Read The Victorians by A.N. Wilson Online


The nineteenth century saw greater changes than any previous era: in the ways nations and societies were organized, in scientific knowledge, and in nonreligious intellectual development. The crucial players in this drama were the British, who invented both capitalism and imperialism and were incomparably the richest, most important investors in the developing world. In thiThe nineteenth century saw greater changes than any previous era: in the ways nations and societies were organized, in scientific knowledge, and in nonreligious intellectual development. The crucial players in this drama were the British, who invented both capitalism and imperialism and were incomparably the richest, most important investors in the developing world. In this sense, England's position has strong resemblances to America's in the late twentieth century.As one of our most accomplished biographers and novelists, A. N. Wilson has a keen eye for a good story, and in this spectacular work he singles out those writers, statesmen, scientists, philosophers, and soldiers whose lives illuminate so grand and revolutionary a history: Darwin, Marx, Gladstone, Christina Rossetti, Gordon, Cardinal Newman, George Eliot, Kipling. Wilson's accomplishment in this book is to explain through these signature lives how Victorian England started a revolution that still hasn't ended....

Title : The Victorians
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ISBN : 9780393325430
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 760 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Victorians Reviews

  • Caroline
    2019-02-24 07:59

    It's quite difficult to know how to describe this book. It's non-fiction, it's history, of course it's history, but somehow...not quite history as one might expect it. And yet if you asked me to put my finger on why this isn't a typical history book I think I would struggle. It's about a particular time and place; it's written in a chronological fashion; the usual suspects of Victorian history make an appearance; it focuses on politics, the monarchy, war, culture, literature, fashion, commerce. And yet somehow there is definitely something about this book that differs from a 'normal' history book.I think perhaps it's the author. This is very much A.N. Wilson's personal take on the Victorians, history from one individual's perspective. By and large, with most history books, the author is all but invisible. He (or she) presents their version of history without interfering in the narrative: their presence is only really visible in the elements they choose to focus on, the things they include and the things they omit. Whilst that is just as much the case here, the author's presence is that much more tangible. I think that, added to Wilson's occasionally whimsical tone and authorial asides, somehow makes this history book feel less like history and more like one individual's musings on history.It's an unexpected approach, but not an entirely unsuccessful one. It makes this book very much a mixed bag, an often enjoyable but occasionally rambling read, one that almost feels like it's stuffed just that little bit too full with anecdotes and snapshots and asides and marginalia. One could argue a little bit more structure and rigidity, a tightening of the focus, a trimming of some of the fat, might have improved it, but then it would probably have been just like every other book on the Victorians out there, and there's definitely something to be said for a novel approach.

  • Stenwjohnson
    2019-03-15 08:13

    Where do you begin if you want to read a broad, deep, erudite overview of a large historical topic? Usually, it requires looking to older scholarship; “big” histories are rarely attempted by academics these days. Next stop is the unfairly maligned genre of “popular” history, which relies on the synthesis of secondary sources and is unburdened by the need for complete academic originality.That was my dilemma when I first picked up A.N.Wilson’s epic “The Victorians,” almost at random. Wilson is a non-academic, but a reputable and excellent writer on a range of topics. On the surface, “The Victorians” relies on a straightforward framework, covering the era (one of the few with finite beginning and end dates) by decade from Victoria’s coronation in 1837 to her death in 1901. But it also offers a teeming, dense substructure of cultural, intellectual and social interconnections beneath the hood.Wilson’s approach is both vertical and horizontal. He surveys the historical record but offers a continual stream of thematic cross-references over time, almost frenetically. “The Victorians” requires a great deal of attention to detail; as personages and ideas submerge and reappear, Wilson often makes minimal (or at best, oblique) reference to their original context. But that’s a minor complaint about a book that is a rare tour de force.

