Honestly, if you have any interest in the Victorian era at all, you should run to your library and pick up Inside the Victorian Home: a Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England
, by Judith Flanders. Really, it's fantastic; she goes through all the rooms of a middle class Victorian urban home, and in this context, manages to talk about most facets of middle class domesticity, from the process of doing laundry to the impact of germ theory and S-bend toilets to the change in dining style from a la francaise
to a la russe
, and why the latter used two-thirds less food. She has just enough interpretation to make it not feel like you're reading lists (as in the similar book, What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew
), but not enough that it starts to feel like her conclusions are unsupported by facts. She does a lot of answering of "why did this change" kinds of questions, but without the irksome "the use of that in this situation indicates that blah blah blah philosphycakes, probably including reference to Freud and going off in random directions that have nothing to do with the topic at hand." (Why yes, I did run into that more than once in my history classes over the past four years. What makes you ask? And indeed, Linda Colley, I am
looking right at you!) I'm glad that she also thoroughly debunks the whole "separate spheres" idea, or at least the idea that they actually were as separated as some secondary sources would have you believe. Ideally, I suppose, the domestic and the public were supposed to be two different things, but in practice, not so much, given that one's housekeeping was used as one of the chief indicators of status.
Despite this being obviously aimed at a popular audience, the references are very complete and she doesn't ever talk down to her audience in any way. Plus, there's a fabulous bibliography. (Shut up, I get excited over bibliographies.)
Also, the journals and letters and such that she quotes from are often hilarious. Such as this, from pages 196-97, on the excess of crafting projects Victorian women tended to engage in because they had nothing better to do:
Maud Berkeley was sure that it was the making rather than the purchasing, or even the object itself, that was important: "Decided to make my Christmas presents this year, rather than to buy them." She had no doubt that "while bought baubles are more immediately attractive, our hearts warm more to the home-made offering. Never shall I forget Aunt Bertha's quince jam. I had a stomach-ache for a week after sampling it."
There were some particularly tart little asides from Beatrix Potter's journals included as well, which were entertaining enough that I think I need to seek out a copy.
So yes, after reading this book, I feel that I could write a nice little domestic drama set in 1880 and have it be at least 75% historically accurate. Of course, what I'm working on right now takes place in 1930. It never fails. *sigh*
Peter Ackroyd's "biography" of London, on the other hand, started out so nicely, but by page 160, has become as treacle. I can't imagine finishing it. Alas. There's just...so much hand-holding interpretation, exactly the sort of rambling I was so glad wasn't included in Flanders's book. Bah.
Finally, my copy of the Big Finish short story anthology Companions
arrived today. The Eight and Charley story I was interested in wasn't bad--them and an eight-year-old Will Shakespeare in ancient Troy, with lots of drunkenness--and "Tales from the Matrix: True Stories from TARDIS Logs Retold For Time Tots" by "Loom Auntie Flavia" was frickin' hilarious. It wasn't quite as shippy as I'd been lead to believe, but still, a decent tale. "Qualia," a Five, Tegan, and Turlough story, was excellent; it starts out very weirdly, but actually does interesting things with Kamelion
(omg) and Tegan both. "The Lying Old Witch in the Wardrobe" was not quite as amusing as the title, and came to a relatively pat conclusion, but was decent nonetheless. "Balloon Debate" was actually incredibly disturbing, and I'm not entirely certain that it was intended to be so.
On the whole, though--okay, Simon and Schuster? You've officially lost your "Most In Need of Proofreaders" crown. Ow. Ow
. Inconsistent punctuation, much? Some of the stories had all the punctuation outside of the quotation marks, some had it half and half, some had them all inside--and then there were those that would have someone saying, "Hello Doctor," with no comma, and other crimes against grammar.
The fact that I feel some genuine outrage about this perhaps indicates what I should be doing for a living.