Forgotten Classics - some gems which deserve a little more recognition...
"A blue tinted gloom obscured the sinuous contours of a marble staircase and a gallery of frescoes peopled with angels and fabulous creatures. We followed our host through a palatial corridor and arrived at a sprawling round hall where a spiralling basilica of shadows was pierced by shafts of light from a high glass dome above us. A labyrinth of passageways and crammed bookshelves rose from base to pinnacle like a beehive, woven with tunnels, steps, platforms and bridges that presaged an immense library of seemingly impossible geometry. I looked at my father, stunned. He smiled at me and winked." "Welcome to the Cemetry of Forgotten Books, Daniel...This is a place of mystery...a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. the soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, everytime someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens...In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader's hands."
The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
While researching for this blog,
I've been asking people for books they think are neglected or forgotten
classics, and of course having a good look on Google as well. I've now
got a list of so called forgotten classics about as long as my arm! So
my mission is to start reading my way through, and write my reviews
and reactions up here for your reading pleasure. If you have any suggestions feel free to drop me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org - Charlotte
Coming soon... The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro, Pig and Pepper by David Footman, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, The Celestial Omnibus by E. M. Forster, plus Elizabeth Bowen, Flannery O'Connor and Edith Wharton.
name Violet Needham today and you’re most likely to be met with blank looks,
yet when she published her first book in 1939, at the surprising age of 63, it
was an instant hit. Having left it so late in life to begin her writing career,
she went on to publish eighteen more novels, as well as numerous short stories
and some non-fiction essays. Her most popular novels are the eight Ruritanian
novels, usually referred to as the ‘Stormy Petrel’ series. Like that other hero of children's fantasy, J. K. Rowling, Needham found it difficult to get published at first. Her first manucript, The Black Riders, was based upon a series of bedtime stories she told to her nephews. This was rejected by all the publishers she sent it to in 1918, with the response that it was "too difficult for children". Needham was probably quite disheartened by this as the writing seems to have been shelved for some time, until in 1936 one of her nephews showed the manuscript to William Collins. Again, Collins had reservations about the story, but was convinced after seeing how much his own children enjoyed reading it. From this point onwards there was no stopping her, and she published another eight books in the 'Stormy Petrel' series. She also published four contemporary novels and five historical novels.
The Black Riders is an adventure tale of spying and revolution with an eleven year old hero, Dick Fauconbois, at the centre of events. It is probably this which made children take to the book so well, he is the ordinary hero who must rise to the challenge and can be easily identified with. There are plenty of exciting chases and ethical dilemmas, as Dick must help the Confederates (a group of revolutionaries) and avoid capture by the fearsome Jasper the Terrible, leader of the famous Black Riders. Dick becomes know as the 'Stormy Petrel' and the following books in the series chart his adventures in Needham's fictional land.
We have several books by Violet Needham available, including a first edition of the final book in the 'Stormy Petrel' series. For the full selection you can search our whole inventory of rare used books on this website.
You can find a bibliography of Violet Needham's works and more information about her life from the Violet Needham Society.
Jennie by Paul Gallico - one of the best children's books of all time?
At the risk of this turning into a page soley about children's authors, I can't blog about neglected classics without mentioning this, one of my all time favourite children's books. Paul Gallico is more well known for The Snow Goose but Jennie is one of the most heart-warming and brilliantly written children's books around. It focuses on a small boy, who longs for a pet cat of his own and follows a stray cat into the road. He is run over, and in his dreams he finds that he is a white tomcat, completely alone and abandoned. He is befriended by the wonderful Jennie, who teaches him all about survival in the city streets. It manages not only to be a story about cats, but a story about life, love and trust. It is an eternally memorable book, funny in some places and yet utterly heartbreaking in others. This is a children's book that is definitely not just for children, and not just for cat-lovers either. Gallico has a unique perspective on life and relationships.
The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
A book that many have heard of, but it still belongs in the category of neglected classics because it tends to get overlooked as a novel in its own right. We know about the heroines in Austen's Gothic pastiche Northanger Abbey reading it enthusiatically, and have heard it referred to as one of the first novels of the (much maligned) Gothic tradition, but what about the book itself?
