Posted by: Sarah | March 20, 2006

Rules for Writing Neo-Victorian Novels

We’re not through with the Writing Rules yet, I’m delighted to report. The Little Professor has been inspired to compose for your edification a set of Rules for Writing Neo-Victorian novels. This type of novel still seems to be thriving, what with former hits The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, the Sarah Waters trio of Fingersmith, Tipping the Velvet and Affinity and Susan Barrett’s Fixing Shadows still selling, along with more recent ones such as Kept by D J Taylor.

The Next Big Novel in this department, according to a 19 March 2006 article in The Observer by Liz Hoggard, is The Observations by Jane Harris, out in April. The normally rather sedate and literary house of Faber & Faber seems to be pulling out all the publicity stops on this one. Observe, if you will, the now (in)famous headless or semi-headless style of cover art, currently associated with historical romance which The Observations is not, as far as I can tell. You can read an extract here.

And in September comes another Victorian pastiche, The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox. As a former reviews editor for the Historical Novels Review who can’t seem to get herself removed from various publishers’ mailing lists, I recently received a copy of the first chapter of this novel and can pronounce it atmospheric and darkly menacing. The author is a many-faceted chap who has had an interesting life so far (more interesting than mine, at any rate, though I’m glad not to have suffered the eye disease he’s had). There’s much more about him here.

The Little Professor, by the way, may or may not be little, but she certainly is a real Professor (of English at the State University of New York, College at Brockport), whose vocational interests include “anything Victorian, the history of the novel, [and] historical fiction.” So she knows whereof she speaks (and has a sense of humour, to boot).

She notes that she shares her home with over 5000 books. Frankly, I would find that frightening. I have enough trouble dealing with the 300-odd unread tomes lying around my house that plaintively cry out “Me next!”, “Me next!” every time I go near them, making my reading choices distressingly difficult.


  1. The American edition of The Observations (which Viking has been emailing me about – it appears here in June) eschews the headless gowned woman look for a more gothic impression. I think it’s pretty eye-catching, although the angle makes the ruins (I think that’s what they’re supposed to be) look disproportionately small.

  2. Hi Sarah!

    I’m always intrigued by the differences between US and UK book cover art. Usually I find the American ones more appealing for reasons I could probably explain if I thought about it for a while. Hmm.

  3. Hi Sarah

    That’s funny because I usually find the UK versions more appealing! This one’s a toss-up for me though. I was a fan for a while, but I wonder if I’ve finally seen my fill of the headless-style covers? American publishers are going crazy with them too, so it’s not just that one.

  4. Of these two, I’d be more likely to pick up the US cover, though usually I prefer the UK covers (the Manda Scott Boudica series, for example). Which one matches the book’s content more closely – anyone know?

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