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« House the Sequel and Water: A Series of Questionable Cause-and-Effect Relationships | Main | This Week's (Slightly Belated) Acquisitions »

February 19, 2011



My candidate for worst 19th century novel would be Isabel Leicester, by Maude Alma. Available as a free ebook near you.

Though one of my online friends swears by Alonzo and Melissa, also a free ebook. It was published as a serial in a Poughkeepsie NY newspaper, starting in 1804.

The first paragraph of Isabel Leicester:

In a spacious apartment superbly furnished, and surrounded by every luxury that could please the most fastidious taste, sat Isabel Leicester, attired in deep mourning, with her head resting upon her hand, her face almost as white as the handkerchief she held. Isabel's Father had failed in business, and the misfortune had so preyed upon his mind, that he sank under it and died. The funeral had taken place that day, and she was to leave the house on the day following--the house where she was born and had always lived, except when at school. The servants had all been discharged but two, who were to leave next day. A friend had offered Isabel a home until she could procure a situation as a governess, which that friend Mrs. Arnold was endeavouring to obtain for her, in the family of a lady who had been one of Mrs. Arnold's school-fellows. Mrs. Arnold was the widow of a clergyman, with a very limited income, and Isabel was unwilling to trespass upon the kindness of one whose means she knew to be so small. But she had no alternative at the time and trusted that it would not be long before she would be able to procure the situation she had in view, or some other. The tea remained untasted on the table, for Isabel was absorbed by the melancholy thoughts that filled her heart. She tried to feel resigned, but her pride was wounded at the idea of becoming a 'governess.' She had been the spoiled petted daughter of a wealthy merchant of the city of New York, whose chief delight had been to indulge her in every way. But still Mr. Leicester had been a truly good and christian man, and had taught his daughter not to set her affections on earthly things, and to remember that wealth was given to us for the benefit of others, as well as for our own enjoyment. And he was rewarded as she grew up to find that her chief aim was to do good to the many poor families whose necessities came to her knowledge. Great also was his satisfaction to find that after two seasons in New York, where she had been the Belle, she was still the same loving, unassuming, pure-minded girl she had ever been, tho' the admiration and attention her beauty and accomplishments had excited, had she been less carefully trained, might have rendered her haughty and vain.

The first two paragraphs of Alonzo and Melissa:

Whether the story of Alonzo and Melissa will generally please, the writer knows not; if, however, he is not mistaken, it is not unfriendly to religion and to virtue.--One thing was aimed to be shown, that a firm reliance on Providence, however the affections might be at war with its dispensations, is the only source of consolation in the gloomy hours of affliction; and that generally such dependence, though crossed by difficulties and perplexities, will be crowned with victory at last.

It is also believed that the story contains no indecorous stimulants; nor is it filled with unmeaning and inexplicated incidents sounding upon the sense, but imperceptible to the understanding. When anxieties have been excited by involved and doubtful events, they are afterwards elucidated by the consequences.

Kathleen Ward

No, no! You are both not exacting enough in your standards for terribleness. The worst novel written in the nineteenth century has to be Rosaline de Vere, the product of one Henry Augustus Dillon-Lee, Viscout Dillon. With a name like that, one cannot even assume the need for money as a motivation for writing.

It was HAD-L's idea to popularize the thought and philosophy of Kant by writing a tragic epistolary novel. In order to do this, the titular heroine essentially reinvents Kant's Critique of Pure Reason in the form of very very very long letters to her acquaintances. She then dies, although foul play on the part of those acquaintances is, for some reason, not suspected. There is some plot, involving, I believe, an Italian plot a la Sir Charles Grandison, although you can see how it might get overlooked.

It too is a free e book now. I won't post the first couple of paragraphs because so short a sample really cannot do justice to the mind- and hand-numbing effect of reading the book.

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