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Synopses of 19th Century Novels

Adam Bede (George Eliot) — Adam Bede is a talented young carpenter who falls in love with Hetty Sorrel, a young
farm hand. Hetty however is having an affair with Arthur Donnithorn, the local squire’s son. Hetty is laboring under
the delusion that Arthur means to marry her. Into this story comes Dinah, Hetty’s cousin, a Methodist preacher
and a very good hearted young woman. When Hetty falls pregnant and follows Arthur (who has gone off with his
regiment) Dinah helps Adam to find her, but by the time she is located, a terrible tragedy has already occurred, one
for which Hetty will be asked to pay with her life. Gradually love blooms between Dinah and Adam – both being
people who deserve the love and a good hearted equal. A really strong story line following the classic tale of a poor
girl seduced and betrayed by a rich man, but adding a few new details and twists.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The (Mark Twain) — Huckleberry Finn is about a boy, named Huckleberry Finn,
who runs away from his home and drunken father. He travels along the Mississippi River with the companion of a
runaway slave named Jim. Along the way the duo encounter many adventures with different characters they meet.
Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy) — Married to a powerful government minister, Anna Karenina is a beautiful woman
who falls deeply in love with a wealthy army officer, the elegant Count Vronsky. Desperate to find truth and meaning
in her life, she rashly defies the conventions of Russian society and leaves her husband and son to live with her lover.
Condemned and ostracized by her peers and prone to fits of jealousy that alienate Vronsky, Anna finds herself unable
to escape an increasingly hopeless situation.
Awakening, The (Kate Chopin) — Awakening is a probing psychological study of a woman who, oppressed by
family life and her romantic difficulties, drowns herself in the ocean.
Barchester Tower (Anthony Trollope) — Described as humorous, this novel interweaves power, love, and greed in
Barchester. Its high-church Bishop has just died and the new Bishop, Dr. Proudie, who with his awful wife and oily
curate, Slope, maneuver for power. The cathedral city breaks into factions and is the scene of much of the action in
the book.
Barry Lyndon —A gentlemanly rogue travels the battlefields and parlors of 18th century Europe determined to
make for himself the life of a nobleman through seduction, gambling and dueling in this methodical film showing
the rhythm and life of the period.
Bleak House (Charles Dickens) — Dickens’ complex tale of young love, murder, and the quest for a mystery-man’s
identity unfolds in six parts in this adaptation by screenwriter Andrew Davies. Bleak House features some of the
most famous plot twists in literary history, including a case of spontaneous human combustion and an inheritance
dispute tied up for generations in the dysfunctional English courts.
Cousin Bette (Honoré de Balzac) — Cousin Bette is set in Paris and it is about an embittered, jealous, and scheming
woman seeks to ruin and disgrace the members of her family. Bette is deeply resentful of her beautiful, wealthy
relation Adeline, the saintly wife of philandering Baron Hulot, and their daughter Hortense. Her hatred is fuelled
when she learns that Hortense is to marry her protégé, the poor Polish artist Count Wenceslas Steinbock. She allies
herself with the Baron’s latest lover, Madame Marneffe in a plot to seduce Steinbock away from Hortense.
Daisy Miller (Henry James) — Daisy Miller is a story of a young American woman who while traveling in Europe
with her mother is courted by Frederick Winterbourne. In her innocence and nerve she offends convention and
seems to compromise her reputation.
David Copperfield (Charles Dickens) — David Copperfield tells of his life. He talks about his birth to a couple of
years after his marriage. He speaks in the beginning of the hardships he faces as a child, such as his mother marrying
a man that he doesn’t like.
Dracula (Bram Stoker) — The novel is told via the diary entries of the young solicitor Jonathan Harker and others.
They travel to the Transylvanian abode of Count Dracula, a strange and disturbing castle. His purpose is to settle a
land deal for Seward but he is drawn into bizarre and horrifying experiences within the castle walls..
Emma (Jane Austen) — The novel is a story about a rich, clever, and beautiful young woman who can’t resist
orchestrating other people’s love lives. As her romantic plans go ridiculously wrong, however, it’s Emma herself who
risks missing out on her perfect match.