Ann Radcliffe was born on the 9th of July 1764, the daughter of a haberdasher. She married a journalist in 1788, but the marriage was childless and her husband encouraged her to write fiction to entertain herself. Her novels tend to follow a familiar pattern, that of a young, innocent heroine who finds herself in a gloomy and mysterious castle, owned by a sinister man. The Mysteries of Udolpho is no different, following the young orphan Emily St. Aubert who is trapped in the castle Udolpho by the dark Signor Montoni. She has a romance with a dashing young man, which is foiled by Montoni. As she is imprisioned in the castle she investigates its many mysteries. Eventually she escapes and is reunited with her love.
It seems that most of the attention payed to this novel is as a foundation of the Gothic tradition, rather than a gripping mystery and romance in its own right. Udolpho captured the imaginations of many and reached a large audience, which is an achievement in an age where 'novels' were frowned upon and seen as scandalous influences for young women. Considering the period, Radcliffe's works are quite empowering for women, featuring brave heroines who often use their own resources to free themselves from difficult situations or to investigate strange happenings. Emily is described as resourceful, brave and self-reliant, as well as being incredibly virtuous. For a woman in the eighteenth century to publish four novels in her own name, and to be considered as one of the first notable writers in a genre is quite remarkable. Radcliffe's work was instrumental in establishing a better reputation for the 'novel' in the literary world, from something shallow and light (often serialised in papers) to something that could compete with the 'weightier' works by male authors.
Anne Bronte - The Overlooked Bronte sister
Anne Bronte poses a difficult question. Is she overlooked because of her two talented sisters, or because she is perhaps not as good a novelist? After reading both Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I would argue the former.
Anne was the youngest of the Bronte siblings, born in 1820. Like her sisters she wrote under a pename: Acton Bell. Agnes Grey was published in 1847 and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in 1848. She died shortly after this in 1849, aged just 29 years old.
Anne preferred a more realistic style to the romanticism of her sisters, basing her first novel on her own experiences as a Governess. Agnes Grey, the daughter of a minister, is in dire financial straits and takes one of the only respectable jobs available for women; that of a Governess. Bronte's work highlights the precarious position of women at the time, and is a fascinating commentary on the importance of status in Victorian society. The Irish novelist George Moore described Agnes Grey as "the most perfect prose narrative in English letters".
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a slightly darker work, focusing on dashed dreams and frustrated hopes. Helen Graham marries Arthur Huntingdon who is handsome and witty, but also rather spoilt and fun-loving. Helen is blinded by love, and resolves to reform him. However, he is resistant to her efforts and instead becomes worse. He spends months away from home, drinking and indulging in London with his pack of equally debauched friends. Partly told from the point of view of Gilbert Markham, partly from Helen's own diary, the book tells of Helen's resistance to his efforts to crush her spirit, her escape with her beloved son, and her eventual union with Markham. In Huntingdon Bronte creates a monster, more believable than her sister's Mr Rochester, and with more depth as he struggles to his tortured end.
Anne Bronte shows an equal talent to her sisters; her novels are gripping and realistic, but inevitably overshadowed by the more dramatic romanticism of Charlotte's Jane Eyre and Emily's Wuthering Heights.
Zora Neale Hurston was an American author, folklorist and anthropologist during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. She was born in 1891 in Alabama. She was a popular, although contraversial, author in her day whose work slid into relative obscurity after the 1950s. More recently interest in her work has been revived, with scholar Molefi Kete Asante putting her on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
She wrote four novels, as well as some autobiographical works and several pieces of non-fiction. Her most famous novel is Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937. In the 1920s she was very active on the Harlem Renaissance scene, contributing to 'The New Negro', a landmark anthology focusing on African and African American art and literature, and 'Fire!!', a literary magazine. In 1925 she was offered a scholarship to Barnard College where she was the only black student. In 1937 she was offered a prestigious scholarship to conduct ethnographic research in Jamaica and Haiti. This is the period in which she published her first three novels, including her masterwork Their Eyes Were Watching God. Her other novels were Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934), Seraph of the Suwanee (1948) and Moses, The Man of the Mountain (1939). We have a 1941 copy of The Man of the Mountain for sale here.
The main criticism levied at Hurston's work was about her use of dialect. Some African American critics and readers were insulted by her phonetic depicition of speech, for example Richard Wright called Their Eyes Were Watching God a "minstrel-show turn that makes the white folks laugh". However she has been praised in more recent times for her skillful use of idiomatic speech. Hurston was thinking like a folklorist, and strove to represent the speech patterns which she had heard during her research.
