Lucy Lethbridge

False Idols

England's Lost Eden: Adventures in a Victorian Utopia

By

Fourth Estate 548pp £25 order from our bookshop

In his 1871 book Unorthodox London, or, Phases of Religious Life in the Metropolis, the Rev Charles Davies observed that ‘sect-hunting, like misery, makes a man acquainted with strange companions and familiarises him with strange experiences’. The nineteenth century saw the emergence of many curious religious communities – usually under the inspiring leadership of a fanatic, a despot, an idealist, or, quite often, simply a charlatan. Some seem now to have been prescient, even courageously radical forerunners of the fresh-air and New Age utopians of the twentieth century – others just desperate, misguided or exploitative. Among the divisions and subdivisions of groups such as the Shakers, the Peculiar People and the Family of Love, there were recurrent themes: communal living; religious rituals involving trance-like ecstasies; there is often an apocalyptic vision; the Book of Revelation is a key text.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,
    • 'All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And t… ,
    • 'You are interested in a particular subject; basic research hardens this interest into an obsession, after which th… ,
    • 'Keynes predicted that future generations would enjoy such an improved standard of living that they might work just… ,
    • 'Various dislocations ... emerge, iceberg-like, out of a troubled sea of unconscious motivation and confront Eisenb… ,
    • Today is the first today of the – they've got some excellent events coming up over the next two weeks.… ,