  • Nick
    2019-02-26 06:19

    If you only ever read one book on the Victorians, this is the one to read. Wilson doesn't invent anything new; the categories are familiar. We start with the bad old England that Victoria inherited, work our way through the Chartists, Peel and the Corn Laws, the terrible 40s, the Italian influence, doubt, Mesmerism, Albert, the Great Exhibition, the Reform Bills, the Crimean War, Afghanistan, and on and on. Wilson is a wonderful storyteller, and he fills in the bare bones of history with lots of nice connections, curious biographies, and back stories. His history is people-based rather than movement-based or full of impersonal forces. And, of course, if you look at the Victorian era through that lens, there's plenty to amuse you, from Gladstone and his hypocrisy to Disraeli and his wit to the unwitting Freudianisms of Goblin Market to Charles Dodgson's creepy pictures of Alice Liddell, and so on virtually forever. Wilson is an excellent writer with a novelist's eye for bringing history to life. Just don't look to this book for any fresh or systematic thinking about the Victorians. But there's plenty here to keep all but the most dedicated professional historian busy for a good long time. Read this in conjunction with Dickens or Thackeray or Eliot, and you'll soon have a rich, dense idea of the fabric and incident of Victorian life.

  • Maryanne
    2019-03-10 09:18

    I decided to read this only one chapter per day so that I could really enjoy the wonderful writing and the bits that are not normally included in books about the Victorians .Glad to see my friend Dizzy came out well he was always my favourite, unlike the patronizing, sermonizing Gladstone.Nice to see the ladies of the time getting kudos too....Maryanne Evans still remains one of my favourite authors along with Oscar Wilde.Well worth reading and just enjoying.

  • Duncan
    2019-03-17 09:05

    A fascinating period of history. I like most of Wilson's work and this did not disappoint.

  • Christopher Sutch
    2019-03-08 12:28

    This is a very good read, is very well-researched, and provides a wealth of information on the Victorians and their social context. It was very hard to put down, despite its massive length. One of the problems Wilson has, though, is his annoying tendency to either misread or misunderstand Marx. This is due, I think, in large part because of his sympathy for more British forms of socialism (based in Robert Owens). It's clear Wilson has read Marx, and not just the _Communist Manifesto_. But despite his knowledge he continually mis-characterizes Marx's position, conflates Marxism with Leninism or, worse, says that certain things Marx could never have imagined when, in fact, those things form a fundamental part of Marxist theory. For example, Wilson claims that Marx could never have imagined that the aristocracy could have died out mainly because of the vast plethora of "suburban" citizens by the end of the nineteenth century. Actually, Marx himself predicted this: the aristocracy were a part of the feudal relations of production hanging on into the era of capitalist relations of production (that's who all those "suburbanites" were: petit-bourgeois or outright capitalists who would, according to Marx, eventually come to replace the remnants of the feudal aristocracy. Again, Wilson quite rightly castigatess Kitchener's cruelty in spreading the Empire, but refuses to acknowledge that contemporary culture still bears responsibility for such crimes because we continue to benefit from them: Wilson would not have his position as a writer or as an academic if Britain had not accumulated so much wealth through its imperial atrocities. Wilson should continue to decry what was done in the past, but also needs to step up to the plate and admit the continuing benefit we all reap from that horrible period of history. Despite such disingenousness, Wilson's book is a valuable reference work on the Victorians and their time.

  • Steve
    2019-03-07 09:18

    I would of rated this higher, but the last third of the book was a chore to finish. It was like Wilson lost his focus (which, admittedly, is difficult given the broad subject), and started speculating more with various what-ifs. In a history book, a little bit of that can go a long way. In addition, the subject matter is so broad (the Victorians) that Wilson was obligated to cover areas I could care less about. As long as he was dealing with writers, artists, politicians, religion, military events, etc., I was ok. But when he got into philosophies (always a bore for me), economics (snooze), and other flotsam & jetsam, I could feel my eyes glazing over. There were also times Wilson would dutifully take up some subject like Jack the Ripper or Sherlock Holmes, and you would get a very surface level discussion. However, other times Wilson shines with discussions of Browning -- and his poetry, or Ruskin (and Pater), or Zola, or the back and forth between Newman and Charles Kingsley. (Refreshingly, he views Kingsley, who had a mildly kinky relationship with his wife, as the more straightforward Christian.) On the area of Christianity, and belief, you can't help but be aware of Wilson's own struggles. At the time of this book, Wilson apparently stopped believing, which, for all I know, may have been influenced by his up close research on those great minds who were swayed by the Age (and arguments) of Darwin. It doesn't mar the book, because he treats this subject with complete respect, according believers and non-believers equal time. But from what I hear, Wilson now believes again.

