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History meets memoir in two irresistible true-life romances--one set in 19th century Rome, one in present-day Paris and London--linked by a bond between women writers a hundred years apart In 1857, English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell completed her most famous work: the biography of her dear friend Charlotte Bronte. As publication loomed, Mrs. Gaskell was keen to escape the r History meets memoir in two irresistible true-life romances--one set in 19th century Rome, one in present-day Paris and London--linked by a bond between women writers a hundred years apart In 1857, English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell completed her most famous work: the biography of her dear friend Charlotte Bronte. As publication loomed, Mrs. Gaskell was keen to escape the reviews. So, leaving her dull minister husband and dreary provincial city behind, she set off with her daughters to Rome. There she met a dazzling group of artists and writers, among them the American critic Charles Eliot Norton. Seventeen years her junior, Norton was her one true love. They could not be together--it would be an unthinkable breach of convention--but by his side and amidst that splendid circle, Mrs. Gaskell knew she had reached the "tip-top point of [her] life." In 2013, Nell Stevens is embarking on her PhD--about the community of artists and writers living in Rome in the mid-19th century--and falling head over heels for a soulful American screenwriter in another city. As her long-distance romance founders and her passion for academia never quite materializes, she is drawn to Mrs. Gaskell. Could this indomitable Victorian author rescue Nell's pursuit of love, family and a writing career? Lively, witty, and impossible to put down, The Victorian and the Romantic is a moving chronicle of two women each charting a way of life beyond the rules of her time.


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History meets memoir in two irresistible true-life romances--one set in 19th century Rome, one in present-day Paris and London--linked by a bond between women writers a hundred years apart In 1857, English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell completed her most famous work: the biography of her dear friend Charlotte Bronte. As publication loomed, Mrs. Gaskell was keen to escape the r History meets memoir in two irresistible true-life romances--one set in 19th century Rome, one in present-day Paris and London--linked by a bond between women writers a hundred years apart In 1857, English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell completed her most famous work: the biography of her dear friend Charlotte Bronte. As publication loomed, Mrs. Gaskell was keen to escape the reviews. So, leaving her dull minister husband and dreary provincial city behind, she set off with her daughters to Rome. There she met a dazzling group of artists and writers, among them the American critic Charles Eliot Norton. Seventeen years her junior, Norton was her one true love. They could not be together--it would be an unthinkable breach of convention--but by his side and amidst that splendid circle, Mrs. Gaskell knew she had reached the "tip-top point of [her] life." In 2013, Nell Stevens is embarking on her PhD--about the community of artists and writers living in Rome in the mid-19th century--and falling head over heels for a soulful American screenwriter in another city. As her long-distance romance founders and her passion for academia never quite materializes, she is drawn to Mrs. Gaskell. Could this indomitable Victorian author rescue Nell's pursuit of love, family and a writing career? Lively, witty, and impossible to put down, The Victorian and the Romantic is a moving chronicle of two women each charting a way of life beyond the rules of her time.

30 review for The Victorian and the Romantic: A Memoir, a Love Story, and a Friendship Across Time

  1. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    I wasn't particularly fond of Nell's story. Dramatic pinnings of a lost love. Also, couldn't make heads nor tales of her random meanderings in Mrs. Gaskells life. I do, however, admire her creativity in trying a new, or new to me, form of memoir. It did also spark my interest in Gaskells biography of Charlotte Bronte and in reading a biography of Gaskells herself. I wasn't particularly fond of Nell's story. Dramatic pinnings of a lost love. Also, couldn't make heads nor tales of her random meanderings in Mrs. Gaskells life. I do, however, admire her creativity in trying a new, or new to me, form of memoir. It did also spark my interest in Gaskells biography of Charlotte Bronte and in reading a biography of Gaskells herself.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Katie Lumsden

