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Five of the best books about the Victorians

Five of the best books about the Victorians

Reworded: Based on Emma Stone’s latest movie Poor Things, it seems that convincing Victorian individuals to abstain from revealing clothing and unwanted touching was a challenge. Despite this, it took much of the 20th century to dispel their image as strict, humorless puritans with a penchant for cruelty. Here are five highly recommended books that document the gradual evolution of Victorian society and their journey towards embracing fun and freedom.

In 1918, Lytton Strachey published a book titled “Eminent Victorians”.

In these four brutal character sketches, Lytton Strachey, the mischievous member of the Bloomsbury group, criticizes the respected figures from the previous generation. Thomas Arnold, the headmaster from “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” by Thomas Hughes, is portrayed as uptight and dull. Florence Nightingale is described as a domineering individual who devours men for breakfast. General Gordon, celebrated for his actions in Khartoum, is revealed to have a fondness for boys and heavy drinking. Along with Cardinal Manning, these four self-absorbed individuals promote an ideology of “God is Good but Britain is Even Better,” which Strachey suggests ultimately led to the catastrophic events of the first world war.

A London Girl of the 1880s by Mary Vivian Hughes (1936)

During the 1930s, there was a renewed fascination with the Victorian era. However, this memoir does not simply indulge in a sentimental longing for the past. Mary Vivian Hughes belonged to the initial cohort of women who pursued a career in teaching, having obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree. At 25 years old, she is responsible for establishing the new teacher training department at Bedford College in Bedfordshire. In this popular book, she unveils a late-Victorian society that bears uncanny resemblances to our modern world. It is a world of exams, qualifications, train journeys, and independent career women who constantly worry about making ends meet financially.

The Other Victorians by Steven Marcus (1966)

During the era of the sexual revolution, Steven Marcus, a professor at Columbia University, published a book proposing that the Victorians were just as sexually liberated as anyone else. Through extensive research of medical sources tackling taboo subjects such as masturbation, as well as explicitly pornographic literature like My Secret Life by the author known as “Walter”, Marcus presents a new perspective on Victorian England as a sexually-charged playground. In just a few weeks after its release in 1966, The Other Victorians surpassed Nancy Mitford’s biography of Louis XIV, The Sun King, to take the top spot on the national bestseller list. The Times criticized the book, labeling it as “offensive material”, and denounced Marcus as “a connoisseur of obscenity”. However, in present times, the book is highly respected for its groundbreaking impact.

John Fowles’ 1969 novel, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”.

The story of this book, which was considered “postmodern” before its meaning was fully understood, follows the traditional pattern of a Victorian romance. Charles Smithson is engaged to the uninspiring Ernestina, but he falls for Sarah Woodruff, a mysterious woman who embodies both stereotypical roles of the 19th century – a governess and a fallen woman. Woodruff is also fond of strolling along the Cobb in Lyme Regis, a significant location in Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion – nothing in this self-aware world is a coincidence. Famed for its dual endings, one happy and one tragic, Fowles invites the reader to choose their preferred outcome.

Eleanor Catton’s novel “The Luminaries” was published in 2013.

The novel “The Luminaries”, written by Catton, is a lengthy exploration of treachery in the gold rush territory of New Zealand’s South Island. It incorporates all the common themes of the 19th century such as capitalism, colonialism, and pseudoscience, as well as featuring a requisite prostitute character. Winning the Booker Prize, this book serves as a reminder of how the Victorian era still reflects our current bizarre reality.

  • Catland: Feline Enchantment and the Making of the Modern World by Kathryn Hughes is published in April by 4th Estate (£22). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

Source: theguardian.com