How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman


How to be Victorian
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How to be a Victorian, by Ruth Goodman is a real treat for hardcore history fans.  Indeed, I feel the title might have been chosen cleverly to catch the eyes of odd people like me, who might just view this as a dream made into reality.  A deeply detailed and comprehensive exploration of every day Victorian life, it reads surprisingly easily, almost like a novel.  Goodman writes this book from first-hand experience after living for a year on a Victorian farm (this experience was also televised for the BBC) and also from evidently extensive research.  It is full of fascinating facts, explanations and anecdotes, as well as Goodman’s own views all manner of things from what the most comfortable corset was, to how long one can go without washing one’s hair.

The book is set out so that it follows a typical day for most people in Victorian England, beginning with the morning routine of washing (or not) and dressing, and then the journey into work; and ends with a chapter entitled ‘Behind the Bedroom Door’.

Some of the most meaningful explanations in this book come from the personal histories of people who actually lived during the 1800s, or from the objects they have left behind, which reveal so much.  If you are a keen historian, you will lap up the stories that explain some of our own habits, as well as all of the facts about areas of Victorian life you might never have even considered before.


Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace
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Alias Grace, By Margaret Atwood is a book I have returned to ten years after first reading it for my A-Level in English Literature.  I was blessed with a teacher at the time, who allowed us to explore the novel and highlight parts that appealed to and inspired us, simply because they did, and not because they were in tune with any particular syllabus requirements.  Perhaps that is the reason why I, unlike many others, have been able to recall a text I have had to study with fondness.  A few thought-provoking lines and strong images had remained in my mind over the years and after spotting it still on the shelf of my childhood bedroom, I determined to visit the novel again.

It was better the second-time round for many reasons, the main one being that Atwood’s leisurely pace and attention to detail produce a narrative that is so rich, it needs to be savoured and appreciated.  The novel is based on the largely untold and unknown story of Grace Marks, a Victorian girl, who at the age of sixteen was accused of the murder of her employer, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery in Canada.  After having her sentence commuted to life imprisonment, rather than death, she spends her days in a penitentiary, and is visited by an idealistic young doctor, Simon Jordan, who hopes to awaken the memories he believes Grace has been unconsciously suppressing of the day of the murder.  More importantly, he hopes that they will reveal just how involved she was.  Through the conversations that pass between the two characters, we learn about Grace’s early life in Ireland, the treacherous voyage she suffered over to Canada, and her years spent in service before the fateful day.  The characters are fully dimensional and layered to keep readers guessing and changing their minds about them.  Grace is, in one sense, incredibly truthful about the realities of lower class Victorian life, and in another, she is wholly deceptive and we, along with Simon Jordan are never sure about how honest she is being with her audience.


This is a consuming and emotional read that has the power to completely take you in.  As well as having the obvious appeal of historical fiction, it is also a very thought provoking study of psychology.  But be warned that its candid subject matter means that it is entirely different from the escapism of say, a Jane Austen novel.

Costume Drama Alert

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According to the latest press releases, a new, 8-part period drama about Queen Victoria is set to air on ITV this autumn in the UK.  The drama stars Jenna Coleman as Victoria and focuses on her ascension to the throne, aged 18, and her marriage to Prince Albert.  Of course, many of you who, like myself, have seen the 2001 production of Victoria and Albert, starring Victoria Hamilton and Jonathan Firth will know that this drama will have a lot to live up to.  I have high hopes, however, as it is written by Daisy Goodwin, best known, at present, as a novelist (My Last Duchess is a brilliant read, if you get the chance).  It also looks like this series is shedding a different light on the revered monarch to that which we are used to seeing her in.  Victoria is popularly remembered as a perfect wife and mother, prim, proper, in awe of her husband, and inconsolable after his death.  In this new drama, we will see Victoria as someone who was in charge of her own destiny, and who ruled as a determined and confident woman.  So there’s something to look forward to as the nights begin to draw in!

A Review of Dickensian (with spoilers)


Good evening,

I finally sat down this evening to finish watching the BBC’s Dickensian, and am left with mixed feelings about this one.  I was really excited by the idea – I’ve read a few of Dickens’ novels and seen more of their adaptations.  Dickens is an author whose storylines I very much enjoy, though I sometimes find it hard to identify with his characters.  However, I knew that this series was going to explore the early life of Honoria Deadlock, and of Nancy amongst others; two of Dickens’ female characters who I feel have a bit more to them than say Nell Trent or Ada Clare.  I also love the era in which it was set, especially the costumes.  So this was to be one of the highlights for me of this year’s TV.


I liked the first episode, even if it did feel a little busy.  I reasoned that this was simply because all of the characters needed to be introduced and the viewers needed to be immersed in atmospheric, Dickensian London.  The second episode was good too, and the third; and I followed this drama with interest for some time until about episode 6 or 7.  Then the pace started to slow down.  For a long time, I felt like some of these episodes were just fillers.  Of course, Dickens is renowned for his minor characters: the likes of Fanny Biggetywitch and Mr Venus, so they had to be included, but for me, too much time was given to their antics.  Inevitably, some of the suspense was lost due to the fact that the fates of many of the characters is already known to the viewer.  It was clear that neither Fagin nor Dodger would hang for Marley’s murder.  And, though I should perhaps have tried to ignore these more pernickety hang ups, I did struggle with the way that time frames were played around with.  It is clearly stated at the beginning of A Christmas Carol that Marley has been dead for some years before Scrooge is visited by his ghost.  Therefore, Tiny Tim should not be as old as he is portrayed to be when Dickensian is set.  This is just one example and though it may be fussy, I could not help but be a little annoyed by this.

The main problem I found was with one of the leading storylines – that of who murdered Marley.  I stopped caring about this pretty early on, possibly because we saw so little of him beforehand.  The episodes which focused on this did not entice me, so it wasn’t until about episode 15, that I became interested again.  This is when Honoria’s pregnancy is revealed, and the events which follow start to unfold.  Those episodes, I felt, were more gripping.  I could immerse myself in this narrative thread and felt that the acting of Sophie Rundle and Alexandra Moen was particularly moving.honoria

The acting was brilliant throughout this series, I have to say.  I found many of the characters believable, particularly Mrs Cratchit and Nancy.  I really liked Stephen Rea’s portrayal of Inspector Bucket.  I did not like the characterisation of Honoria – I found her too childish in the first few episodes and too flighty.  I can see what the writers were getting at; this is what she was like before life took its toll on her.  But it was hard for me to match this Honoria with the one in the book (and also with Gillian Anderson’s very stylish and sophisticated performance in the BBC’s 2005 Bleak House).  I didn’t really get why Mr and Mrs Bumble were included, unless it was to provide some comic relief.  I found Meriwether Compyson and Arthur suitably repellent, but still could not sympathise with Amelia.  I’ve never read Great Expectations, otherwise I might be able to make a more informed judgement of those characters, but Amelia just seemed very pathetic and rather one- dimensional.  The only time I really felt anything on her account was in the final episode.  That was some compelling acting from Tuppence Middleton.

I was a little disappointed by this series but as the costume drama fanatic that I am, I would say that Dickensian is worth watching.  Although much of the subject matter (a murder, pregnancy out of marriage, closet homosexuality) is fairly hard-hitting, somehow, this series was just not very absorbing.  A friend of mine recently described it as ‘trashy’ and somehow, I knew exactly what she meant.  It did lack a certain finesse.  However, it is watchable and at times entertaining.   Those middle episodes, where nothing much seemed to happen, are fine to have on in the background until the drama picks up again later on.

Thanks for reading,