    I have to say, I completely adored this. It's an unusual, odd and intensely powerful novel, a story of love, books, writing and self-discovery. It's not often I read a book that discusses the theme of reading and the love of reading so brilliantly and so well - and of course, I loved the presence Elizabeth Gaskell has in this novel. I found it intensely moving, and would highly recommend. I have to say, I completely adored this. It's an unusual, odd and intensely powerful novel, a story of love, books, writing and self-discovery. It's not often I read a book that discusses the theme of reading and the love of reading so brilliantly and so well - and of course, I loved the presence Elizabeth Gaskell has in this novel. I found it intensely moving, and would highly recommend.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I was ambivalent about the author’s first book (Bleaker House), but for a student of the Victorian period this was unmissable, and the meta aspect was fun and not off-putting this time. If the mere thought of reading about someone else’s thesis is enough to make your eyes glaze over – trust me, I know: my husband’s currently in the throes of writing up his PhD in Biology – never fear; Stevens has a light touch, and flits between Gaskell’s story and her own in alternating chapters. One strand cove I was ambivalent about the author’s first book (Bleaker House), but for a student of the Victorian period this was unmissable, and the meta aspect was fun and not off-putting this time. If the mere thought of reading about someone else’s thesis is enough to make your eyes glaze over – trust me, I know: my husband’s currently in the throes of writing up his PhD in Biology – never fear; Stevens has a light touch, and flits between Gaskell’s story and her own in alternating chapters. One strand covers the last decade of Gaskell’s life, but what makes it so lively and unusual is that Stevens almost always speaks of Gaskell as “you.” The intimacy of that address ensures that her life story is anything but dry. The other chapters are set between 2013 and 2017 and narrated in the present tense, which makes Stevens’s dilemmas and decisions feel immediate and pressing. For much of the first two years her PhD takes a backseat to her love life. She’s obsessed with Max, a friend and unrequited crush from her Boston University days who is now living in Paris. This is a whimsical, sentimental, wry book that will ring true for anyone who’s ever been fixated on an idea or put too much stock in a relationship that failed to thrive. See my full review at Shiny New Books.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    For some time I have had, “Bleaker House,” by Nell Stevens on my reading radar. It lingers on my seemingly endless, ‘to be read,’ list – has lingered so long, in fact, that her next book came out, “Mrs Gaskell and Me.” Having decided that I should just get on and read something by Ms Stevens, whose work intrigues me, I settled down to try this and I am so glad I did. This is something between a fictionalised biography and a real life memoir; interspersing the author’s work on her PhD thesis, and For some time I have had, “Bleaker House,” by Nell Stevens on my reading radar. It lingers on my seemingly endless, ‘to be read,’ list – has lingered so long, in fact, that her next book came out, “Mrs Gaskell and Me.” Having decided that I should just get on and read something by Ms Stevens, whose work intrigues me, I settled down to try this and I am so glad I did. This is something between a fictionalised biography and a real life memoir; interspersing the author’s work on her PhD thesis, and her relationship with a man she is in love with, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s decision to flee to Rome just before her contentious biography of Charlotte Bronte was published, where she met, and fell in love with, Charles Eliot Norton. There are similarities between the stories of this modern student and author, and that of Mrs Gaskell. Mrs Gaskell left for Rome in 1857. She was married and went to Rome with two of her daughters, hoping to escape the reviews and arguments over the biography of her friend. Her delight in the group of artists and writers she met in Rome, who included writers, poets, an actress and sculptors, were over shadowed by her feelings for Charles Norton. Meanwhile, our narrator is about to embark on a PhD about that nineteenth century community of artists and writers, while, like Mrs Gaskell, becoming embroiled in a relationship with a fellow student, who she had been in love with for some time. Although the story itself is fascinating, what makes this work is the author’s voice, which is warm and interesting, full of humour and self deprecation. Nell Stevens tells a story of unrequited love, of feelings of loss and of the complicated, difficult way we negotiate human relationships. Some people may find it possibly too slow, or too dry. I thought it was beautiful and I will certainly go back and read her former book. I received a copy of this from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    This might be a bit of an acquired taste as Nell Stevens, a PhD student at Kings, London, writes a book about ‘Nell Stevens’, a PhD student at Kings, London... The introduction states upfront that ‘this is a work of imagination’ – and in a way it’s the anti-thesis that Stevens couldn’t write telling as it does the imaginatively-reconstructed story of Elizabeth – Lily, who knew? – Gaskell’s understated but important love affair with Charles Eliot Norton, an American whom she met in Rome. Undocume This might be a bit of an acquired taste as Nell Stevens, a PhD student at Kings, London, writes a book about ‘Nell Stevens’, a PhD student at Kings, London... The introduction states upfront that ‘this is a work of imagination’ – and in a way it’s the anti-thesis that Stevens couldn’t write telling as it does the imaginatively-reconstructed story of Elizabeth – Lily, who knew? – Gaskell’s understated but important love affair with Charles Eliot Norton, an American whom she met in Rome. Undocumented other than between the lines, unsourced and unspoken, Stevens has found a clever way to imaginatively reconstruct emotions that are too untethered, too lacking in solid textual evidence to find their way into a real thesis. Interspersed with Gaskell’s imagined story, is that of Nell herself: both her troubled love life with the elusive Max, and her PhD 'journey'. The latter is both funny and also eminently recognisable: the solitary nature of doctoral study, the sometimes weirdness of other peoples’ research (‘human-pig relationships in Jude the Obscure’!), the ‘work in progress’ seminars. Stevens has a strong voice and I was happy to let her lead me through this somewhat fragmented story that balances somewhere between novelised biography and fictional memoir. Thanks to Pan Macmillan/Picador for an ARC via NetGalley

