Monday, November 28, 2016

Mini-Reviews: Those Wacky Victorians
I saw a review for Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners by Therese ONeill mentioned somewhere Day Job-related.  Anyway, this looked fun and funny and it is - although admittedly I lost steam with it in the final 100 pages.

Basically this book covers all the stuff that historical romance writers tend to leave out.  You know - the pesky, troublesome reality because whoa doggie it's not easy to being a woman in the 21st century let alone the 19th.  This book covers everything from dressing, bathroom habits, menstruation (you're doing it wrong), diet, beauty, landing a man, keeping a man, and public behavior (um, just don't go out in public).  Outside of a snarky comment about "trashy romance novels" (ugh) - it's quite funny in parts.  I also realized an important fact about all the historical romance heroines I've read about over the years.  According to the proper Victorian decorum detailed in this book?

They're all whores.  Seriously.  Whores.

As funny as I found this (in parts) - my interest waned around the halfway point.  It was a very easy book for me to set down and not pick up for days (admittedly I'm in the midst of the longest reading slump on record).  It's the sort of book that (I think) works best to be kept on your nightstand, where you can casually read one chapter at a time when the mood strikes you.  But take this with a grain of salt (remember: Wendy's Slump From Hell).  For historical romance authors this may be a decent addition to your research library but it's not going to take the place of your more scholarly tomes.  This is more for "The Average Jane" sort of reader.  Nothing wrong with that, but I wouldn't throw out those primary sources if I were you.

Final Grade = Lord, I don't know.  It seems better than a C+.  Probably a B-.
Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson is something I stumbled across while browsing the downloadable audio offerings available at work.  The best way to describe this book?  Dense.  Also, probably not the best to listen to on audio since it's super easy to lose track of Victoria's eleventy-billion relations.  Google got a workout while I was listening to this.  Anyhoodle....

I'd only recommend this to hardcore Anglophiles, and even then this biography was not the greatest.  The author devoted over 600 pages of his time to writing about Victoria only to come off as rather dismissive of her.  The opinion of this book seems to be that Victoria would have been doomed without Albert (quite likely early on in her monarchy) and that she'd never have had a half-coherent political thought in her empty head without some man's wise council (be that Albert or one of the Prime Ministers she actually liked).
Outside of early chapters that talk about her childhood, this book is almost all politics.  What was Victoria like as a person?  Other than she was a terrible mother?  No idea. But if you want to know which European monarchs she was annoyed with, what Prime Ministers she swooned over and the ones she loathed - this is your book. 

I was hoping for more social history.  A "pulling back the curtain" kind of biography.  To be fair to the author, while Victoria kept copious journals, her children censored them heavily after she died.  So really - it's not entirely his fault. 

I do think this is a good research book.  If you're a historical author who needs something covering the political landscape of this period - you could do a lot worse.  Also, in hindsight, this book is fascinating in the details of the various family squabbles (and obstinate behavior) that descended the world into the destruction and chaos of World War I (and by extension....World War II).  But otherwise?  It's dense and slow and I was happy to finally be finished with it.

Final Grade = C-

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