As someone always wanting to know more about the Victorian era – particularly the details of everyday life rather than the huge events that shaped history – How To Be A Victorian by Ruth Goodman (of BBC’s Victorian Farm, Victorian Pharmacy) was pretty much a perfect read.
The book is laid out in the form of an average day, beginning with getting up, washing, eating breakfast, through to coming home from work and going to bed.
Ruth Goodman writes in an engaging way, able to share her personal experiences of many of the things she describes, having lived as a Victorian for an extended amount of time for various TV programs. This really adds a sense of perspective and personal feel to the whole book. For example, rather than simply listing the facts of wearing a corset she tells the reader what it actually felt like to be encased in one day in, day out.
How To Be A Victorian touches upon just about every subject you could hope for including those interesting realities that are so often left out of historical discussion; how often people washed, how women coped with their periods, how many sets of clothes people owned, and the alarming ingredients found in everyday necessities such as bread and milk. It balances the frivolous – details on croquet and lawn tennis – with the horrifying; cholera, starvation, and back-street abortion.
The book is also littered with a series of drawings and diagrams, as well as historical advertisements, which help illustrate the, sometimes, weird and wonderful things being discussed.
Overall, I thought this book was brilliant – especially as I usually find non-fiction difficult to get into. There were obviously certain topics that I wish had been explored further – the huge amount of rituals surrounding death in the 19th century wasn’t mentioned at all – but overall it was full of a vast amount of detail and interesting anecdotes. I’d definitely recommend How To Be A Victorian to anyone with an interest in the Victorian era and the daily rituals of life during that time. I’m sure I’ll be referring back to this book a lot!
P.S The gorgeous lemon meringue cupcake is from the always lovely Cherry Blossom Bakery.