  • Paige
    2019-02-21 11:03

    I didn’t finish this book although I did think it was decent. There is some really good information in here, but it was kind of slow going and I had a lot of other stuff going on. My main complaint is that Wilson assumes the reader already know a lot of the figures he’s talking about. This would probably be the case if I was raised and went to school in England, but as an ignorant US citizen, I kept going, “Who? What’s that??” And then I would have to consult Google and it was very disruptive to the reading experience. If he’d just inserted little dependent clauses, like “John Potatohands, the Queen’s royal potato planter, was a man of letters,” instead of just being like “John Potatohands was a man of letters,” it would have helped me out a lot. It was a library book that I put down a while back, but soon after I picked it up again and started reading a chapter a day I ran out of renewals. I get the feeling that it is quite informative—I learned a lot in just the bit I read—and I would like to come back to it when I have more time/patience for its format and style.

  • DeAnna Knippling
    2019-03-06 04:09

    Hmmmm....for the best book about the Victorians I've read, it's not the first I'd recommend or the highest I've rated. I'd start with The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, unless you're already big into history.This book is erudite, so much so that I missed a lot of things that the author assumed I knew, and the chapters jumped around in a way that I sometimes couldn't follow. Nevertheless, I feel like I have a good sense of who the Victorians were and how they changed over time: It's complicated.If you're looking for a focus on the late Victorians, you should also start elsewhere; this has a much stronger focus on, say, the 1840s to the 1870s. Lots of politics and philosophy, and how those things became so nobly and tragically realized.NOT light reading. Very toothsome.

  • Aaron Eames
    2019-03-21 06:11

    An astoundingly comprehensive audit of the era; sprawling, expansive and imperial, touching all bases, cause célèbre (Chartism) to celebrated cause (The Boer War), succès de scandale (On the Origin of Species, perhaps) to successful scandal (The Fall of Parnell, perhaps). Wilson, elsewhere biographer of Darwin and Queen Victoria, emphasises personalities, those individuals whose lives, words and works mediate their period. His pen-portraits of key figures read like rigorously-researched private memoirs; his portrayal of Dizzy is biased enough to entertain and balanced enough to forgive, his Lewis Carroll is gentle yet just. Less a primer, more a full-blown guide.

  • Webcowgirl
    2019-02-24 07:26

    An excellent overview of a historical era I had much to learn about. Good foundation for steampunk lit. A bit too fragmented, though.

