Matthew Sweet's Inventing the Victorians
sets out to rescue the Victorians from their prudish and stuffy reputation. A century after Queen Victoria's death there is a scramble to re-evaluate and explode many of the myths attached to Victorian Britain which started with Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians
(1913) and have been cultivated ever since by assorted Freudian analysts, feminists, strait-laced historians, political spin-doctors (remember Margaret Thatcher's "Victorian values") and lazy media types. Through a 13-chapter tour of the wilder side of 19th-century Britain--theatrical spectacle, contact ads, WT Stead's investigative journalism, opium dens, etiquette and cookery books, freak shows, boys' adventure stories and the amusing tale of what Prince Albert kept in his pants--Sweet argues the case for the Victorians being more sexually liberated, more obsessed with sensational events and public lives and for being greater consumers of narcotics, pornography and the bizarre than they have ever been given credit. They were, in other words, more like us than we realise. What a depressing thought. This book is a fun read: it is clever, informative and provocative, although too often the journalist inside the author leaps from a suggestive idea to a monstrous exaggeration. Matthew Sweet is not of course the first to unveil the Victorians. Some readers may wonder whether yet another account is really required of the Rugeley murders, the "Elephant Man", Walter's Secret Life
, and the Victorian dependence on opium. And as for Prince Albert--his nether regions have long been the subject of scholarly discussion-lists on North American Victorian Studies Web sites. But the time is right to relocate the Victorians and Sweet's book does just that. --Miles Taylor
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'This is a profoundly stimulating and entertaining book'. D. J. Taylor, Sunday Times; 'Matthew Sweet has opened a blast of fresh air into the hothouse of Victorian studies. His book is packed with weird and wonderful information'. Spectator; 'He tells his revisionist version exceedingly well, describing a lurid thrill-seeking populace avid for sensation. Colourful characters parade through chapters that demonstrate how innovative, fast-paced, diverse and radical the era was. Sweet has turned his scholarly research through the detritus of high and low 19th-century culture into a page-turning piece of pop-culture history... A darned good read, and no mistake,' Big Issue