On Our Shelves Now
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 Brontë. 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.
About the Author
NELL STEVENS has a degree in English and creative writing from the University of Warwick, an MFA in fiction from Boston University, and a PhD in Victorian literature from King's College London. She is the author of the memoir Bleaker House and is at work on a novel.
"Utterly engaging . . . The result is a gentle satire on the ways of academia coupled with a painfully credible account of late-twenties love, freighted with all its unanswerable questions about the future. Stevens is a very artful writer—the structure she chooses is inspired—and the book builds to a surprising, and surprisingly moving, ending."
—Rebecca Mead, NewYorker.com
"A hybrid of memoir and fictional biography that invites us to update our view of [Elizabeth Gaskell] . . . Stevens is winningly self-deprecating, and an excellent observer of the absurdities of both romance and academia . . . The Victorian and the Romantic makes one want to read Gaskell’s work [and] it does so because of Steven’s own love for the writer.”
—The New Yorker
"If you’re attracted to an unreliable narrator who blends the sportive and the poignant, the emotional and the knowing, Stevens’s creative memoir may hit your sweet spot."
—Wall Street Journal
“A whip-sharp memoir . . . There is a continuing literary trend in which (usually) female narrators twine their own life into that of a classic author . . . [and] what Stevens brings to the now-familiar form is an incisive wit that, more often than not, she deploys against herself . . . There can be no doubt about the genuine affection that drives Stevens’s project."
—New York Times Book Review
"Afloat with admiration and affection for its subject . . . Celebratory, charming . . . Stevens has an analytical eye and a wonderful taste for absurdity."
"Extraordinary, delightful, and very moving . . . Stevens’s affection for and relationship to these people is real, and very much alive. The Victorian and the Romantic is about two very different relationships between a man and a woman. But it’s also about the eternal possibility, provided by the written word, of finding a connection with a 'busy, thinking mind now gone.'"
"A lover of research, Stevens falls under the spell of Elizabeth Gaskell, Victorian writer . . . Stevens alternates chapters between her own life and her discoveries of Gaskell’s, using the device to great effect . . . Such juxtapositions add up to a delightful read."
“Equal parts personal memoir and history, Stevens’s latest will appeal to anyone who has struggled with love, loss, and facing an uncertain future.”
“Acutely observed and honest and melancholy. A truly lovely book.”
—Jesse Greengrass, author of Sight
“A tender, clever, sublimely crafted book that celebrates the struggles and triumphs of writing, love, and the desire for connection.”
—Kiran Millwood Hargrave, author of The Island at the End of Everything
“A witty, humane work of historical storytelling brilliantly enmeshed with an almost love story. Nell Stevens intelligently shows us that it isn’t only the happy endings that come to define our lives, but also those loves that cannot be. I loved it.”
—Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, author of The Tyranny of Lost Things
“Innovative, emotionally raw—a mature reflection on womanhood and falling in love. Nell Stevens writes with a skill and passion all writers could learn from, and all readers will take joy in. This is a feat!”
—Laura Jane Williams, author of Becoming: Sex, Second Chances, and Figuring Out Who the Hell I Am