Saturday 28 December 2013

The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London by Judith Flanders

Dickens, the quintessential Victorian whose writings have shaped our views of Victorian London was, as Flanders points out early on, not just a Victorian. He was in his 30s by the time Victoria came to the throne, and died far before the end of her reign. This is therefore, a book not just about London during the reign of Victoria, but about the time Dickens lived and worked there, the title being something of a misnomer.  

With an enthusiasm that shines out from every page, Flanders takes you on a journey through the streets of nineteenth century London, revealing a busy, enterprising age. She has obviously read widely and gives you the 'facts' from primary sources with a critical edge. Everything is covered from birth to death, and a whole lot of toil in between. This is an easy to read, informative book with an author who clearly has great enthusiasm for her subject. She picks out details from the minutiae of life that reveal a much more complex world than you get fed in many a period drama. I was struck by just how hard working the Victorians were - the modern world seems slovenly and lazy by comparison. This is a world so starkly different from out own, yet one in which much familiarity can be found. 

Dickens is the starting point, and the heart of the book - references to his novels abound with explanations of how accurate his portrayals were (as well as pointing out when he may have exaggerated or transplanted events to an earlier date). I closed this book with a great respect for Dickens (and London's nineteenth century inhabitants as a whole), and a desire to read more of his work. Even if you are not particularly interested in the novelist there is still a lot to be gained in reading this. 

Flanders' enthusiasm is infectious, and the London of the nineteenth century comes alive in her capable hands. You can happily read the book cover to cover but each chapters could be read independently and still be perfectly comprehensible. A great addition to any Dickens of Victorian enthusiast's bookshelf.

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