The Victorian Era, as with practically all other historical eras, is something that we in the twenty-first century often tend to romanticize. Novels are written set in the era, even television shows and movies are produced. The thing is however, in these cases the story always takes the fore and the more mundane events are left in the background. And while a few books have been written on the subject of Victorian life, I have yet to read any that go in to the depth that this one does.
How To Be A Victorian proposes to take us through the average person’s day in Victorian London. Starting with waking up in a cold bed in an often very cold room to getting dressed to going to work. We are taken through what a normal day would be for practically all levels of society for while the day to day of the upper echelons is well documented it is the lower levels; the blue-collar individuals if you well; that tend to be overlooked. And it is these folk who Goodman tends to focus on. The working man, woman and in many cases working child who were the backbone of the masses.
What separates How To Be A Victorian from many other books discussing history is not just the depth of the subject. While Goodman goes in to great detail in HOW things were done she also includes a great deal of WHY it was done. That makes a great deal of difference in understanding the people of the era. She includes pieces from personal diaries as well as published papers from the time. It gives us a peek in to their minds and in to their general way of thinking.
Goodman is not just a historian studying the Victorian era, she is also a re-enactor. She has spent quite a bit of time not just researching the era but also living it. She knows the delicate balancing act one must do while trying to sit in a corset and petticoats. She has done many of the things she writes about even it if was just an attempt. This definitely shows in her writing, giving it a personal touch and showing the reader just how much she cares for her subject.
Not every one will find this book appealing. It will primarily appeal to those who are interested in history in general and the Victorian era in particular. As someone who dabbles in re-enacting I found the read quite fascinating and hope to use some of my well gained knowledge in the future.