#tbt: Sensation Novels as Beach Reads

July 28, 2016

#TBT Writing HistoryI read an earth shattering book recently that has me completely rethinking my approach to Victorian research for my current work in progress.  It was a novel written in very much the same way a Victorian novel would have been written.  It was unsettling and uncomfortable and when I read the author’s note at the end, detailing how he approached the text and what he did, the way he did it, I sat back stunned.  And then immediately went to Goodreads to add the rest of his books to my to be read shelf.

You probably know the author.  He wrote a book a little while ago that I guess is well known.  It’s called First Blood and the author is David Morrell.  But more recently he’s tackled the sensation novel, a curious development in literature during the Victorian era.  The sensation novel was another branch of Victorians’ fascination with death.  Authors like Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon embraced death and its unknown spiritualistic aura.  And readers ate it up.

But sensation novels are written in a fashion that modern day readers may find hard to follow, so if you’re going to pick one up for your summer beach read, I would recommend going with Collins’ The Woman in White.  While sensation novels tackle the bone-chilling subject of death and all its frightfully delicious accessories like ghosts, sensation novels use multiple narrators in multiple forms of address with even a third-person omniscient point of view.  This is like a narrator stepping into pass on information you may need to understand the story.  It’s like reading Crime and Punishment and having your history professor step in to say, “This guys kills an old lady and goes crazy.  And it snows.  A lot.”  The narration can completely break the chain of the story and catapult the reader out of the story.  Unless you are utterly gripped in fascination by such a break in the “rules” of writing.  I encourage you to check out David Morrell’s later works for a gripping, fantastic example of this.

Read On

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