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    3.5 stars. This was a cross between a memoir of a time in the author's life when she was going for her Ph.D and a biography of part of Elizabeth Gaskell's life as well. I enjoyed it; it does make me want to read more of Gaskell's work, but I didn't love it. I think Stevens is a good writer though, and I look forward to trying her novel that she is apparently working on now. I'm glad I read this book, but for me, there's nothing bright and shiny about it. On to the next! 3.5 stars. This was a cross between a memoir of a time in the author's life when she was going for her Ph.D and a biography of part of Elizabeth Gaskell's life as well. I enjoyed it; it does make me want to read more of Gaskell's work, but I didn't love it. I think Stevens is a good writer though, and I look forward to trying her novel that she is apparently working on now. I'm glad I read this book, but for me, there's nothing bright and shiny about it. On to the next!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I adored this book! I generally don’t like novels that weave between a historical story and a modern day researcher/historian trying to figure her own life out as informed by this other past life (how is this a genre, much less one I know well enough to have an opinion about) but actually this is a memoir and a lovely depiction of a real person grappling with a subject she’s trying to write about and understand—and I do relate to that! I'm heading out now to pick up her other book. I adored this book! I generally don’t like novels that weave between a historical story and a modern day researcher/historian trying to figure her own life out as informed by this other past life (how is this a genre, much less one I know well enough to have an opinion about) but actually this is a memoir and a lovely depiction of a real person grappling with a subject she’s trying to write about and understand—and I do relate to that! I'm heading out now to pick up her other book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Beth Bonini

    ”’I’ve read all your work,” she says, ‘and I have to say, I’m still not entirely sure I understand what your point is.’ ‘My point?’ ‘Your argument. What is it, exactly, that you are trying to say?’ ‘I want to say . . . I’m trying to say . . . I’m writing about ways of being close to people,’ I say. ‘I’m writing about the places where artists come together, and the ways they obtain closeness.’” Nell Stevens decides to write a PhD dissertation about Elizabeth Gaskell - partly because she loves the ”’I’ve read all your work,” she says, ‘and I have to say, I’m still not entirely sure I understand what your point is.’ ‘My point?’ ‘Your argument. What is it, exactly, that you are trying to say?’ ‘I want to say . . . I’m trying to say . . . I’m writing about ways of being close to people,’ I say. ‘I’m writing about the places where artists come together, and the ways they obtain closeness.’” Nell Stevens decides to write a PhD dissertation about Elizabeth Gaskell - partly because she loves the novels, and partly because she is drawn to the personal voice that she finds in the Victorian writer’s letters - but finding an academic ‘argument’ for her research (to answer) is a bit of a problem. As she is the first to relate, her subject lacks focus. Well, I found this book had that problem as well. For those not familiar with the term, Nell Stevens is writing autofiction here. She is ventriloquising Elizabeth Gaskell, and imagining the author’s thoughts and actions during a particularly stressful and emotionally intense period of her life; and she is also engaged in the act of fictionalising events from her own life - a fact that she underscores with the Disclaimer about libel with which she begins the book. (“I have no people I want to libel. I have changed names, scenes, details, motivations and personalities. Every word has been filtered through the distortions of my memory, bias and efforts to tell a story.”) In terms of Gaskell, Stevens begins with the year 1857. Gaskell has just completed The Life of Charlotte Bronte and it has been released into the publishing world under a cloud of controversy - and two legal cases of libel. Gaskell takes two of her daughters and escapes to Rome, where she finds a sympathetic community of artists and writers - and a soulmate in the form of American Charles Eliot Norton. In terms of her own life, Stevens takes the Eurostar to Paris and discovers that her longtime crush “Max” (presumably not his real name) is in love with her as well. The love affair with Max is consuming, distracting, maddening and ultimately unsustainable. The love affair with Max is not particularly conducive to helping her finish her PhD on Gaskell; nor, as far as I can tell, does it particularly help her understand or illuminate the relationship that Gaskell has with Norton. But no matter . . . unless you want a more defined parallel, as I did. Stevens’ PhD dissertation is in search of a subject and I often felt like this book was in search of a subject as well. The book contains a lot of “filler” (also known as the stuff of Stevens’ life): a partial list includes an awkward writer’s workshop at Shakespeare & Co., various medical experiments she participates in to raise money (mostly to fund her long-distance relationship with Max), an “all-expenses paid honeymoon in India” which she takes with her friend because she and Max have broken up, and many of the meetings she endures on the way to complete her PhD. A lot of this material is entertaining, but it only pertains tangentially to the life and subject of Elizabeth Gaskell. Your pleasure in this book will be mostly down to how bothered you are about that. She is an able writer, but ultimately I felt like Gaskell was just “the hook” to write about her own life.

  9. 5 out of 5

    janille n g

    I LOVED LOVED LOVED THIS BOOK!!! To be clear, I am definitely the target audience for The Victorian and the Romantic because I have a Master's in English and I specialized in Victorian literature...and of course, like most academics, I considered for many years going on to do my PhD. I myself was interested in the works of female authors in the 19th century, mainly Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell, and so I knew I would relate personally to Nell Stevens' recounting of her time studying Vict I LOVED LOVED LOVED THIS BOOK!!! To be clear, I am definitely the target audience for The Victorian and the Romantic because I have a Master's in English and I specialized in Victorian literature...and of course, like most academics, I considered for many years going on to do my PhD. I myself was interested in the works of female authors in the 19th century, mainly Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell, and so I knew I would relate personally to Nell Stevens' recounting of her time studying Victorian literature – but what I didn't anticipate was that so many of the lines she wrote would seem as though they were plucked straight from my own head. This is very much a memoir for a specific reader, one who is in love with classic literature but also disillusioned by the idea of studying it in a clinical, scientific manner, and not everyone will follow or relate to Stevens' thoughts and frustrations. I did, however, and so I would certainly be inclined to read more of Nell Stevens' work...and to be honest, I wish we could sit down for coffee and have a good rant, haha! My Favourite Quote "'I'm not cut out to be an academic...I don't think I care enough about the sorts of things academics care about....I like reading the writing of writers I love, and I like reading about writers I love. But I'm not sure I have anything additional to say about them. I think I'm more of an appreciative fan than a critic.'" ❥ ❥ ❥ ❥ ❥ (out of 5)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sher

