Great References for the Victorian Era

Throughout my writing career, I have amassed quite a few books both as historical reference and to improve my writing skills.  Each story that I pen, I do a lot of research online reading articles. When I come across a book that looks like it contains the answers to my questions, I add it to my library.  Most of what I write is in the Victorian Era, so my research centers upon the long span of Queen Victoria’s reign.

If you would like to do some additional research on your own, here are some picks:

Written by Judith Flanders, Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England, is a book filled with illustrations and 416 pages of great information.
If you ever wondered what it was like to live in a Victorian Home, some of what you read will appall and shock you regarding the dangers that surrounded their everyday lives. The book focuses on every room of a middle-class Victorian home.  You will enter the kitchen, dining room, parlor, and bedrooms.
In addition to the life behind these homes, which decor may appeal to you, are the wide variety of misconceptions that Victorians held.  As much as we romanticize in historical fiction (and I am as guilty as any other author), after reading this book it’s obvious that living in the 19th century was not exactly a pleasant task.
A few of the stark realities that we do not consider are their uneducated ways of medical care, short lifespans, and strange and crude methods of medical treatment. Of course, the fashions were quite lovely, but  a Victorian gown could weigh as much as 40 pounds! In addition, if the color was green, you might even get arsenic poisoning.
If you’re interested in the day-to-day routines of Victorians, this is the book for you.
Previously, I’ve reviewed this reference before, but it bears the merit of being mentioned once again.  Victorian Women is an eye-opening journey into the lives of everyday women, not part of the aristocracy. It is filled with actual statements from women found in letters and memoirs of their life during that time.  It covers everything from sex to widowhood and their struggles to merely survive.
As authors, I think we sometimes do a disservice to the women of this era, by penning the majority of our stories about the cushy aristocratic life. We focus upon the beauty and riches of the upper class, while turning a blind eye to the struggles of the lower class.
I tend to be a realist. When I wrote The Price of Innocence, which is the reality of a poor woman in Paris in 1870, I received harsh reviews for painting a depressing picture of life and then death. However, if we are really looking for strong heroines in our books, I dare say that we would probably find strong women in the lower and middle classes who struggled day to day to keep themselves out of the workhouses.
If you’re not afraid to open your eyes and look at reality of the era, I high recommend Victorian Women.
Just recently, I stumbled across this gem written in 1859 – The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen.  I had been searching diligently online for some information on the process of debutantes being presented at court. Inside is a fantastic chapter with a step-by-step description of the ceremony, which I will definitely use.
While skimming through the contents, here are few great chapters I’ll be excited to read about and take notes.
– Individual personal habits from bathing to dressing.
– Accomplishments
– Manners – Public and Private
– Dinners and Dinner-Parties
– Behavior at Balls
– Courting, Proposals, and Marriage
– Presentation at Court

The introduction in the book states, “Thoughts, hints, and anecdotes concerning social observances; nice points of taste and good manners; and the art of making one’s self agreeable.”  

Would you agree that the art of making one’s self agreeable is a skill that even 21st century individuals would do well to learn?

In any event, if you’re looking for reality in the Victorian era, these are great books.

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