Fall of the House of Usher, The (Edgar Allan Poe) — An unnamed narrator approaches the house of Usher on
a “dull, dark, and soundless day.” This house-the estate of his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher-is gloomy and
mysterious. The narrator observes that the house seems to have absorbed an evil and diseased atmosphere )
Far From the Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy) — The story takes place in rural part of England at the end of
19th century. Beautiful country and good description of many people peacefully living there are great background
for love story of Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak. During the story they both changed very much. At the
beginning she is very haughty and arrogant, but becomes delicate and tolerant. Gabriel is at the beginning of the
story very tactless and even rude, but very soon becomes loyal and devoted. These changes make possible that those
two young people fall in love. And Hardy could write in such a way that every reader can feel that this love is very
Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) — The plot deals with the conflict within Victor Frankenstein, who, due to his love
of the natural sciences, produces a monstrous creature. Victor himself is disgusted at the sight of his creature and
rejects him. All other humans likewise reject him because of his horrible appearance. The monster, frustrated and
misunderstood, ultimately kills the people who are closely related to his creator, Victor Frankenstein.
Great Expectations (Charles Dickens) — Pip, an orphan boy is arranged to go to the house of a wealthy woman,
to play with her adopted daughter, Estella. Pip is immediately attracted to Estella in spite of how she treats him. Pip
tries to better himself to win Estella’ s admiration by working harder with his friend, Biddy, at night school
Hard Times (Charles Dickens) — This is Dickens’s portrait of a Lancashire mill-town in the 1840s. Under
the influence of the Industrial Revolution, the population of the North industrial cities increased and various
occupations appeared. In order to train technicians who were concerned in new occupations, the attention about
education rose rapidly. Gradgrind, who symbolizes ‘facts’, tries to educate his children merely by the cramming
in of knowledge but only to fail. The failure of his education makes us realize the importance of fostering their
imagination for the proper education of children and human well-being.
Heart of Darkness, The (Joseph Conrad) — Heart of Darkness centers around Marlow, an introspective sailor, and
his journey up the Congo River to meet Kurtz, reputed to be an idealistic man of great abilities
Hound of the Baskervilles, the (Arthur Conan Doyle) — In this story Holmes, and Watson are visited by Dr.
Mortimer, who tells of how he is concerned with the supposed curse of the Baskervilles. He speaks of how they are
haunted by a hound that supposedly kills all of those in the line of the Baskervilles.
House of Seven Gables, The (Nathaniel Hawthorne) — An evil house, cursed through the centuries by a man who
was hanged for witchcraft, is haunted by the ghosts of its sinful dead, wracked by the fear of its frightened living.
Written as a follow-up to The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables is truly a masterful blending of the actual and
the imaginary.
Innocents Abroad, The (Mark Twain) — In 1867, young Mark Twain set out for Europe and the Holy Land on the
paddle-steamer Quaker City. His enduring, no-nonsense guide for the first-time traveler also served as an antidote to
the insufferably romantic travel books of the period.
Invisible Man, The (H.G. Wells) — A terrifying story from the author of The Time Machine and The War of the
Worlds. An obscure scientist invents a way to render skin, bones, and blood invisible, and tries the formula on
himself. Now he can go anywhere, menace anyone – sight unseen. He has only two problems: he cannot become
visible again – and he has gone quite murderously insane.
Island of Dr. Moreau, The (H.G. Wells) — A shipwrecked man floats ashore on an island in the Pacific Ocean. A
scientist, Dr. Moreau, inhabits the island; mad surgeon-turned-vivisectionist performs ghoulish experiments that
transform animals into men.
Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë) — Jane Eyre, a penniless orphan, is engaged as a governess at Thornfield Hall by the
mysterious Mr. Rochester. Her integrity and independence are tested to the limit as their love for each other grows,
and the secrets of Mr. Rochester’s past are revealed.
Les Miserables (Victor Hugo) — Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean
Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him.