    What I did like: Her creative process - taking her own life and reflecting on the life and attitudes, experiences, and emotions of a 19th C author. I liked looking at Stevens's experience and looking at what she wrote about Gaskell and trying to see what was going on for Stevens- but basically I used fictional analysis on her work. I felt like I was reading fiction. Well, partly, it was weird and weird mix of bio and memoir. What I did not like: I would have preferred to read her Ph D thesis on Eli What I did like: Her creative process - taking her own life and reflecting on the life and attitudes, experiences, and emotions of a 19th C author. I liked looking at Stevens's experience and looking at what she wrote about Gaskell and trying to see what was going on for Stevens- but basically I used fictional analysis on her work. I felt like I was reading fiction. Well, partly, it was weird and weird mix of bio and memoir. What I did not like: I would have preferred to read her Ph D thesis on Elizabeth Gaskell than her fictionalized account of Gaskell's life- too much guess work for me. I have some serious concerns about this genre blending "New" Genre. In the age of fake news, I have become skeptical and suspicious and even rather resentful that anyone can make up what they like and put it out there. I would have appreciated this book more, if I had read a biography of Gaskell beforehand. Without really knowing Gaskell's life, we cannot know where we have been manipulated by the author to suit her interior life - the memoir part.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kiki

    An absolutely wonderful and enjoyable memoir written by a woman working on her doctorate regarding Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell. Nell Stevens s fascinated by Gaskell and her friendships and her fascination with Rome and especially, her unrequited love for younger \American Charles Eliot Norton. Ah, but the road to her doctorate is not a smooth one. Reflecting herself in the story of unrequited love, Nell is also madly in love with an American: the elusive Max. And when he finally does reci An absolutely wonderful and enjoyable memoir written by a woman working on her doctorate regarding Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell. Nell Stevens s fascinated by Gaskell and her friendships and her fascination with Rome and especially, her unrequited love for younger \American Charles Eliot Norton. Ah, but the road to her doctorate is not a smooth one. Reflecting herself in the story of unrequited love, Nell is also madly in love with an American: the elusive Max. And when he finally does reciprocate, Nell's world--and her work--is completely derailed. You don't have to know a single thing about Elizabeth Gaskell to appreciate every minute of this lovely and amusing book. And it did spark in me a desire to read some of Gaskell's works, so I'm excited to say, I've got those on the pile now! I loved getting to know both Gaskell (the Victorian of the title) and Stevens (the Romantic!). Great storytelling.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Edwin John Moorhouse Marr

    Normally I no longer write Goodreads reviews. But this book is one I really feel I need to, because this is one of the strangest reading experiences I have ever had. If I had read this two months ago, or read it in two months time, I would hate it. It would easily be a 2 star review for me, because in many ways this book does so many things I can't stand. It makes stuff up, it plays around with history in a fairly self-indulgent way (Samantha Ellis springs to mind), it intersperses reality with Normally I no longer write Goodreads reviews. But this book is one I really feel I need to, because this is one of the strangest reading experiences I have ever had. If I had read this two months ago, or read it in two months time, I would hate it. It would easily be a 2 star review for me, because in many ways this book does so many things I can't stand. It makes stuff up, it plays around with history in a fairly self-indulgent way (Samantha Ellis springs to mind), it intersperses reality with fiction, past with present in a way that is in many senses, entirely ill at ease. And yet over the summer, I have recently gone through an experience remarkably similar to the one Nell Stevens describes in this book. I too am a PhD student, self-disciplined, career-driven, I love my work (also in the 19th century), and am in many ways independent minded. And yet, like Nell Stevens' narrator, who is so clearly based on the author I feel no issue in referring to her as 'Nell', I met a man who just some how slipped under my defences. And so, I completely understand every single emotion she feels and defines in this book, because I have felt it too. When she sits in the British Library and can't concentrate because St Pancras is only a three minute walk away, and from there she can board a Eurostar to her lover in Paris. Or when she gets a message from her boyfriend telling her 'I'm sorry, but I can't see you right now', or when she hates him for how he treats her but adores him at the same time, or when she reads Gaskell's letters but constantly reads her own situation into them and intersperses her own lost love with the narrative of Gaskell's; I am there with her always. Reading this book was an uncanny experience, because it felt so deeply personal to the core elements of my own recent past, and yet it was also incredibly cathartic because of it. To share in Nell's pain, felt in a strangely perverted sense, like allowing Nell to share in my own, just as Nell shares in Gaskell's, and so in turn Gaskell shares in Nell's across the centuries. What a fantastic chain of association! Gaskell to Nell Stevens to Edwin Marr, lost love, heartache, disappointment reverberating and echoing again and again down the centuries, writer to reader to writer to reader. Forgive the somewhat rambling nature of this review, I have only just finished the book, and my thoughts are scattered. But this book came onto my bookshelf at the exact moment it needed to, and I am grateful to share in Nell and Gaskell's pain, and by extension, to allow them to carry some of my own, too.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bethany

