This Victorian Life

Tighten your corset. Slop out your chamber pot. Your life as a Victorian is about to begin!

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners by Therese Oneill

Book cover of unmentionableYes, it’s sad but true, the Victorian era was grimy, stinky and foul. The general foulness filled home, hearth and nether parts. Oneill is your hilarious guide to the real 19th century. She covers such unmentionable subjects as “Bowels into Buckets,” “The Treacherous Art of Bathing” and “Menstruation: You’re Doing it Wrong.” Oneill exposes the Victorians in all their corseted glory with tongue-in-cheek illustrations.

Inside the Victorian Home by Judith Flanders

Book cover for inside the victorian homeFlanders’s book is an engrossing account of domestic life in Victorian England. From the bedroom to the sickroom, Flanders examines each room in a typical Victorian house. She covers the room’s purpose, how it would be furnished and at what cost. Flanders also highlights how the room would be cleaned, which was very important to the hygienically-obsessed Victorians. She explores related topics for each room. The bedroom chapter alone has information on childbirth, bedbugs, infant formula, cleaning hairbrushes, coal residue and baby binders. Period journal entries, letters, sketches and paintings are the icing on an already remarkably rich and witty text (don’t skip the footnotes!).

How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman

book cover of how to be a victorianIn her delightful and revealing book British social historian Ruth Goodman guides you through Victorian life. She starts the moment chilled feet touched the rag rug in the morning until the sheep’s gut condom was tied on at night. Goodman unfolds the everyday lives of the British upper and lower classes during the Victorian era in exhaustive, but never boring detail. She describes Victorian hygiene, grooming, food, clothing, medicine and so much more.

Goodman’s remarks about the Victorian activities she’s tried make this book particularly charming. She’s worn a corset for months, she recommends soot for tooth powder and she’s actually made sheep’s gut condoms. Halfway through the book I started to wonder why this woman was wearing a corset and using a smelly Victorian toilet. Goodman truly lived the Victorian life in the BBC shows Victorian Farm and Victorian Pharmacy. So you can believe her when she says wool is an excellent fabric for a bathing suit or that doing laundry Victorian-style was enough to drive any woman to drink. Goodman’s details bring the Victorian world to life for 21st century readers.

Julie Nelson

Constant reader, book selector, shameless promoter of good reads - these are just a few of the things I do as a Collection Development Professional. I love sharing the hidden gems in our nonfiction collection!