John Sutherland is Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature at University College London ("emeritus" being Latin for "scrapheap" and "Northcliffe" journalistic shorthand for "you cannot be serious") according to his profile on The Guardian's website. (Modern includes the 19th century as it's modern relative to the Mediaeval period in this case.)
This little book of essays has set on my bookshelves unread for about 18 months because I was worried it would be dull and, as I hadn't read all of the books Sutherland discusses in his essays, I was worried there would be spoilers for the books I hadn't read. Well, I haven't made great progress in reading through all the Victorian fiction ever written but I decided to start reading it anyway and got drawn in.
Each essay is very short, sometimes only a few pages long, and focuses on a particular puzzle in a work of 19th century fiction. Sometimes the puzzles are ones that I think most readers of the book would be aware of, such as the eponymous puzzle surrounding whether Heathcliff was responsible for the death of Hindley Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights. Others, such as Jane Austen mentioning apple blossom in a scene in Emma set in the month of June or Wilkie Collins apparently losing a fortnight in The Woman in White, I think might escape many readers' notice when reading the original work. I hope so anyway, because I read Emma only last month and definitely didn't notice the apple blossom point.
In each case, Sutherland explains what the problems are and digs further into the text, the general social background of the 19th century and what we know of each author to tease out some possible solutions or explanations for each puzzle. In particular, he helps to bring out the very subtle references within the texts to things like pregnancy, menstruation or toilets which the writers couldn't mention outright but to which there are clues which readers of the time would have been able to pick up on.
His aim is certainly not to belittle or pull apart any of the works mentioned; he clearly has a deep love of and respect for Victorian literature. Neither is he being picky or pedantic for the sake of it; I don't think my enjoyment of any of the works he mentions will have been spoilt by reading these essays. Instead, I've found I now want to reread all the books he mentions that I've already read to understand for myself the points he's making as well as read all the books he mentions that I haven't read (the complete works of Anthony Trollope for example). Very entertaining.