    The Victorian and the Romantic is a genre-bending narrative that is immensely readable and at times funny and poignant. Part modern-day memoir, part historical examination, we follow dual narratives: that of the author as she embarks on a PhD in literature, and that of her research subject-Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell. Separated by more than a century, the lives of the two women parallel each other in interesting ways. Both are writers who long for more out of life and both of them love me The Victorian and the Romantic is a genre-bending narrative that is immensely readable and at times funny and poignant. Part modern-day memoir, part historical examination, we follow dual narratives: that of the author as she embarks on a PhD in literature, and that of her research subject-Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell. Separated by more than a century, the lives of the two women parallel each other in interesting ways. Both are writers who long for more out of life and both of them love men that they ultimately can't have. I have read a couple of books by Elizabeth Gaskell and loved them, but I did not know very much about her personal life. In that sense, this book was fascinating and paints a portrait of a very relatable woman born in a time that afforded her limited opportunities. A vivacious and imaginative woman married to a quite stolid man, Mrs. Gaskell already had grown children when she began her writing career in earnest. Her success brought new opportunities, including an extended trip to Rome with her daughters. There she mixed with a free-thinking and diverse group of artists and writers, and it was also in Rome that she met and, perhaps, fell in love with a much younger man named Charles Elliot Norton. Interspersed with discoveries from Mrs. Gaskell's life, are snippets of a modern memoir, detailing the author's complicated love life, research into Elizabeth Gaskell, and they ways in which those things collide. It is often quite entertaining and the book is very easy to read. The author makes a strong case for this years-long emotional attachment between Gaskell and Norton, carried on for the most part through trans-Atlantic letters and a lot of subtext- an impossible love for so many reasons. Mrs. Gaskell is truly brought to life in this portrayal and it made me want to know more about her. The emphasis here is more on telling a good story than on a tone of academic specificity, but paints a vivid picture that has me curious. Above all, I think this book brings to life these Victorian figures in ways that make them seem recognizable as real people who longed for things and made do with what they had. That is truly an accomplishment. While some narrative license is clearly taken, I think this is well worth picking up. Thank you to Doubleday for sending me an early copy for review!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Moray Teale

    I received a free advance copy through Netgalley and Pan Macmillan in return for an honest review. I should really stop reading stories that are by/about writers failing at their PhDs, they so often end up occupying a no-mans-land between fiction and academia that I find intensely irritating. In this offering of fictionalised biolgraphy and autobiography Nell's thesis on Mrs Gaskell is plagued by vagueness and a lack of commitment as well as the long-distance relationship she struggles to maintai I received a free advance copy through Netgalley and Pan Macmillan in return for an honest review. I should really stop reading stories that are by/about writers failing at their PhDs, they so often end up occupying a no-mans-land between fiction and academia that I find intensely irritating. In this offering of fictionalised biolgraphy and autobiography Nell's thesis on Mrs Gaskell is plagued by vagueness and a lack of commitment as well as the long-distance relationship she struggles to maintain with her partner between London and Paris and then London and Boston. Simultaneously there is a fragmentary second person narrative of Elizabeth's Gaskell's stay in Rome immediately following the publication of her controversial biography of Charlotte Bronte and her subsequent relationship with writer Charles Norton. The problem for me was that Nell's narrative was frankly uninteresting. I could feel little sympathy with her academic woes (how on earth does one person manage to build a thesis around the misinterpretation of a single word, not once but twice?!) and I found myself echoing the weary questions of her professors and supervisors as they questioned her intent, her focus and the very point of her writing. Then I found myself asking the same questions about the story in front of me. The Gaskell sections were so brief and lacking in depth and development that it really did feel like a faux-intellectual gloss intended to pad out the rather tepid contemporary love story. There was little sense of the characters (even worse when the fictionalisation is surely intended to breathe life into the fragmentary evidence that remains) despite the sad unconsummated love-story that lies at its heart. There is little to link the two stories together except the vaguest sense of doomed love and the nebulous, unformed thesis. It needs more focus, more depth, more engagement and more commitment as the two stories put together fail to successfully redress the weaknesses of either.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Audra (Unabridged Chick)

