The Victorian Soul Wants the Victorian Epic

I apologize for the serious delay in posts over the last little while. I would make up a few excuses about my hectic schedule and busy lifestyle if the reason for my absence wasn’t so perfect and valid – I have been reading a literary text that I just can’t think of very much to say or write about. I don’t want that statement to reflect poorly on the text that I’m reading, but I will reveal to you what novel it is that I’m talking about…but is it a novel really?!?! I’m not even sure, and that’s part of the problem!

I’m reading Watchmen and it’s the first graphic novel I’ve ever even opened the cover of, to be honest. I have a copy of the graphic novel because it was recommended and loaned to me by someone I was initially just trying to impress, but who I also respect immensely and who actually knows quite a lot about my taste and assured me that I would like it. And I do…sort of. It’s not that I don’t find the story fascinating or engaging – it’s dynamic and fast-paced and the world is vast and detailed and so well thought-out and portrayed. The characters are pretty cool; I’ve always loved the X-Men and Batman and Spiderman, so I do enjoy a good superhero narrative every now and then. I was totally sucked in during the chapter depicting Dr. Manhattan’s life and history (I was actually back to my normal reading speed during that section of the text), and I’ve always been a fan of stories that incorporate several narrative styles and points-of-view. I think the work very effectively bounces from one strand of the plot to another and from one genre to another. It’s a powerful, groundbreaking literary work and I won’t deny that!

It’s also absolutely gorgeous! Some of the drawings are just breathtaking, and I’m wondering if anyone has manufactured Watchmen wallpaper yet because I think a lot of the scenes would look pretty fantastic on the wall of my room – like when Dr. Manhattan disintegrates…there’s nothing like a full body explosion to brighten up someone’s living space! Basically, I like the illustrations a lot…but I also hate them with a passion. They confuse me, I’m not used to them and I have absolutely no idea what to even do with them as I’m reading! Do I look at them first? Do I read the text first? Do I scrutinize every detail or do I skim them? The colours are so vivid and vibrant that I can’t not look at the pictures, but then I become distracted from the actual dialogue or narration that’s happening and I sometimes have to start all over again. It’s frustrating and strange, but probably not altogether bad. Yes, I have my Master’s in English, but nobody likes a literary snob so I would never suggest that a novel with pictures isn’t a novel…it’s just not the sort of novel I’m used to.

I’m a Victorianist (my diploma doesn’t actually say that, but I’m giving myself the title anyway) and so I’m more comfortable with books that have barely any white space on their pages, let alone elaborate, coloured illustrations. I’m used to words, words, words on every blank surface – even the copies of Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop that I own that feature illustrations don’t include them in the page count. I’m used to using my imagination to determine what a particular setting looks like – when I was a child and I entered the wardrobe with Lucy for example, I had to figure out what Narnia looked like for myself. In the case of Watchmen, I feel like there isn’t much room for interpretation; you can’t debate how a character looks or how elaborate their costume is because everything is given to you, in fluorescent yellows and blues, in deep reds and purples. It’s gorgeous, like I said, but it’s also unlike any reading experience I’ve ever had.

The graphic novel isn’t telling me what exact shade of blue Dr. Manhattan’s skin is. It isn’t telling me what Rorschach’s “face” looks like. It’s showing me instead. And, I’ve learned in creative writing classes enough times that showing is always better than telling, and even great novels full of words and words and words will do that. I guess I just wonder where the room is for my imagination. I wonder how to throw myself into a text that doesn’t leave any space for me on its pages.

I will persevere though, because there’s too much that’s revolutionary for me in this experience not to. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with two reviews from the archives of some Victorian novels I am particularly fond of, not least because they’re heavy and dense and entirely black and white on every page!


Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

 The Story of an African Farm

by Olive Schreiner

This was a surprisingly moving and interesting read! I was almost immediately intrigued by the unique storyline and the very distinct setting, and all of the characters are so well described and articulated. Many of the scenes are disturbing, strange and unsettling (I am thinking of the chapter when Gregory acts as Lyndall’s nurse), but these moments add to the intricacies and complexities of a plot that is unlike any that I have encountered in my extensive reading of Victorian literature. Lyndall is an absolutely fascinating character, and many of her longer quotations and ideas about gender equality and social hierarchies are poignant and thought-provoking, but I was also very intrigued by several of the minor characters, most particularly Em and the description of her relationship with Gregory. There is something deeply emotional about the interactions between the characters and about the struggles they each encounter in their lives (especially Waldo whose childhood is very difficult and whose moments of religious contemplation are very well-articulated and profound) and I thought the ending of the novel, specifically the last image of Em and Waldo, was extremely affective and a beautiful conclusion to an unexpectedly touching text.

 Our Mutual Friend

by Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend may actually be my favourite novel. Speaking as an aspiring writer and after finishing the novel for a second time, I can truthfully say that I have never read a more brilliantly, carefully and impressively articulated literary text. Dickens is a remarkable author (this fact is generally accepted), but it is amazing that he was able to create such a vast, intricate, complex story at the end of his career. There is not a single sentence that is out of place in this massive work. Every single description of London, the Thames River and the surrounding areas is conveyed expertly. Every single dialogue is articulated to perfection, and every single character (from shallow Veneering to troubled and doubled John Harmon/Rokesmith) has a voice of his/her own and speaks distinctly and vividly. The story is absolutely immense and it would take a lifetime to analyse every detail, but I am convinced that an astute reader, that the proper reader, could enter the pages of Our Mutual Friend endlessly and still appreciate and enjoy every word and lengthy description. I feel as though I have made so many friends within this novel’s pages (although I’d rather be a Lizzie Hexam than a Bella Wilfer, I even respect Bella for her innocence and eventual honesty) and I look forward to getting to know them better when I (probably sooner rather than later and inevitably) read the novel again.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your review of Gargoyle. I absolutely loved the book.
    The storyline was so intricate…I found it difficult to put the book down!
    Brenda Ajram

    1. JanilleNG says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you connected to the novel in the same way I did! I found it fascinating and hard to put down also!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I so much enjoyed your comments about Watchmen

    1. Tammy Brophy says:

      Sorry that was me posting that anonymous comment!

      1. JanilleNG says:

        Thank you so much! I’m glad I was able to say something insightful about it!

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