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Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Publisher: HarperCollins Canada / Amulet
Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been inseparable. After all, nothing can bond four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage out on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict upbringing, actually transporting them into their created worlds: the glittering Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy Gondal. But at what price? As Branwell begins to slip into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as their characters—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go.
Gorgeously written and based on the Brontës’ juvenilia, Worlds of Ink & Shadow brings to life one of history’s most celebrated literary families.
Top 10 Nineteenth-Century Novels You Probably Haven’t Read Yet (but should)
by Lena Coakley
From research to final draft, Worlds of Ink and Shadow: A Novel of the Brontës took about four years to write. For one of those years—during the heaviest period of writing—I decided that in order to maintain a nineteenth-century voice, I would only read nineteenth-century novels.
I quickly caught up on the classics I knew I had missed (or put aside the ones I just can’t get through—I’m looking at you Middlemarch and Moby Dick), and was soon at a loss for something to read. However, it didn’t take me long uncover a wealth of novels I’d either vaguely heard of or didn’t know at all—and some of them have become new favorites.
These are the books that surprised and delighted me during my year of reading like a Victorian lady.
10) Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Admittedly the literary quality of this Victorian “sensation novel” falls short of the other books on this list. However, what it lacks in literary merit it makes up for in over-the-top plot twists and reveals. Accidental bigamy! Child abandonment! People getting pushed into wells! Not a deep novel but a definite page-turner with an engaging villainess.
9) Lorna Doone by Richard Doddridge Blackmore
This book could have been written by the young Brontës. It has so many of the melodramatic elements they loved to feature in their juvenilia—a blood feud, a heroine of mysterious parentage, a jewel with a secret history, and a craven band of outlaws. Even getting to the wedding is no guarantee that the hero and heroine will find their happy ending.
8) The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas (père)
Dumas is well known for The Man in the Iron Mask and, of course, The Three Musketeers, but this novel has all but been forgotten. Admittedly I had to do a little googling to understand the Dutch history, but the love story between the tulip-obsessed (yes, you read that right) Cornelius and the level-headed jailer’s daughter is lovely, and the mob scenes are truly chilling.
7) The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott
As a young girl, Emily Brontë adored the works of Walter Scott, so of course I had to read more of him.
Emily had a romantic view of Scotland; she saw it as a harsher, wilder version of her own Yorkshire moors. Sound familiar? Some say that Scott’s Scotland influenced the landscape of Wuthering Heights, and it was fascinating to find shades of Emily’s book in this dark tale of villainy and tragic love.
6) Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (novella)
Oh. My. God. Why has everyone heard of Dracula when this uber-creepy vampire story written 26 years earlier languishes in obscurity? I actually had a nightmare about this book over a year after reading it! Although Le Fanu equates vampirism with lesbian sexuality in a way that is not politically correct today, I still think horror readers would love this one, and I must give a shout out to The Classic Tales podcast for introducing it to me.
5) Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
Anne’s masterpiece is The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, so definitely read that one first, but—as a former nanny myself—I might prefer this novel about a shy governess who finds love as she tries to educate the absolute worst children ever.
4) Villette by Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte was the only surviving sibling by the time she published this, and her writing about grief and loss is heart rending. Many of author’s negative (to modern readers) attitudes come through here in a way they do not when reading Jane Eyre—her anti-Catholic feelings, her disdain of art she considered overly sensual or ornate—but readers who push through will find some transcendent passages and a fascinating protagonist in Lucy Snow.
3) Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
All right, you many well have read this one, but until the wonderful BBC mini-series, this was one of Dickens’s lesser-known novels. If you were turned off Dickens when you studied A Tale of Two Cities in High School—a book I’m convinced is only so universally assigned because it’s one of his shortest—try this darker, more complex tale about the British class system and the twisted society it creates.
2) The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Did you know that during the time he was addicted to laudanum, Wilkie Collins became convinced that he was constantly accompanied by a doppelganger he called “Ghost Wilkie?” (According to Wikipedia, anyway.) Perhaps that’s why the laudanum addiction in this book seems like so much more than just a plot twist. Considered the precursor to the modern mystery novel, I actually like this book better than the more famous The Woman in White.
1) Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
Mrs. Gaskell (the name she used on her novels) was a friend of Charlotte Brontë and actually wrote her first biography. Once fallen into obscurity, her books have recently become popular again with well-done TV adaptions like North and South and Cranford.
About the Author
Lena Coakley was born in Milford, Connecticut and grew up on Long Island. In High School, Creative Writing was the only course she ever failed (nothing was ever good enough to hand in!), but, undeterred, she went on to study writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in Toronto, Canada. Witchlanders is her debut novel.
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