Little Men (Louisa May Alcott) — It is about a women from the book Little Women named Jo Bhaer and her
husband and how they open their hearts and home to educate and care for young boys. Doing so, the young boys
also change Jo and her husband and their sons’ life in a good way.
Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) — Little Women tells the story of the March sisters during the time of the Civil
War in New England. Mr. March is off in the war leaving the four sisters and Marmee to fend for themselves.
The March sisters are Jo, Beth, and Amy. Wise and confident Marmee holds the family together. The girls suffer
heartache, love, and loss as they grow and learn together. The protagonist and heart of the story is Jo March. She
struggles to find a place for she’s in a world where women are meant to stand up proper, be ladylike, marry, and have
Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert) — Life, loves, and death of Emma Bovary, a beautiful woman married to a
small town doctor, Charles. Dissatisfied with her marriage, Emma has a series of love affairs which eventually lead
her to social disgrace, financial ruin, and suicide.
Mansfield Park (Jane Austen) — The novel is founded upon the solid and stern but kind-hearted, owner of
Mansfield Park. A timid but likeable girl, is taken in his family of five, is the heroine of this tale. Mansfield Park tells
of the departure of the owner and the moral decline of his household into flirtatious and inappropriate relationships
and dubious acting in forbidden theatricals to make possible the demonstration of their desires.
Mayor of Casterbridge, The (Thomas Hardy) — The Mayor of Casterbridge is a novel about a country laborer who
in the first chapters of the book gets drunk while he and his wife are traveling and stops at a fair and promptly
sells both her and his child to a sailor. Time passes in which the country laborer manages to accumulate wealth
and respect, even becoming mayor of the town of Casterbridge. His wife reappears suddenly with a daughter who
wrongly supposes is his. The greatest point of interest in the novel is the development of Henchard’s character from
initial contentedness through bitter attempts to hold onto what he considers ‘his’ to total desperation.
Mill on the Floss, The (George Eliot) — A woman whose independence and intelligence puts her at odds with her
family. Chronicling eight years in the life of Maggie’s family, as Edward, her father, struggles to keep the family mill
in business and her brother Tom grows up to be a respected and stern young man. However, adversity soon strikes
the family, as their mill is taken over by a neighboring businessman, whose son falls in love with Maggie.
Nicholas Nickleby (Charles Dickens) — Our hero, Nicholas, works his way out of his family’s desperate situation
by doggedness, impetuous spirits, and good fortune. It is a romantic comedy with a confusing melodramatic plot.
While character development is somewhat shallow, the descriptions of people and places are eloquent.
Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen) — The novel was written in the later 1790s but not published until 1817. Begun
as a satire on the improbable plots and characters of the typical gothic novel, Northanger Abbey developed into a
treatment of Jane Austen’s favorite theme, the initiation of a young woman into the complexities of adult social life.
Persuasion (Jane Austen) — A young girl, persuaded by family and friends, that the man she wants to marry isn’t
at her social level, had rejected a proposal of marriage from the man she truly loved. The story takes place less than
a decade after the proposal, following her simultaneous anticipation and dread of the rejected lover’s return to the
community. She struggles between the validity of the reasons for the old rejection and the flittering hope that their
love had persevered.
Picture of Dorian Gray, The (Oscar Wilde) — After Basil Hallward paints a beautiful young man’s portrait, his
subject’s frivolous wish that the picture change and he remain the same comes true. Dorian Gray’s picture grows
aged and corrupt while he continues to appear fresh and innocent.
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) — When the wealthy and aloof Mr. Darcy insults Elizabeth Bennet at a dance,
the tension and romance of their relationship is sparked, while the family beauty Jane attracts the attention of a
gentleman presumed to be above her station. Her flirtatious younger sister Lydia lands herself in a steamy scandal
that could ruin the reputation and “chances” of all the Bennet sisters.
Red Badge of Courage, The (Stephen Crane) — The harrowing tale of a young soldier in battle during the Civil
War is a masterpiece of 19th-century naturalism. Crane attended a military prep school and was obsessed with war
all his life, but he wrote the novel without ever having witnessed a battle – a fact he was always slightly defensive
about. Before he began to write, however, he read extensively about the Civil War, particularly the memoirs of
survivors that were popular in the late 19th century.
