(Because who doesn't read bad Victorian religious fiction on New Year's Eve? Wait--you're saying that you don't? How odd.)
P. 42: "...we shall delight to hear your narrative, in which we hope you will tell us every particular." No. Please no.
P. 44: Now, why is this novel, which seemed to be leading up to an attack on the Oxford Movement in the preface, actually set in 1788?
P. 48: "I find I have occupied your time longer than I at first intended, and I perceive also that I have but weakly expressed what was in my mind." The story of this novel's life. Luckily, the reader was distracted by the length of the letter: nearly five pages in print, which would make it how long in manuscript...? Our humble correspondent either wrote in really tiny print, or crossed, recrossed, and rerecrossed his letter.
P. 48: "I have many more interesting communications..." The innocent reader feels vaguely threatened by this announcement.
Pp. 53-54: After recently teaching Howards End, it's a little disconcerting to find characters resorting to quoting poetry whenever they have something profound (er, "profound") to say.
P. 56: The typesetter must have fallen asleep over this novel, given how many times he forgot to include the end quotation marks.
P. 64: Our poor hero was tormented at school, but all came right--the nasty bully died a few weeks later. Well, that was obliging.
P. 64: "The conversation interested Mrs. W. very deeply, and she sat silent as if meditating some purpose in her breast with respect to Charles, which the reader will find developed if he has patience to pursue this narrative." The reader, feeling somewhat glum, gently suggests that the author's habit of breaking the fourth wall leads him into some very dangerous territory.
P. 65: I'm going to send our protagonist off on a journey! No, I'm going to tell you something about the guy we met in the last chapter! Now I'm going to send our protagonist off on a journey, and without even a transition to speed him on his way!
P. 66: The author is snarking about Sir Walter Scott. I have read Scott, and you, sir, are no Sir Walter.
P. 66: ...wait. Now it's 1797? Did someone suggest that we should all do the time-warp again?
P. 80: No, it must be around 1799 or 1800. The reader grows confused.
P. 89: A "succinct narrative"? In this novel? Pull the other one.
P. 90: No! No! Not...the dreaded "fashionable boarding school"! Downfall of innocent maidens everywhere.
P. 91: Parents, do not take your children dancing. They may meet handsome young men, and you know what will happen next. Love! Elopements! Small children!
Hey, the narrative was actually succinct. The reader swoons briefly, then continues on.
P. 93: "The Mischievous Tendency of the High Calvinistic Doctrines Exhibited." Behold this truly sensational chapter title. The reader is positively panting with anticipation.
Or, you know, not.
P. 94: ...except that the narrative wasn't actually over yet. The reader regrets her wasted swoon. (Swoons need to be rationed carefully, especially in close proximity to a Victorian novel.)
P. 98: High Calvinism necessarily leads to a life of gambling and "vice," in case you were wondering.
P. 101: "Mr. Hadley however called Charles back as he was departing, saying, 'if you are down by halfpast six, I have a great treat for you to morrow morning. What this is shall be the subject of the next chapter.'" Either the snoozing typesetter struck again, or Mr. Hadley is actually our novelist in disguise! How exciting!
It should go without saying that the reader is seeking some excitement here.
P. 103: Good heavens, it's John Newton. He might have something unpleasant to say about showing up in this novel.
At any rate, Newton puts a cap on the novel's ever-expanding chronology: it cannot be after 1807. Unless, of course, this is a zombie Newton. Stranger things have been known.
P. 104: Surely the author cannot have intended to make Newton come across as quite such an egotist.
P. 108: The reader scoffs at the very notion that Charles might "succinctly" recount a story to anyone. Characters in this novel are genetically programmed for logorrhea.
P. 112: Warning! Warning! It's a "presentiment of calamity"! Character life expectancy sharply reduced! The reader bets that this character will die within the next two hundred pages.
It's a religious novel, for crying out loud. Somebody has to die, preferrably while looking angelic and quoting appropriate verses from the Bible. Especially if the character is a good friend of the hero. (When it comes to the body count, a spouse or child is even better, of course, but Charles hasn't acquired one of these yet.)
P. 123: The characters are now quoting Marmion. Marmion, as in the poem by Sir Walter Scott. As in the poem by Sir Walter Scott first published in 1808. Wait--does this mean that the John Newton we encountered just a few pages ago really was the undead? But what kind of undead? Zombie, as we previously speculated, or vampire? (Aren't vampires usually Catholic or Eastern Orthodox? The reader has yet to hear of Protestant vampires, let alone evangelical ones.)
We must now bear in mind that some of these characters may actually be shambling about seeking brains. This should make the novel more tolerable.
P. 128: The author seems positively addicted to the adjective "succinct." Is this some sort of sublimated guilt?
P. 130: Is this a misquotation from Otway I see before me?
Pp. 131-32: Infidelity briefly reared its head, but it has been subdued. Or drowned under another character's veritable flood of verbiage, rather.
P. 134: It occurs to the benighted reader that we have not yet made it to Oxford. Sadness begins to set in.
Must think of zombies.
P. 136: Charles has apparently gone to the theater. Oh, for shame. For shame!
But when did this happen? Did the author fear the effect of exposing his Pure Readers to the Dangerous Allure of the Stage?
On this thrilling cliffhanger, we shall conclude for the evening. Tune in next time for the further adventures of our hero...