    I fell in love with Stevens' first book, Bleaker House, because she lived a life as I daydreamed about: dramatic escapes with the (possibly) deluded hope of being jolted into brilliant creativity. In this, Stevens settles for the more mundane: the painful pragmatism of everyday life, made all the more boring by a deep yearning. In her case, for an almost constantly out-of-reach lover; for Mrs. Gaskell, a life lived differently. This is a fast read, breezy; Stevens fictionalizes Gaskell's life, a I fell in love with Stevens' first book, Bleaker House, because she lived a life as I daydreamed about: dramatic escapes with the (possibly) deluded hope of being jolted into brilliant creativity. In this, Stevens settles for the more mundane: the painful pragmatism of everyday life, made all the more boring by a deep yearning. In her case, for an almost constantly out-of-reach lover; for Mrs. Gaskell, a life lived differently. This is a fast read, breezy; Stevens fictionalizes Gaskell's life, a second person kind of historical novelette. It was her own life I was most consumed by for the oddest kind of overlaps: I was in Boston during the historical winter that featured so heavily in her relationship, trapped in what I now know was post-partum depression, wading through 9-foot snow drifts for fresh air and adult conversation. Stevens, as she articulates herself in her books, is a woman I have a friend crush on: I want to be her, and if I can't, then I want to spend time with her. She's goofy and vulnerable and dramatic and smart in ways that I find appealing and sympathetic. My wife wouldn't be able to stand this book but I inhaled it because Stevens shared her joy and agony so easily.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Julie Mebane

    If only I could make my own dissertation fun to read about...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    Bloody loved it!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dolores

    Many scholars would like to write memoirs or novels, and many novelists would like to be scholars. British writer Nell Stevens has mastered all these skills. In her new book, The Victorian and the Romantic, Stevens combines two stories: an account of her own romance with an American named Max, and a retelling of the flirtation between British novelist Elizabeth Gaskell and American critic Charles Eliot Norton in 1857. Rome is the center of Mrs. Gaskell's adventures, and Stevens renders the place Many scholars would like to write memoirs or novels, and many novelists would like to be scholars. British writer Nell Stevens has mastered all these skills. In her new book, The Victorian and the Romantic, Stevens combines two stories: an account of her own romance with an American named Max, and a retelling of the flirtation between British novelist Elizabeth Gaskell and American critic Charles Eliot Norton in 1857. Rome is the center of Mrs. Gaskell's adventures, and Stevens renders the place with great verve. Her own romance spans Paris, London, and New England. This charming and elegant book will delight the literary reader alert to the nineteenth century correspondence underpinning the Gaskell plot, and the contemporary reader eager to read about love and work in the life of a talented woman. Highly recommended.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Aya

    I LIKED bleaker house but I LOVE this book which has so much about heartbreak and love and the shades of affection. Like bleaker house this book weaves stories and styles but keeps a true character at the center— it reaches out on a limb like bleaker but catches itself.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Possibly in Michigan, London

    I’m glad I read this when I was in the right mood! Nell Stevens is v good at filling the page with herself (a description of Mrs Gaskell by the narrator who is called...Nell Stevens). This is largely a good thing - I really enjoyed her account of the break up of her relationship (which sounds wrong but she tells it well) and her PhD woes. Whether the story of her romance and Mrs Gaskell’s own thwarted romance with an American hang together, I’m not totally sure - but i think I just really admire I’m glad I read this when I was in the right mood! Nell Stevens is v good at filling the page with herself (a description of Mrs Gaskell by the narrator who is called...Nell Stevens). This is largely a good thing - I really enjoyed her account of the break up of her relationship (which sounds wrong but she tells it well) and her PhD woes. Whether the story of her romance and Mrs Gaskell’s own thwarted romance with an American hang together, I’m not totally sure - but i think I just really admire Stevens’ chutzpah in bringing the two together. I mean, she is not really ‘relatable’ (funded PhD that she gets without doing much work, sigh) but her company is great.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I was interested in this book because I liked Stevens’s previous work Bleaker House and also the work of Elizabeth Gaskell. And, well, this combination memoir-imaginative biography (biographical novella) combining Stevens’s work for her PhD about 19th century artists, her love for Gaskell’s work and the unfulfilled love affair (?) between Gaskell and Charles Eliot Norton is a strange hodge-podge of styles. The choice to use 2nd person narration for the Gaskell bio parts took a while to get used I was interested in this book because I liked Stevens’s previous work Bleaker House and also the work of Elizabeth Gaskell. And, well, this combination memoir-imaginative biography (biographical novella) combining Stevens’s work for her PhD about 19th century artists, her love for Gaskell’s work and the unfulfilled love affair (?) between Gaskell and Charles Eliot Norton is a strange hodge-podge of styles. The choice to use 2nd person narration for the Gaskell bio parts took a while to get used to and in the end I’m not sure if it worked that well.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alyssa McNaughton

