Inventing the Victorians

Inventing the Victorians

Book - 2001
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Baker & Taylor
Revises and reevaluates the many concepts and images surrounding the Victorians, a society in England and America that was responsible for spin-doctoring, lavish publicity stunts, hardcore pornography, theme parks, shopping malls, crime novels, private fetish clubs, and scandalous journalism.10,000 first printing.

McMillan Palgrave
"Suppose that everything we think we know about the Victorians is wrong." So begins Inventing the Victorians by Matthew Sweet, a compact and mind-bending whirlwind tour through the soul of the nineteenth century, and a round debunking of our assumptions about it. The Victorians have been victims of the "the enormous condescension of posterity," in the historian E. P. Thompson's phrase. Locked in the drawing room, theirs was an age when, supposedly, existence was stultifying, dank, and over-furnished, and when behavior conformed so rigorously to proprieties that the repressed results put Freud into business. We think we have the Victorians pegged-as self-righteous, imperialist, racist, materialist, hypocritical and, worst of all, earnest.

Oh how wrong we are, argues Matthew Sweet in this highly entertaining, provocative, and illuminating look at our great, and great-great, grandparents. In this, the year of the centenary of Queen Victoria's death, Sweet forces us to think again about her century, entombed in our minds by Dickens, the Elephant Man, Sweeney Todd, and by images of unfettered capitalism and grinding poverty.

Sweet believes not only that we're wrong about the Victorians but profoundly indebted to them. In ways we have been slow to acknowledge, their age and our own remain closely intertwined. The Victorians invented the theme part, the shopping mall, the movies, the penny arcade, the roller coaster, the crime novel, and the sensational newspaper story. Sweet also argues that our twenty-first century smugness about how far we have evolved is misplaced. The Victorians were less racist than we are, less religious, less violent, and less intolerant. Far from being an outcaste, Oscar Wilde was a fairly typical Victorian man; the love that dared not speak its name was declared itself fairly openly. In 1868 the first international cricket match was played between an English team and an Australian team composed entirely of aborigines. The Victorians loved sensation, novelty, scandal, weekend getaways, and the latest conveniences (by 1869, there were image-capable telegraphs; in 1873 a store had a machine that dispensed milk to after-hours' shoppers). Does all this sound familiar?

As Sweet proves in this fascinating, eye-opening book, the reflection we find in the mirror of the nineteenth century is our own. We inhabit buildings built by the Victorians; some of us use their sewer system and ride on the railways they built. We dismiss them because they are the age against whom we have defined our own. In brilliant style, Inventing the Victorians shows how much we have been missing.

Blackwell North Amer
In 1918, Lytton Strachey declared that 'the history of the Victorian age will never be written. We know too much about it.' But he wasn't quite right. The real problem is this: we have systematically forgotten many of the most interesting and distinctive aspects of the period, and much of what we think we know about it is utterly false, fabricated in the twentieth century and lazily accepted as truth ever since.
Spot the deliberate fiction on this list: Queen Victoria had a Nigerian god-daughter; William Gladstone once knocked back so much laudanum that he had to go to Baden Baden to recuperate; the flourishing Victorian porn industry was founded by a group of Chartists who wanted to use sexually explicit material to hasten the British Revolution; Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, negotiated a fifty-fifty box office split with his management team; Britain's first black professional footballer was Arthur Wharton, who played in goal for Preston North End and Rotherham in the 1880s and 90s; Sarah Grand, the author of the phenomenal 1890s bestseller The Heavenly Twins, fronted a publicity campaign for Sanatogen; sexually, Oscar Wilde was a pretty regular Victorian guy.
As this radical myth-busting reassessment of the Victorians and their world demonstrates, the answer is: none of the above.

& Taylor

Revises and reevaluates the many concepts and images surrounding the Victorians, a society that was responsible for spin-doctoring, lavish publicity stunts, hardcore pornography, theme parks, crime novels, and scandalous journalism.

Publisher: New York : St. Martin's Press, 2001
Edition: 1st U.S. ed
ISBN: 9780312283261
Branch Call Number: 941.081 SWE
Characteristics: xxiii, 264 p. : ill. ; 22 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

There are no comments for this title yet.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at DPL

To Top