  • Peter Ellwood
    2019-02-26 10:59

    An absorbing account of the Victorian era. I am so glad I resisted my quite strong inclination in the early part of the book – to abandon it as a load of grump. So much so that I wish he would go back and rewrite those early chapters. If you are like me – persist, it does eventually repay the effort!For me, the part dealing with the first ten years or so is in quite marked contrast to the remainder. Perhaps it is the actual content: perhaps the 1840s were a boring period, or perhaps they are so distant that all the interesting bits have somehow slipped away. Or perhaps it is because the balance of the book seems to be more towards political history in that section, and less towards a patchwork of interconnected cameos of Victoriana, which go to make up the much more interesting bulk of it.Perhaps it was his prose: I don’t find it all that engaging. For such a prolific writer it jolly well ought to be, but I didn’t find it so. I have to admit to the attention span of a five year old these days, my days of reading books 100 pages at a time, are long gone. But all the same, it was irritating how many times I had to re-read a paragraph because my mind had wandered away from his unexciting delivery. My attention span might be awful, but I never had that problem with, say, Jan Morris’ gorgeous accounts of comparable material. He has a bad habit of writing great long, baggy sentences, loaded down with qualifying clauses and phrases, and to leave the central point until the very end of his sentence. Thus, he wouldn’t say that Victoria was the central character in his book; he would say that his book, complex and multi-layered though it might seem to anyone who has no familiarity with the period, can nonetheless be summed up as an attempt, whether successful or not is not for the writer to say of course, to delineate and analyse the life and times, and of course the influence and impact of the eponymous Victoria. You get my drift.Second, often he somehow assumed that you knew all about the subject in hand, and didn’t bother to explain it. For example, he talks about John Stewart Mill without really ever mentioning what his epoch-changing thinking was:“Mills’ first important work, A System of Logic, was published in 1843. It is a patient, even a somewhat laborious restating of the empiricist position - though Mill disliked the term empiricist, preferring to call himself an experimentalist”.Yes, but what was the empiricist position? No news. And in what way did Mills restate and/or reshape that empiricist position? We are left none the wiser. There are lots of similar examples. He mentions the Corn Laws without saying what they were about. He refers to Chartism a lot in the relevant chapters on that decade – but never mentions what Chartism was; he barely explains Bentham’s utilitarianism. And so on. As time goes by and more personalities emerge he becomes somehow much more engaging (and more contentious):“We shall see clearly enough in the next decade the kind of people the Victorians en masse were, with their wild enthusiasm for the Crimean War and their violent and vindictive attitude to the Indian Mutiny.” Well Mr Wilson, at least there’s no mistaking where you stand!Where he stands, quite often apparently, is to not like the Victorians very much. It’s true that the tone lifts a little as he gets his teeth into the wider subject, but the approach of mild jeering is never far away. Another example, which also suggests he doesn’t like contemporary Britain much better either:“Yet war is a Pandora’s box, even when fought over a distance of over a thousand miles. Palmerston’s complacent belief in the love affair between the English and the aristocracy was, like most things in England, only half true”.All the same, as the last two examples also illustrate, it’s quite entertaining to read mild jeering sometimes, and for me, these passages rarely needed re-reading!All the same, the penny slowly drops that he is not ultimately laying into either England or the English or even the Victorians. It is simply that his style of prose tends to use the language of full frontal attack as his default. To pick one or two examples at random: Victoria was “probably illegitimate”, Havelock relieved Lucknow after the Indian mutiny, not after several failed attempts, but after “several botched attempts”, British imperialism owes itself – he says, with a completely straight face as far as one can see – to repressed homosexual longings on the part of our generals. Coo.But all the same, it is somehow no real surprise, after more than 600 pages of grump, to see in his summing up that he sees Victorian Britain a bit along the lines of Churchill’s famous quote, that democracy is the “worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…” In terms of the content, then, I’d cheerfully give this four stars. It’s a fascinating patchwork picture by the end. It would have been scintillating if he could have expressed it a little more pithily.

  • Eric Pape
    2019-03-14 12:00

    Well written and worth the time but I would have liked a little more about the lot of the common folk.

  • Mark
    2019-02-24 05:21

    A very enjoyable thematic account of the Victorian age, which required work to master but was enormously rewarding once completed.

  • Daniel Kukwa
    2019-03-18 07:19

    No single book will ever manage to cover every single aspect of the 19th century or the Victorian age...but this book comes as close as humanly possible. It's a near-perfect snapshot -- it manages to give a taste of the politics, the attitudes, the conflicts, and the society without ever outstaying its welcome. In fact, using many short chapters, dancing from topic to topic before the reader becomes bored, and a simple chronological order all results in a volume that is both broad yet satisfying. The author worries in his opening remarks that this book may have run away with itself in length...but he really should be congratulated for actually constructing an honest-to-goodness epic.