Their Eyes Were Watching God follows three generations of African American women, from Nanny, a slave who is made pregnant by her owner, through her daughter Leafy to her grandaughter Janie. Janie is the storyteller, who marries three times before eventually finding happiness and independence. Despite its early criticism from her Harlem Renaissance contemporaries, Hurston's work is today recognised as one of the seminal works of African American and Women's literature, and she is championed by writers such as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. Hurston died alone in a Welfare Home in 1960 and is buried in an unmarked grave.
Oriental Tales - English writers' influenced by The Arabian Nights Entertainments
This is a collection of four stories written in the eighteenth century, influenced by the Arabian Nights stories which were very popular at the time. By John Hawkesworth, Frances Sheridan, Clara Reeve and Maria Edgeworth. This collection contains Almoran and Hamet, a fable of political power; The History of Nourjahad,
a sensuous love story of mythic resonance; The History of Charoba, a
version of an original Arabic tale; and Murad the Unlucky, a corrective
story warning the reader against the temptation to romanticize the
The popularity of these tales shows just how much the Middle-East and the Arabian Nights Entertainments had captured the imagination of the British public at the time. Unfortunately they were out of print for years. They are now available in Oxford World Classics paperback. If this is your cup of tea we also have many copies of the Arabian Nights for sale, so you can lose yourself in the spectacular original.
Please feel free to search our website for the whole selection.
My favourite quote about classics...
"Classic" - a book which people praise and don't read
- Mark Twain
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
James Hogg's Confessions was not well recieved when published, and was largely forgotten for the following century. However it is now enjoying a kind of resurgence, and rightly so. It is an utterly unclassifiable novel of angels, demons and demonic posession.
Hogg was born on a small farm in Scotland in 1770. The son of a tenant farmer, Hogg worked hard to further himself and was uncontented with the life of a shepherd. Luckily his employer, James Laidlaw, noticed his efforts and helped Hogg by providing books. Hogg used these to teach himself to read and write by the age of 14. He was a huge admirer of Robert Burns, and also worked with Sir Walter Scott. He found fame contributing for Blackwood's magazine in Edinburgh, but this came at a cost as he was mocked for his rural background and accent. He was most famous at the time for his epic story-poem, The Queen's Wake (1813), while Confessions (1824) unjustly slipped under the radar.
Reading passages of this text, it is difficult to understand why is not more widely read and appreciated. It is definitely before its time in terms of structure and themes, which perhaps explains its unpopularity when published. The basic plot follows a young man, Robert Wringhim, who encounters a shape-shifting devil, a sort of doppelganger. Robert tells the reader of his experiences, and one of the most intersting things about this is the use of an unreliable narrator, an idea which is generally considered to be postmodernist. Hogg's masterwork explores religious fanaticism and the nature of sin, as Robert's devil uses the promise of salvation to lure him into comitting murder (hence - justified sinner). This is a genuine neglected classic; a Gothic, psychological treat.
Most people today equate Dr Johnson with his 1755 Dictionary of the English Language, but in his time he had a glittering literary career and made lasting contributions to English Literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, biographer and critic.
Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia was published in 1759, and allegedly written in a week to help pay for his mother's funeral. It is a work that many critics find difficult to categorise, being in places more of a philosophical work than a novel. It focuses on Rasselas, The Prince of Abyssinia and his sister Nekayah who are kept in a place called the Happy Valley. As you would guess from the name, this is a land where there are no problems, where all needs are satisfied. However, without having experienced anything negative with which to compare it, living here does not bring happiness to the Prince. With the help of an honoured tutor and philospher, Imlac, they escape and have their first taste of the outside world and its suffering. With their minds thus opened, brother and sister decide not to return to the Happy Valley. Part allegory, part philosophy, the text has been described as a 'philisophical romance'. Essentially a moral tale, Johnson's work shows that there is no easy path to happiness. However, unlike the flatness of other moralistic adventures such as Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Johnson manages to make his story dramatic and exciting as well as moral.
I turn to a better writer than myself to sum up the appeal of Rasselas; Howard Jacobson, who nominated the work as his favourite neglected classic for the Guardian, says that "Blinded by the modern prejudice against whatever sounds like sermonising
- though sermonising is one of the glories of English prose - we miss
the great story Rasselas has to tell, of 'the hunger of the imagination'
and the toll it takes on our sanity."
We currently have two copies available here and here.