Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Inventing the Victorians

Inventing the Victorians, by Matthew Sweet

This title has been sitting on my wishlist for a long time, so I made it my last ILL of the semester.  Even though I have piles of books to read, it just doesn't seem right to neglect the ILL privilege. 

As any dedicated reader of Victorian literature knows, the Victorians have been unfairly defamed for a good hundred years now.  Vilified as stodgy, prudish, conservative, and no fun whatsoever, they serve as a convenient foil to us, enlightened moderns that we are (but just wait--our turn is coming).

Anyway, Matthew Sweet set out to re-habilitate the Victorians' image.  He piles up the evidence that Victorians invented most of the fun stuff we enjoy, like movies and amusement parks and thrills and chills.  Oh, and feminism and DIY and the forerunners to email and spam (telegraphic junk mail!).

Sweet also points out that many of our most enduring ideas about Victorians are based on false images that we have misinterpreted.  Those piano legs swathed in chintz as a modesty measure were a joke that Britons told about those silly prudish Americans--and which some snickering American made up to pull a British writer's leg.  Those horrifying medical procedures we've heard about were often advertised in quack publications with little popularity in real life.  It's probable that there wouldn't have been so much discussion and propaganda about woman's place in the home if women all actually were in the home, which they frequently weren't.

The last couple of chapters are on the TMI side, and I kind of skimmed them, because they were a little more than I really wanted to know.  But they are certainly eyebrow-raising reading!

Sweet asks us to find out actual information about the Victorians rather than relying on easy stereotypes.  A very interesting read!

4 comments:

Libby said...

This sounds good! I need some historical non-fiction to help me better understand all the historical fiction I read. :)

Cassandra said...

The Victorians were awesome, no doubt about that.
Well, in fact they could have been the most horrible and barbaric people ever and I would still worship them because of Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Bronte's and all the other amazing writers, but it's good to hear that they werent really so bad :)

Lindsey Sparks said...

I read this last year and liked all the random facts and seeing a different side to the Victorians. I also skimmed the last few chapters though.

Alexis said...

Oh this book sounds like a really fun read. I love the Victorians and, yes, definitely agree that they are much maligned by history. Probably because people can't just adequately comprehend how cool they were. ;)