Hm, that title doesn’t roll off the tongue too well, does it?

One of the wonderful things about getting an ereader is the availability of out-of-print classic books. Project Gutenberg is a good source, but you can also find them at places like FeedbooksOpen Library, the Mobileread site and ManyBooks. It’s a chance to catch up on reading all those books that you feel you really should have read, but haven’t.

This month, I’ve read two books from Project Gutenberg which, on the face of it, might be thought of as quite similar. Tom Brown’s Schooldays, by Thomas Hughes, was published in 1857 and tells of the experiences of a Rubgy School student. David Copperfield was first published as a book in 1850 and follows the life of a young author, including his days at school in Canterbury. In both books, the character of the boys’ headmaster is an important one.

If I had not looked up the dates of publication, I would have said that the Hughes book was much older than the Dickens one. Its style and content is more formal, more didactic, more moralistic and much less enjoyable to read. Then I thought perhaps it was a difference in the age of the authors, but no: they were both in their thirties when their respective books were published. I’m not at all surprised that Dickens was so popular during his lifetime, and continues to be so today, while Hughes remains relatively unknown. It seems that Hughes was well aware of my concerns with his book, as he said (according to Wikipedia):

Several persons, for whose judgment I have the highest respect, while saying very kind things about this book, have added, that the great fault of it is ‘too much preaching’; but they hope I shall amend in this matter should I ever write again. Now this I most distinctly decline to do. Why, my whole object in writing at all was to get the chance of preaching! When a man comes to my time of life and has his bread to make, and very little time to spare, is it likely that he will spend almost the whole of his yearly vacation in writing a story just to amuse people? I think not. At any rate, I wouldn’t do so myself.

I think Hughes missed an opportunity here. If he’d made his book more enjoyable to read, then he could have got his message across to many more people without the necessity of preaching. As it is, I certainly can’t recommend Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

David Copperfield, on the other hand, is gripping, entertaining and often funny. At over 700 pages, it is a long read, but a satisfying one. My suspicion (as always) is that I’m the only person in the world who hasn’t read this particular classic, but just in case that’s not true, this one is a worthy addition to anyone’s free ereading library.

The covers on this page were taken from Open Library. The images are links to the Project Gutenberg versions of the book.