Let’s have a little Victober check-in, shall we? I finished reading How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. It was a fabulous read. The author lived like a Victorian for one year so she could write this book. The details were just riveting. It was so interesting that I lost myself in the book for hours at a time, but every once in a while I was jolted out of my revery when I came across the most unsavory details (like learning all about the privy). Parts of it were also painful to read, such as the section on fashion which described what corsets actually did to the body.
I don’t know if you could convince me to live like a Victorian even for a day, but I am incredibly grateful that Ms. Goodman lived the Victorian experience so I could read all about it in this book. I think it gave me a better understanding and appreciation of Victorian literature.
A few interesting tidbits from the book:
- The Victorians believed that women were weak and that corsets would hold them together.
- When the new fancy toilets began to appear in households, Victorians believed that servants or institutionalized people were not smart enough to use a toilet.
- America was the leader in the production of toilet paper. The first brand was launched in 1857. The first British toilet paper company began production in 1880.
- Mutton-chop side burns were all the rage.
- Hunger was a pandemic.
- School beatings were beyond cruel. Some children died from the beatings.
Gosh, Charlotte Brontë did not exaggerate in Jane Eyre, that’s for sure. Not that I ever thought she was exaggerating, but How to Be a Victorian brought the Victorian era to life for me. And what about Charles Dickens? He definitely didn’t exaggerate in his novels, not one tiny bit. His personal experiences from living in a workhouse made their way into his books. But Ms. Goodman’s book wasn’t all doom and gloom. It discusses the bravery of the feminists, improvements in the treatment of children, and fun-to-read details about the many innovations that came out of the Industrial Revolution.
I was especially touched by how the author ended her book. “If I could speak to any of them [Victorians] back down the years, I would like to say ‘thank you.’ I cannot imagine that any of the great improvements that have made my life so much more comfortable and healthy could have happened without their efforts. It is not just the revolutionary ideas or the actions of the powerful that make the world, it is the cumulative work of everyone. Victorian Britons – we owe you.” – Ruth Goodman
On a lighter note, next up in my Victober reading is Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Cranford is about the imaginary village of Cranford and its inhabitants. Originally it wasn’t meant to be a novel, but vignettes of village life. I’ve never read Gaskell before and am so looking forward to it.
What are you currently reading?