    *I received an ARC of this novel on Net Galley in exchange for my honest review* Wow Wow Wow. I absolutely ADORED this half biography of Mrs. Gaskell’s life/ real life memoir of the author. It was refreshing, witty, emotional and relatable. I was surprised how much I fell in love with the struggles of Nell and how she wrote about them so honestly. It takes a lot for a writer to have this level of transparency and still communicate their feelings with such an eb and flow of beautiful words.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Perhaps specific to fans of Mrs. Gaskell herself (or the Brontes, or Jane Austen), but I LOVED the way this author described her own story in relation to the events of Mrs. Gaskell's life and literary work. Although it isn't strictly a faithful memoir of Nell's own life, so many of the experiences she relates have the ring of truth to them, she must have had similar experiences. I look forward to reading more of her work in future. Perhaps specific to fans of Mrs. Gaskell herself (or the Brontes, or Jane Austen), but I LOVED the way this author described her own story in relation to the events of Mrs. Gaskell's life and literary work. Although it isn't strictly a faithful memoir of Nell's own life, so many of the experiences she relates have the ring of truth to them, she must have had similar experiences. I look forward to reading more of her work in future.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    Thank you to Doubleday Books for the free review copy & Out of Print epigraph print! I spotted this book floating around Instagram as part of the second Doubleday summer box giveaway and I couldn’t resist requesting a review copy of The Victorian and the Romantic. First, that cover: millennial pink, the trench coat? (YES, I choose way too many of my books based on the cover art alone but I can’t resist a killer aesthetic above all else!) I was an English major so this book truly spoke to me. I hav Thank you to Doubleday Books for the free review copy & Out of Print epigraph print! I spotted this book floating around Instagram as part of the second Doubleday summer box giveaway and I couldn’t resist requesting a review copy of The Victorian and the Romantic. First, that cover: millennial pink, the trench coat? (YES, I choose way too many of my books based on the cover art alone but I can’t resist a killer aesthetic above all else!) I was an English major so this book truly spoke to me. I haven’t read any Elizabeth Gaskell, though, and my plan was to read one of her books alongside The Victorian and the Romantic for the true experience, but my local library didn’t have any Gaskell--I guess the classics are dead according to the Geneva Public Library. My fiance did pre-order a copy of North and South that I had my eye on, though, so I’ll get to dive into that come September. Even though I didn’t get my own literature-meets-memoir class experience while reading, I really loved this book. Throughout, Stevens alternates between her own experience as a PhD candidate, juggling her long distance love, apathy toward her subject matter and academia as a whole, and her medical/reproductive struggles, and Mrs. Gaskell (as Stevens prefers to address her), living in Rome after the publication of her scandalous posthumous biography of her close friend, Charlotte Bronte. And though Stevens was struggling to feel the same obsession that her classmates seemed to be feeling about their subjects, her story still reminded me of what I loved about being a student: spending my days in the library and the rare book room, pouring over texts for some window into the author’s life, writing and writing and writing. I know that, unlike Stevens, I’ll never pursue a PhD. The idea of going to grad school for literature did pique my interest (and a number of professors suggested the path to me, admittedly because enrollment in my college’s grad program was low) but sadly, that’s not the path for me. Anyway. I loved this book! For a former-academic like me, it’s a perfect read, but it’s also not dense and heavy like literary criticism. It’s not exclusionary, only to be read by someone with a degree in literary analysis, but for everyone with a love of literature and books. It toes the line between memoir and biography-- I’m not usually the biggest fan of biographies but I do love memoirs. Nell made her own story and Mrs. Gaskell’s story equally compelling. I expected to me more invested in Nell as she fell in love, travelled to America for fellowships and romantic weekends, and butted heads with her PhD counselor. But I found myself equally thrilled to read about Gaskell’s time in Rome, exploring the sights, having early morning coffee with Norton, and returning to home to a book that was high contested and a husband who she wasn’t the least bit interested in. Gaskell’s life was interesting, and here was a woman, an author, I knew nothing about and even going into this book, wasn’t particularly interested in learning more about. I’m so glad I read this book! I think it came to me at the perfect time in my life. I’m getting ready, now, to start applying to grad school for the spring semester to pursue a Masters in Library Science. I’ve found myself, lately, really missing school. I know I’ll never be able to go back to the time in my life when I lived in a dorm, ate all my meals from the on-campus Subway and the school bookstore Starbucks, and spent countless nights holed up in the library or at endless sorority recruitment events. But of course, that’s not the only thing to love about school: What I really miss is learning and I’m excited to get back to that.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kales

    I wasn't expecting to get so much out of this 250-ish page memoir but it was, in an odd way, magical. I was transported into the world of Mrs. Gaskell, of whom I had never heard of previously. But then, her story was pleasantly juxtaposed with Nell Stevens own accounts and struggles. It was like JULIE AND JULIA but for English majors, not chefs. Mrs. Gaskell's section was told in second person which I have honestly never read a book in the second person that wasn't a choose your own adventure. I I wasn't expecting to get so much out of this 250-ish page memoir but it was, in an odd way, magical. I was transported into the world of Mrs. Gaskell, of whom I had never heard of previously. But then, her story was pleasantly juxtaposed with Nell Stevens own accounts and struggles. It was like JULIE AND JULIA but for English majors, not chefs. Mrs. Gaskell's section was told in second person which I have honestly never read a book in the second person that wasn't a choose your own adventure. It was jarring at first but then flowed nicely. It helped distinguish Mrs. Gaskell's voice from Nell's -- not that you really needed it because both women were so different. It transported you into Mrs. Gaskell's life and delve into her experiences. But it was also clever because the reader gets to experience Mrs. Gaskell as Nell envisions her. Which, frankly, is brilliant. I liked the format of the story as it jumped back and forth between the two lives. But I also liked the three act structure, as shown through PhD studies. I have never really wanted a PhD and I think this book only solidified that non-desire. It is tough work! And a crazy process. Nell's ups and downs with her love life were relate-able and oddly, not pathetic. I found sympathy rather than criticism because it was realistic pain, turmoil, decisions and pause. The only reason it isn't a five stars is because some of the weird chapters that had nothing to do with Mrs. Gaskell or Nell and I didn't quite understand why they were in there. But the writing was delicious. The story well-told. I was transported and delighted. It's a unique little book that I am glad caught me eye. I don't think I would have picked it up normally but I am very glad I did. Conclusion: Maybe I'll buy it in hardcover