  • Antonio Nunez
    2019-03-07 12:02

    Wilson's book is best taken in small doses, rather like his articles in London's Daily Telegraph. The book is a huge panoramic survey of the years of Victoria's reign (1837-1901). It is mainly chronological and organized around large themes such as art, novelists, poetry, the Empire, politics, social mores. It is a bit of curate's egg (partly good, partly bad). The actual curate's egg cartoon was published in Punch on 9 November 1895, and so the reference is also apposite. The good part is the flavor Wilson brings to the dry facts. He is full of wonderful anecdotes about characters and episodes, usually in parentheticals, which really liven up the broth. He does have an encyclopedic knowledge of victoriana and is not afraid to ladle it out. The bad part is the fact that it is simply not possible to give a coherent semblance of Victorian Britain in just one book, even a thick one. All but the most central characters (like Gladstone or Disraeli) merit at most a couple of pages, and there are so many of them it's hard to keep them all straight, even when one is familiar with the subject. This gives the book a more than passing resemblance to a telephone directory, where one is introduced to a cast a hundreds (or thousands), but few stick in one's mind. Perhaps Wilson should have tried a device such as depicting events around the main members of two significant families, such as Figes did in his great "Natasha's Dance", which allowed him to cover three hundred years of Russian cultural history with a certain modicum of coherence lacking in Wilson's book. Absent a clear organizing scheme, the book is a bit chaotic and not an easy read unless taken in small bites.Having said this, I enjoyed Wilson's retakes of some personages who were absolutely thrashed by Lytton Strachey in his delightfully bitchy "Eminent Victorians". I particularly liked seeing the mercurial Cardinal Manning shown as an intelligent, visionary man (he was fully aware that the future of the Church lay in supporting democratic politics and taking the side of the poor, and he did it himself by promoting trade unionism and Irish home rule) rather than as the nasty careerist Strachey describes. In all likelihood both Wilson and Strachey are partly correct in their descriptions of the Cardinal, but Wilson's view is more sympathetic.I didn't much like Wilson's constant apologies about the racial attitudes of the Victorians. Those views were of their time, and there's no need to keep harping on it. Anachronistic smugness is a bit jarring. Moreover, I believe he should have been stronger in his defense of the positive side of the Empire, which was a greatly civilizing force, and the precedent for the current international law system. The British Victorians, instead of merely expoliating the natives (like the Dutch or the Belgians) did work for their betterment. Men like Messieurs Nehru and Mandela may only be seen as the rightful heirs to the best side of both the native and colonial inheritances.

  • Todd Stockslager
    2019-03-16 07:25

    Review title: When the World changed Imagine one of the Victorians described by Wilson born in 1850 and living to 1945, a plausible scenario echoing some of the historical characters described by Wilson. He (as Wilson documents, public characters of the era were almost exclusively male) would have witnessed in his living memory the American Civil War, the European revolutions of 1870, the Boer War, the Spanish-American War, the Russo-Japanese War, the two World Wars of the 20th century, the Russian Revolution, and the rise of fascism in the 1930s. He would have seen the transition of British life from Dickensian rural agrarianism to Industrial Revolution squalor to the rising working class to the distress of world wide depression in the 1930s to the collective sacrifice during those two World Wars. He would have seen the transition of transportation from horse and coach to railroad to automobile to the beginning of a world linked by intercontinental air travel. He would have seen communication technology progress from print on paper to photograph to telegraph to telephone to moving pictures to radio to television to the beginning of the digital computing era. Through them he would have learned of Lyell's old-earth geology, Darwin's theory of evolution, Einstein's theory of relativity, Marx's theory of communism, and Keynes's theory of fiscal controls and consumer spending. He would have seen pictures of the two great Johnstown floods, the eruption of Krakatoa, the San Francisco earthquake, and the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania. He would have seen Queen Victoria's empire consolidated then atrophied then beginning the dismantling that by the end of his years would have seemed inevitable but in his prime would have seemed unthinkable. What a whirlwind of change! This world that would hold such sway then and could exert such influence in the decades to follow is Wilson's subject. Wilson writes a sweeping narrative covering history, politics, technology, science, and culture. His capsule biographies of the intriguing characters of the age (he recently wrote a separate full-length biography of the Queen) add color and context to the sprawling scope of the book. It is an age that as Wilson describes it would be shocking in so many ways to our 21st century sensibilities. Yet we recognize so many of the names and ideas because they are still alive and relevant to us today. This is classic narrative history well written. It informs, entertains, and clarifies without classifying. Wilson provides material for thought without telling us what to think. It will leave you wondering, as I did, if my life span covers a similar span as our Victorian gentleman will my country and culture so influence the world the way the Victorians did?

