The Victorian era has dominated the popular imagination like no other period, but these myths and stories also give a very distorted view of the 19th century. The early Victorians were much stranger than we usually imagine, and their world would have felt very different from our own. It was only during the long reign of the Queen that a modern society emerged in unexpected ways.
Using character portraits, events, and key moments, Paterson brings the real life of Victorian Britain alive - from the lifestyles of the aristocrats to the lowest ranks of the London slums. This includes the right way to use a fan, why morning visits were conducted in the afternoon, what the Victorian family ate, and how they enjoyed their free time, as well as the Victorian legacy today: convenience food, coffee bars, window shopping, mass media, and celebrity culture.
©2012 Michael Paterson (P)2012 Audible Ltd
"Out of the babble of voices, Michael Paterson has been able to extract the essence of London itself. Read this book and re-enter the labyrinth of a now-ancient city." (Peter Ackroyd)
I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
The biggest criticism anyone will ever find on a "Brief History Of" book is how much is left out. There are volumes upon volumes of histories of Victorian Britain out there, but this one is a social history. Names, dates, and events are used as touchstones here and nothing more; the real attraction is the Victorian society itself. The etiquette, protocol, fashion, habits, beliefs, attitudes, and lifestyles are put under the spotlight. Everything from bowler hats and hoopskirts to calling cards, curry, technological innovation, and Imperialism are looked at in terms of what it means to have these things as a part of everyday life. The queen herself and her prince consort are given a brief biography with the understanding that their examples set the stage for the transitions that had already begun when Victoria took the throne and seeing them through to the beginnings of the first world war. As an entry point into this era of history, this book is perfect for understanding why things were as they were, and it provides several launching points for further exploration. For those who already have the history under their belts, this book fleshes it all out from a more human perspective than a dry narrative might otherwise provide.
Mark Meadows is a fantastic narrator for this. His easy-going delivery makes this book even easier to connect with, and the result is the brief time you spend will seem even more brief if you're remotely inclined towards the subject matter.
Say something about yourself!
As brief histories go, this one is extremely well done. Paterson's social history of Queen Victoria's reign is short on generalizations and dense with well-organized and meaty information about everything from architecture and furnishings to food and fashion. He stresses in particular the social revolutions that took place thanks to innovations in transportation and literacy during the Victorian era. Throughout his study, Paterson draws attention to how thoroughly life transformed from the beginning of Victoria's reign to its close, and how this age of intense change (both physical and intellectual) not only set the stage for much of the world we've inherited globally in the twenty-first century, but also marks the experience of that time as one that resembles our own more closely than we might realize.
Excellent! So far, one of my favorites.
Paterson has done some outstanding research, and Meadows was a very good narrator.
The book had a sizable population of Victorians, and he did an impressive job with them all.
I wholeheartedly recommend this work.
The first 2/3 of this book is very enjoyable. It explores the customs and etiquette of Victorian Britain, detailing how life changed over the 60 years of the Queen's reign. It is obvious that the author is only interested in the lives of the upper classes, but that is understandable in that the literate, wealthy segment of a population often leaves more documentation of their lives. The section on how the bicycle and the underground changed life is very interesting. However, when the book discusses Britain's colonial legacy, it becomes rather hard to take. Patterson states that even though it is currently 'unfashionable' to defend colonialism, he feels that Britain benefited the countries it occupied by bringing them roads and education, culture and Christianity. He admits that the jobs for which education would prepare the native population would probably not be available to them anyway; he does not seem to realize that an alien culture and religion might not have been welcome 'gifts'. Neither does he address the steady stream of archaeological and cultural treasures systemically looted and sent back to England. This defense of imperialism is an odd sort of thesis for a 21st Century author, considering that the legacy of British rule has been ongoing strife in many of the countries it formerly controlled. The Irish Famine is dismissed in a sentence or two - by saying that the story that Queen Victoria only gave five pounds to famine relief is untrue. he does not say what, if anything, she and her government actually did. I would have enjoyed this book more had the author stuck to life in England, and left politics alone.
Mark Meadows does an excellent job narrating this book - his upper class pronunciation and mellow voice suits the material very well.
For anyone interested in this era, this is a really good place to start. True, the style is a bit dry at times - this tries to be comprehensive after all - but never boring. The reader tries his best to give live to the dry text and generally succeeds, aided by the relatively simple language. A gem for the interested layman.
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