  26. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    Very mixed feelings about this book. I like the idea - two writers a century and a half apart but apparently finding common ground in their lives. Nell Stevens describes her personal and academic life over a few years in chapters alternating with that of the life of Mrs Gaskell in her late 40s when she met Charles Eliot Norton. The main problem for me was Steven's relationship with 'Max', a man who practically had 'keep away' stamped on his forehead - how could she not have heard those warning bel Very mixed feelings about this book. I like the idea - two writers a century and a half apart but apparently finding common ground in their lives. Nell Stevens describes her personal and academic life over a few years in chapters alternating with that of the life of Mrs Gaskell in her late 40s when she met Charles Eliot Norton. The main problem for me was Steven's relationship with 'Max', a man who practically had 'keep away' stamped on his forehead - how could she not have heard those warning bells ring long and loud? Their 'relationship' stretched the bounds of credulity to such an extent that I actually found myself thinking that he couldn't possibly exist and had been invented to aid the conceit of a bond with Mrs Gaskell. And that got me thinking that was this indeed a novel about a failed relationship (with a bit of Gaskell thrown in to bulk it out) rather than the memoir it's sold as? The book is described on the dust jacket as 'wildly funny' which surprises me as I didn't spot any humour at all! The Mrs Gaskell chapters were so much better (4 stars) than the Stevens ones (2 stars).

  27. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    In this half biography and half memoir, Nell Stevens alternates chapters discussing her own life with descriptions of Gaskell’s life from the mid(ish) 1800s, with a focus on their romantic relationships. About halfway through the book, I noticed that while I was reading about Gaskell eagerly, the sections about Stevens had become dull and repetitive. I began to skim those chapters. The writing is good. Stevens’ affection for Gaskell is clear, and the sections about the 19C writer are engaging and In this half biography and half memoir, Nell Stevens alternates chapters discussing her own life with descriptions of Gaskell’s life from the mid(ish) 1800s, with a focus on their romantic relationships. About halfway through the book, I noticed that while I was reading about Gaskell eagerly, the sections about Stevens had become dull and repetitive. I began to skim those chapters. The writing is good. Stevens’ affection for Gaskell is clear, and the sections about the 19C writer are engaging and vivid. However, Stevens’ writing about her own relationship soon devolves to tedious status updates and minutiae—the kind of details usually shared with close friends, but not of interest to others. Her attempt to link her own romance to Gaskell’s is an interesting idea but... Spoilers ahead! Spoliers ahead! Gaskell’s romance was a forbidden one, and it’s a gossipy pleasure and, later, poignant. If you’ve ever had a friend or relative in unrequited love (as with Stevens), you know how quickly it becomes wearisome to all but the lovelorn party.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    This book is sits in a space triangulated by memoir, biography and fiction which might make you think it’s going to be a disaster but it’s actually a very creative and fascinating account of two lives, lived a over century apart. Stevens is an endearing writer and I really enjoy her perspective on life, and in this case, history. Possibly not for everyone but definitely for the literature buffs. And anyone who’s ever had anything to do with the frustration of academia.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    Having heard Jen Campbell talk about this book on her channel, I knew I needed to pick it up. Not only do I love Elizabeth Gaskell, but I also really enjoy reading memoir/essay collections and this one satisfied my craving for memoir and fiction. Sitting somewhere in the middle, Stevens beautifully tells the story of her years writing her PhD, whilst simultaneously exploring Gaskell's life and her time in Rome. She beautifully pins down the feeling of wanderlust - of chasing unreachable desires Having heard Jen Campbell talk about this book on her channel, I knew I needed to pick it up. Not only do I love Elizabeth Gaskell, but I also really enjoy reading memoir/essay collections and this one satisfied my craving for memoir and fiction. Sitting somewhere in the middle, Stevens beautifully tells the story of her years writing her PhD, whilst simultaneously exploring Gaskell's life and her time in Rome. She beautifully pins down the feeling of wanderlust - of chasing unreachable desires and of missing what you can't have - a feeling that underpins our current way of life, I feel.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    I honestly loved how Nell Stevens told this story by incorporating the life of Elizabeth Gaskell into it. Many a memoir I read seems to have a specific tone or way to tell the story of their life, but Stevens memoir just read as a story. It wasn’t the story of just one thing but the story of herself, her loves, her phd journey, and it was beautifully messy just like life.

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