  • Lucinda
    2019-03-01 09:21

    “People, not abstract ideas, make history.” This historical book peels back the layers to reveal the truth of this poignant moment within time, in all its realism from ‘the horse’s mouth’ (the people who made the era). Opening this book you are transported back in time to a real world, which ignites all senses so as you are able to touch, smell, hear and see the environment before you in full vivid color and authenticity. The stunning and personal photographs that adorn the pages bring to life most clearly their story, pulling you into their lives and the times of a most remarkable age. This was the dawning of modern convention when the industry went ‘boom’ and where things changed dramatically as to shape our lives and the entire future as we now know it for the better. But it was also a time of change for the people where social deprivation and the very foundations of society were to be turned upside down, all told through the eyes of the people themselves and their stories. When Andrew Roberts commented that this book was “…the best single-volume work on the Victorian age yet written” he could not have been more true, as I would have to agree wholeheartedly to this statement. The amount of research that has gone into this work is staggering; making it so acutely accurate in all its detail thus the world created is brought vividly to life so beautifully. It was a huge, ambitious work that may have seemed quite a daunting challenge to the author, but one that was bravely attempted to produce a staggering magnificent result. It is a colorfully brilliant evocation of the age, where you find yourself overwhelmed by the knowledge and that will certainly surprise you on how much you can learn. It is fascinating to be able to find out about our own inheritance and roots, with such rich energy that is breathtaking and absolutely intriguing. Such picturesque detail brings to life a tale that is passionately imagined and told in such a way as to delight and engage you. It was completely fascinating, written by a true master who gives you so many insights into the 19th Century that are new and unexplored. There is not one page which you could call ‘dull’ but, exuberant and filled/ fuelled with enthusiasm and passion. His energetic style will leave you breathless and empowered by his emotions that are confined to the page; a book that I just cannot fault!

  • Owen
    2019-03-09 06:23

    A one-volume history of Victorian Britain, which looks at it through people and personalities as much as through a narrative of events. A humorous book, graced with an intelligence and humanity. I really enjoyed it.Some might, slightly snobbishly or with a desire to damn with faint praise, call this a ‘popular history’. It is that, but is much the better for it. The reign of Queen Victoria, from 1837 to 1901, was a time of unbelievably rapid social change, throughout the world as well as in the industrializing West. Some of this change was brought about by colonialism, the cruel and demeaning aspects of which Wilson does not shy away from. Indeed, he mixes the historial events of the age brilliantly with vignettes about individuals.These vignettes contain so much of interest it is pointless to try and summarize them. Examples would include facts such as: Lord Kitchener, the great soldier, was a sexual predator with particular tastes. When he stayed at country houses, other guests, of both sexes, asked servants to sleep against their bedroom doors, to prevent him from forcing entry (to the room, in the first instance). Arthur Balfour, a future Prime Minister, believed in spiritualism. The upper classes regularly dressed up in historical costumes, a bit like a modern fancy dress party but taken much more seriously. Laws supposedly aimed at preventing venereal disease actually allowed all women to be arrested and imprisoned, at any time.The book moves along quickly. I heartily recommend it.

