Mitchell, Sally. Daily Life in Victorian England.

Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Back in the 1950s, a series of useful volumes began to appear under the uniform series title “Everyday Life in [name your period or culture]” which were designed for high school readers, though they were popular with anyone wanting a quick, accessible introduction to a given slice of social history.

There were eventually a couple hundred titles in the series and they’re still being revised and reprinted. This newer and similarly-titled series from Greenwood Press (now owned by ABC-Clio, a highly regarded publisher of authoritative reference works) is sort of the adult version of that earlier effort, and it’s now up to more than eighty volumes, covering every period and cultural experience from Anglo-Saxon England and 16th century Spain to the California Gold Rush and the Holocaust.

This particular effort, put together by a recognized expert on the culture and literature of Victorian Britain, is an extremely thorough and very useful overview of almost every aspect of English life between 1837 and the turn of the 20th century. It runs about 300 pages but if you try to sit down and read straight through it, you might think it’s twice that length, so dense is it with information. At the same time, it’s extremely readable, even for those with no background whatever in 19th century social history. There are thirteen topical chapters, beginning with an excellent survey of the period (divided into early, mid, and late Victorian), and followed by examinations of class and tradition, work, technology and science, government and the law, private life and the home, family and social ritual, education, health and medicine, sports and recreation, religion and the impetus to reform, imperialism, and the whole, often misunderstood notion of “Victorian morality.” Each can be read separately and referred back to for later reference (the index is quite good), and each includes a number of brief illustrative excerpts from contemporary works. As it happens, I know a good deal about the nuts of bolts of life in this period and I found nothing that made me raise an eyebrow. There’s very little redundancy, though some topics are examined from different angles in different chapters. Whether you’re a undergraduate history or sociology student, a novelist, an aficionado of 19th century novels, or just an explorer of past cultures, this is a book to browse though and go back to again and again. First-rate work.


The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: