Bookish Discussions

How to be a Victorian:

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As the Victorian world slips away at the end of our day, I am more aware than ever of how much remains hidden from our eyes, and of how brief and transitory any such exploration as this can be

Rating: 4.5 stars

Read: 5 January – 10 January, 2019


I remember stumbling across Ruth Goodman’s How to be a Victorian at Speke Hall, Liverpool. My mum enthusiastically shouted my name across the shop to draw my attention. I knew, there and then, that I’d have to read this, so I treated myself to it for my birthday. I’ve only just found time to squeeze it in around my uni schedule. I wish I read this sooner.

It’s a delightful tour through the intimate details of life in Victorian England, told by the historian Ruth Goodman who, for a year, actually lived as a Victorian on a farm. It starts with dawn and ends with dusk. It spans the average day of a Victorian, including the most minute details of every class and every gender. It talks about bathing, dressing, working, travel, leisure, food, and sex

I honestly could not get enough of this book. I craved to read more every time I put it down, but I decided to space it out. I had six essays to edit and submit (four still remain), as well as work, so I didn’t want to overpower myself with information. I wanted to digest it slowly, soak up every detail, and just have fun living the life of a Victorian. I wasn’t in a rush to read it, and I think that made all the difference.

Ruth Goodman put so much of herself into this. The writing was filled with so much passion, so much enthusiasm, and so much love for the Victorians that it was quite overwhelming – in a good way, though. As someone who is endlessly fascinated by this period, I appreciated being taught by someone who was equally as fascinated. It didn’t feel like you were reading a 440 page non-fiction book, nor did it feel like you were being fed all this information, and that was because it was written with such warmth.

Goodman didn’t just relay cold, hard facts. She based her research around other people’s experiences, who weren’t just fleeting references, but people we followed throughout the book. We were introduced to various Victorians, from different background and classes, and we learnt about Victorian life through them. I felt like I was learning more because I was being told about real people. It wasn’t a collective portrayal of the period like most non-fiction, but it was concerned with individual cases.

It made me realise that we take a lot for granted. We don’t have random men knocking on our window to wake us up. We have an understanding of germ theory, meaning we aren’t scared of baths and wearing certain types of clothes. We are not as narrow-minded about sexuality (such as sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, etc.). The Victorians were a weird bunch, but that’s why they’re so fascinating. I really loved this. Goodman is such a brilliant writer, an even better historian, and I can’t wait to check out some more of her books!

Do you like the Victorians? if not, what period are you fascinated with?

Thanks for reading, Lauren X

6 thoughts on “How to be a Victorian:

  1. Ruth Goodman is fantastic! I’ve not read anything by her by I love the enthusiasm and insight she brings in the TV series I’ve seen. The Victorian period is fascinating. I think it had a huge impact on the built environment of England – many people still live in Victorian terraced houses. It has some great literature too – particularly poetry, I think.

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