  • Marianne
    2019-02-21 10:00

    I wasn't able to finish "The Victorians" but was sufficiently intrigued by much of the information to slog through a fourth of the book. The author's style of writing doesn't lend itself to easy reading. Long, convoluted sentences were a challenge to understand. I don't consider myself lacking when it comes to having a good vocabulary but I had to look up many, many words when context didn't give a clue to their meaning. I say this with all humility and am determined to expand my vocabulary now!Having said all that the material was interesting and I learned a great deal about how people of the Victorian Era viewed themselves and their surroundings. The author shed light on how they reasoned things out. Many of the political and social struggles they faced are similar to those we face today. Victorian politics, especially, reminded me a great deal of the kind of power-brokering we see in both British and American politics today -- the kind of nonsense that puts party power ahead of the needs of citizens. In a strange way this was comforting. What we face now is something that mankind has faced before and survived. If our ancestors could do it, so can we.At some point the book did become too burdensome for me to read. Others may enjoy the challenge. I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading "The Victorians" but be prepared to have your grammar and vocabulary challenged ;)

  • Jon
    2019-02-21 09:26

    This book is as long, as rich and as expansive as the Victorian age itself. Although broadly narrative in structure it is more like an extended biography of cameos held together by the thread of the ‘tiny, round-faced’ Queen Victoria. As a portrait of an age it is marvellous - huge transitions, cheerful hypocrisy, brutal capitalism and ingrained racism run through it. So does energy, optimism, adaptability and recognition of fault. Wilson is love with the Victorians but not blindly. His description of the political system as a means of maintaining power through a cunning, adaptable (and rich) oligarchical elite is excellent, not least because he points out that this is still (in 2006) the system we have. He loves Disraeli, dislikes Gladstone and Palmerston. Parnell is much admired as is, rather more surprisingly, the Prince Consort. He is scathing about the petty provincialism of the aristocracy but seems more at ease with the pre-raphaelites and the Oxford School. Poor Victoria gets a hard time, parsimoniously squirrelling away the civil list income to form the basis of the current royal family fortune. I don’t think Wilson approves of Lloyd George nor of Rhodes but, like the Queen, he treats them pretty fairly. All in all I enjoyed this book immensely and it is an excellent primer on the whole period. Wilson doesn’t hide his opinions but does do his subjects justice.

  • Candy Wood
    2019-03-23 04:20

    While this book recounts the major events of 1837-1901 like the many historical works listed in the lengthy bibliography, Wilson’s approach emphasizes the people, the Victorians themselves. Opening with the presence of Mrs. Wright, the housekeeper, and Mrs. Mullencamp, the doorkeeper’s wife, at the burning of the Houses of Parliament in 1834 is typical – we don’t hear of those witnesses again, but the event leads to mentions of Turner, who painted it; Lord Melbourne, who was prime minister; and Darwin, then off on the Beagle. Sometimes the connections are surprising, as in the chapter called “Goblin Market and the Cause,” part of Wilson’s stated intention “to examine the 1860s through the prism of children’s literature” (263). While the chapter is more about the shortcomings of literary critics and modern feminists than about Christina Rossetti’s poem, with that kind of opinionated stance, this is no Dryasdust history, and it’s fun to read.

  • Amy
    2019-03-11 08:13

    I was so excited to read this book. I dove into the first few chapters, reading deeply, then I realised I couldn't remember what Benthamism was or how Malthusiam was different. I practically needed a cheat sheet to keep up with all the names. It was like reading A Song of Ice and Fire, there are 1000 characters and terrible things kept happening. I felt that significant events could have been more clearly explained. I don't know how the Irish recovered, post-famine and I'm still not sure why the Crimean War started, nor why the Light Brigade had to get across that plain. Wilson often begins talking about a person, expecting that you already know who they are, which, for me, was not the case. I would have preferred to see more history of the working classes and how they dealt with the indifference of those in power.I skimmed the last two thirds of this book, desperate for it to be done. I've never been so pleased to see such a thick appendix!

  • Tammy
    2019-03-06 10:03

    I found this book somewhat unsatisfying, due mostly to the fact that the scope is quite large (the Victorian era ran for more than 60 years) but the book provided only the briefest of overviews of people and events of the period. This would not have been a problem if the book were an introduction to the era, but many topics are presented as though the reader were presumed to have the rudimentary knowledge. I found myself having to stop repeatedly and check Wikipedia. Given the amount of information available, I would have preferred a little more exposition.My other comment (not necessarily a complaint, just something I don't understand) relates to the amount of literary criticism found in the book. While literature certainly has its place in historical narrative, in-depth criticism in a work of general historical nonfiction seems somewhat out of place.

