19th century novels featuring musicians


Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

Shame on Dickens (whose sister studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music). One of his most revolting characters, Harold Skimpole, is allowed to play the cello and piano. But still – who can resist this vast, fog-filled tapestry of a novel in which lawyers squirm and grasp, bored aristocrats rot and seedy men implode?

Armadale, by Wilkie Collins

From the moment that the villainess Lydia Gwilt appeared, I found this novel impossible to put down. Lydia sits serenely playing Beethoven piano sonatas while all around her gnash their teeth and try – vainly – to outwit her. Glorious.

The Warden, by Anthony Trollope

Trollope had a genius for creating characters we all recognise as friends. The eponymous warden, Septimus Harding, is one such – a man with a tender conscience who is placed in an impossible position. He retains his sanity chiefly by playing the cello – fair enough.

A Study in Scarlet – A Conan Doyle

In addition to his other accomplishments, Sherlock Holmes plays the violin well, even though his preferred method is to throw the instrument over his knee, lie back in an armchair and improvise exasperatingly. – no way to treat a violin. But how much poorer the world would be without him! Maybe in a future life I’ll guess the solution to one of his cases before the end of the book; but I doubt it.

The Lost Stradivarius, by J Meade Falkner

A genuinely creepy tale involving the ghost of a violin-playing aristocrat and a cursed violin. Reading this story, I knew instantly that the author (better known for ‘Moonfleet’) was a trained musician – unlike the others above. His deep understanding of the subject makes the book all the more gripping.