Return of the Native, The (Thomas Hardy) — One of Hardy’s classic statements about modern love, courtship,
and marriage, The Return of the Native is set in the pastoral village of Egdon Heath. The fiery Eustacia Vye, wishing
only for passionate love, believes that her escape from Egdon lies in her marriage to Clym Yeobright, the returning
“native” home from Paris and discontented with his work there. Clym wishes to remain in Egdon, however – a desire
that sets him in opposition to his wife and brings them both to despair.
Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen) — When two sisters, Elinor and Marianne, and their mother are left to the
financial mercies of John Dashwood and his wife, they find themselves in drastically reduced circumstances.
Silas Marner (George Eliot) — Silas Marner is a story of loss, alienation, and redemption that combines elements
of fairy tale and myth with realism and humor. Set in the fictional village of Raveloe, it centers on Silas Marner,
a weaver who is forced to leave his hometown in the north after being falsely accused of theft by members of his
chapel. His religious faith gone, for fifteen years Marner isolates himself from the life of the village and becomes
a miser. But when the gold that he cherishes is stolen, and he adopts a child whose mother has just died, his life
changes dramatically for the better.
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The (Robert Louis Stevenson) — The story is told from the point of
view of John Utterson, a lawyer and friend to the brilliant scientist, Dr. Henry Jekyll. After relating a disturbing
tale of an angry fiend assaulting a small girl, Utterson begins to question the odd behavior of his friend. As he
investigates further into the life of Dr. Jekyll he uncovers a story so horrific, so terrifying, that he can hardly believe
it. Truly a great work of English Literature, ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ is a magnificent story that takes the reader to the very
edge of madness.
Study in Scarlet, A (Arthur Conan Doyle) — In the debut of literature’s most famous sleuth, a dead man is
discovered in a bloodstained room in Brixton. The only clues are a wedding ring, a gold watch, a pocket edition of
Boccaccio’s Decameron, and a word scrawled in blood on the wall. With this investigation begins the partnership of
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Their search for the murderer uncovers a story of love and revenge and heralds a
franchise of detective mysteries starring the formidable Holmes.
Thérèse Raquin (Emile Zola) — Ill-fated but passionate, Therese and her lover Laurent plot the demise of her
husband, who meets his end when he “accidentally” falls from a train. But the couple, now free to be together, are
tormented by a mysterious blackmailer, as well as the silent accusation of the dead man’s mother. A haunting tale,
Carne’s last great work is a masterful film noir, which stays true to Zola’s ultimately pessimistic view of human
nature and the possibility of redemption.
Turn of the Screw, The (Henry James) — A naïve, young governess is hired by a charming bachelor to look after
his two young children in a grand mansion in rural England. She is determined to make the most of her situation,
despite the Master’s strange stipulation that she never contact him. Her first impressions are all good – the house is
beautiful, the housekeeper is friendly, the children are lovely, and the job is a perfect delight. But then, she sees the
ghosts of the former valet, Peter Quint and a previous governess, Miss Jessel, and everything changes. The young
governess is convinced that the children can see the ghosts, that they can communicate with them, and that their
very soul are in danger. She feels she alone can save them from a horrifying fate.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe) — The story focuses on the tale of Uncle Tom, a long-suffering African
American slave, and the central character around whose life the other characters-both fellow slaves and white slave
owners-revolve. The novel dramatizes the harsh reality of slavery while also showing that Christian love and faith
can overcome even something as evil as enslavement of fellow human beings.
Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray) — Vanity Fair is about two young women an their life as they go
through 1840’s London. It talks about them and their various love affairs.
Washington Square (Henry James) — Dr. Austin Sloper, a rich and intelligent widower, lives in Washington
Square, New York with his only child, the kind-hearted but dull-minded Catherine, and his silly busybody sister, the
widowed Lavinia Penniman. Catherine meets the dashing but unreliable Morris Townsend at a party and is swept off
her feet. She desperately wants to marry Morris but Dr. Sloper strongly disapproves.