  • Jill Hutchinson
    2019-03-01 07:24

    I can't quite decide about this book. There were sections that were fascinating and others that were dry as dust. Be had better know your British history because the author throws names around with no explanation as to who they are/were. Granted it is difficult to cover all issues and events that happened during the long reign of Queen Victoria but some of the chapters cover subjects that seemed incidental to the larger picture. So much happened in the Empire during those 60 years, that I thought I would find more about the colonial aspect of Britain which was the backbone of British history at that time.....instead I learned that Prime Minister Lord Palmerston sometimes drooled!! It's not that I didn't like this book....but when one skips some chapters altogether, it doesn't bode well for the book as a whole. Not a bad book but not necessarily a good one.

  • Polly Rosenstein
    2019-02-28 04:25

    I loved this book. Although not all of the segues were smooth to me and sometimes the author spoke of people and events that he assumed the reader was familiar with, I found this book to be a fascinating depiction of Victorian life in Britain. Wilson gives a good description of the upper class as well as the abject poverty of the lower class, the scientific, intellectual, religious and philosophical developments, the move from an agrarian economy to an urban one, the political arena, and the spread of the British Empire, with all of its cruelties. While much injustice came out of the British Victorian era, the author points out that the British had it much better than the rest of the world, and that the march towards justice and reform did make progress.

  • Tony
    2019-03-13 06:26

    This book covers many facets of Victorian times of which I suspect many people are unfamiliar. so in that respect I found it enlightening. However, it was hard going and could only be tackled in small doses. A major contribution to the Victorian era was the emergence of engineering on a grand scale. Granted much of it occurred before Victorian times in the early 19th century but to omit any mention at all of the greatest engineer of the times, Brunel, seems to me a sacrilege. His greatest accomplishments occurred during early Victorian times. He lived until 1859 so was active during the first 22 years of Victoria's reign. Seems remiss, especially as the paperback version which I read seems to depict him on the front cover.

  • Heather Tomlinson
    2019-02-22 06:19

    It's quite a feat to get through the entire Victorian age in one book, and this is certainly a weighty volume. It's an interesting read about a very interesting era. Wilson's way of flowing from one topic to another, one key figure to another, is engaging and interesting. The problem is it's a bit too light on each subject, while also assuming a lot of knowledge about the times. If you're coming at the subject as a novice you'll find it hard going. There's also not enough about the lives of the people and especially the faith that was so important. Wilson's view was that it was a time of increasing doubt, but I think that he doesn't explore the strong faith that did exist and how this influenced their thinking and progress.

  • Ian
    2019-03-12 04:02

    A broad overview of the Victorian age it crams so much into one volume I was at times lost in the attempt to follow the connections the author was trying to make. It leapt from seemingly unconnected events, ideas or personages to others without a clear through-line. The one recurring theme which would make an interesting study (perhaps there already is one) is the question of why was there no revolution or attempted one in Victorian England when there were several on the Continent? What was it about British Culture and Society, it's Political Organization that the poor did not revolt? The poor in England had it bad, very bad, which this book illuminates somewhat. The author does address this question and attempts an answer but it is a topic that deserves its own book.

  • Diane
    2019-02-28 12:24

    This book goes through the Victorian era decade by decade. The author's main focus is on providing short biographies of individuals, mostly from Victorian Britain. On the positive side, the author writes about many artists, writers, and other individuals in the arts who are not as well known these days, and brings their experiences to life. On the negative side, I thought the author was very condescending towards his subjects overall, and the book was uneven. For example, he would start talking about a political crisis, and then move on to another topic, without explaining how it was resolved. He was particularly bad about leaving people and topics outside of Britain hanging in this manner.