Book Review: How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman

Excellent book! If you are interested in the day-to-day matters of Victorian English, then look no further. This book goes over from dressing up to hygiene to eating to exercising to education to leisure time to working to diseases and sex, to mention a few. I picked up this book because I write fantasy inspired by the Victorian era, and this book will live up my writing with burning skirts, jumbled transportation schedules, deaf workers, and upper-class women with the sole purpose of looking pretty and eating as little as they can.

Of course, what I learned goes beyond the little titbits I can use in my writing. I got a chance to mirror our current lives to those of Victorian Londoners who at bad smoke days barely saw their noses, who worked in poor conditions in textile factories where the dust took you into an early grave, and where they knew that the food they eat was diluted with a poisonous substance which gradually killed them, yet ate on. On the other side, some people had freedoms and opportunities to be obsessed with the latest fashion and other fads. It was scandalous to go out into society wearing last year’s design. And that gets me to a point which dawned on me. The parallel between the Victorians and us. What was once reserved only for the rich has been opened up to all now. This frivolous over-consuming attitude, where entertainment and fads are sought for over anything else, where leisure time is possible with legislated working hours. All this makes me wonder how vital knowing history is and how blind we are to the era we live in. So many people today say that there is no change, that everything is going worse, that it was better back in the day, and they are wrong. The world has changed and a lot in two hundred years. The Victorians got to enjoy the industrial revolution in its all glory and horror. Now we stand on the brink of a robotic? Algorithm? (whatever it is going to be called) revolution and people will write about our sex habits (Victorians had surprisingly loose values about prostitution for example,) working hours and conditions, the constant running around getting the latest clothes to stay with the in-crowd, and so on. What kind of parallels they see with us and what will they think as our funny and inconceivable fads.

As I wrote, this book is excellent. I listened to it, and I’m planning to buy the paperback version to use as reference material for my other books. But as I poorly tried to make a point early, the value of this book goes beyond reference material, it shows what life was like back in Victorian England and what we can learn about it.

Thank you for reading, and have a royal day!

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