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, The Three Musketeers — I assume that everyone’s already familiar with it. I will only say that it’s hard to overestimate how popular Dickens was in his time — he was mobbed like a rock star when he went anywhere; huge crowds of New Yorkers ran to greet a boat arriving from England demanding to know whether or not Dickens had killed off Little Nell, a character in The Old Curiosity Shop. According to victorianweb.org, “Daniel O’Connell, the great Irish member of Parliament, read the account of Nell’s death while he was riding on a train, burst into tears, cried “He should not have killed her,” and threw the novel out of the window in despair.” (It is always nice to remember these things when one gets letters from readers telling you they threw your book at the wall.) A Tale of Two Cities is a particular favorite of mine, and I’ll be doing a guest blog on it, discussing how Clockwork Angel is loosely based on it, a bit later on.”
And finally, Cassie has a recommendation:
I will leave you with one recommendation for a Victorian novel no one’s ever heard of and which I didn’t manage to squeeze into CA: Hidden Hand. It features an incredibly feisty cross-dressing heroine named Capitola who rides around the country dueling with her sworn enemy, the evil, Black Donald and his gang. The whole thing is hilarious and you can I think get it for free at Project Gutenberg.” [You can, here.]
Other books (real ones) mentioned or alluded to in Clockwork Angel:
- Great Expectations, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
- Dante’s Inferno (aka, Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri)
- Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
For the comments: Have you read any of these classics?