Sue Bridehead Revisited

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The title of Paula Byrne’s Hardy Women is a pun on Thomas Hardy’s name and a gesture to the enthusiasm that greeted Hardy’s fictional women. Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess Durbeyfield in Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure were new kinds of women, and Hardy’s fame, which was immense

Crape Expectations

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Judith Flanders has undertaken a mammoth task. The Victorian period is widely known for its excessive, sometimes scarcely believable interest in death and everything that surrounds it. There are so many set pieces involving death in the fiction of the era, particularly the scenes of children dying in Dickens’s writings. The demise of Little Nell

Not Enough Selection

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Some scholarly biographies can bridge the gulf between an academic audience and the general reader. Whether this one will make it is uncertain; our conclusion would have to be, à la Goldwyn, ‘a definite maybe’. The first thing to be said about this book is that the authors and publisher have given too many hostages […]

Napoleon of Engineers

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

No engineer in history has come close to rivalling the fame of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. His career reads like fiction. At nineteen, he worked for his father on the first tunnel to pass beneath the Thames, a feat of engineering still connecting Wapping to Rotherhithe on the East London Line. Before it was even finished, […]

Strange Rumblings in the Cannibal Club

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Pleasure Bound is organised around the lives and work of the most prominent members of two bohemian societies, the Aesthetes – which consisted of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his Pre-Raphaelite associates – and the Cannibal Club, a dining society founded by the explorer, sexologist and uber-male iconoclast Richard Burton. From these two bodies sprang, as […]

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Making A Killing

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Talk about mysteries: why does the British public continue to lap up books on real Victorian crime? Surely it is not simply because writers now find the necessary research material, from The Times reports to Metropolitan Police archives, easily accessible on the web? And it is not as though these stories serve some warped paternalistic […]

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Losing Faith

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

These two studies of Victorian religious scepticism are extremely welcome, and for largely different reasons. Giles St Aubyn’s Souls in Torment is a magisterial account of the background and growth of doubt, structured according to theme, so that the ideas of the leading thinkers reappear in several places. In The Age of Doubt, Christopher Lane […]

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The Alleged Lunatics’ Friend Society

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Sarah Wise’s two previous books about the darker regions of Victorian life, The Italian Boy and The Blackest Streets, have been rightly acclaimed for the extensive research they contain and for the clarity and intelligence of the writing. Both books reveal a degree of paranoia in the politer ranks of 19th-century society about the ‘evils’ […]

At Home with Mrs Brown

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Self-centred, demanding, often maddeningly so, Queen Victoria commanded the devotion of the people who worked for her, as Kate Hubbard skilfully illustrates in Serving Victoria. The book is based on the letters and papers of six of her more important courtiers: Sarah Lyttelton, a Spencer who married into the Lyttelton family of Hagley Hall; Charlotte […]

In Fagin’s Footsteps

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

We think we have an idea of the Victorian city precisely because so many of our cities still look, in part, Victorian – not just the obvious suspects such as Leeds, Manchester or Bradford, but much of London too. Yet, as Judith Flanders explains in this well-researched and often fascinating book, the London in which […]

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