Reviews and written critiques of books we now consider classics.

Were there magazines and literary journals that would publish book reviews in the 18th and 19th century? I imagine yes, but are there any websites that might have these accessible to view today?

Obviously, there were reviews and literary journals. It may be hard to find time online, since no one bothered to digitize them all. Websites that have done this are usually pay sites (though you may be able to find something in Google books).

I was able to find the original New York Times review of Great Expectations (they liked it a lot), but only through access to the Times back issues from my library. You might try that with your library for specific books.

One way is using books.google.com with a specific date range. For example, I just went and searched for “Moby” between 1850 and 1855, and came up with a number of interesting reviews, for instance Harper’s 1852:

A new work by Herman Melville, entitled Moby Dick; or, The Whale, has just been issued by Harper and Brothers, which, in point of richness and variety of incident, originality of conception, and splendor of description, surpasses any of the former productions of this highly successful author…

Rotten Reviews

Rotten Reviews II

Rotten Rejections

All three in one volume, revised and expanded

In reviews, Louisa May Alcott condemned Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. The book was banned from the Concord MA public library.

Now, of course, they have plenty of copies. I’d love to know how and why things changed.

Finn was originally banned for sacrilege. Mostly because of the chapter “You Can’t Pray a Lie,” where Finn decides he’d rather go to hell than betray Jim. This was highly offensive to the more religious people of the time.

Basically, people became less offended by the concept, possibly as the idea of a literal Hell faded away. Of course, by the time that was forgotten, people were getting upset over Twain’s use of “nigger.”

Thanks everyone. This thread has been very helpful.