So declares - that is an actual quotation - the greatest critic of his age, Matthew Arnold; the one book is a translation of the letters of the 19th century French Catholic mystic Eugénie de Guérin. See Arnold’s essay “Eugénie de Guérin” in Essays in Criticism, another good book in the literature of the year 1865, so there are at least two.
Ah, Arnold’s nuts; 1865 was a terrific year for literature. 1815 had so few surviving books, or I was so ignorant about them, that I had to think of something to write. In 1865 I can just list books.
First, there’s this:
Charles Dickens completed Our Mutual Friend. Anthony Trollope completed Can You Forgive Her? and can it be true that two more Trollope novels date from 1865, Miss Mackenzie and The Belton Estate? He must have been writing some of them simultaneously, too.
Algernon Swinburne’s debut, the dense, allusive faux Greek play Atalanta in Calydon, made his reputation.
In Russia, Nikolai Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crocodile.”
In Germany, Wilhelm Busch’s Max and Moritz, more or less inventing the comic strip, and the first volume of Adalbert Stifter’s long historical novel Witiko, rumored to be the dullest novel ever written.
In Italy, Giosuè Carducci’s “A Satana,” a toast to progress and rationalism.
In Brazil, José de Alencar’s Iracema, considered the beginning of Brazilian fiction. I’ve read it; it’s second-rate but interesting.
In India, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Durgeshnandini, considered the beginning of Bengali fiction. I have not read it; I’ll bet it’s interesting.
Two novels in French that jump out are From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne and Germinie Lacerteux by the Goncourt brothers. I haven’t read either of these, either.
The United States presents some interesting cases. Walt Whitman published Drum-Taps, his Civil War poems, to some success, but they would be eclipsed by the elegies for Abraham Lincoln he published in 1866. Mark Twain published the first version of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” giving Twain his first taste of fame. I find it quite hard to imagine Twain as an unknown writer.
Then there is Hans Brinker; or, the Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland by Mary Mapes Dodge, likely the most popular book of the year. I am pretty sure that I have read it, but I would have been no older than ten, so I do not remember a thing about it, beyond the iconically obvious. You cannot say that this book has not survived pretty well. It has more readers than Swinburne or Arnold.
I could keep going (John Ruskin, Henry David Thoreau, Francis Parkman). For me, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Our Mutual Friend make 1865 a landmark year, enriched especially by Leskov’s unique novella. But even within the limits of my ignorance, what a year for literature. “One good book, at least”!
“Nonsense!” said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent.