Reader’s Advisory

Featuring relevant links, books, films, webpages, and more for further enjoyment and illumination.
Mrs. Beeton’s Online
Victorian Sexual Slang

Embarking on a Course of Study

Jane Austen’s World

Dawes, Frank. Not in Front of the Servants, Taplinger Publishing, 1973.

A look at upstairs/downstairs life with the primary focus on the life of a servant. Chapters cover employer/employee relations, the hardships of being a servant, the hiring process, daily life, and what servants did for fun. I think Dawes’s primary thesis that he opens the book with is flawed, which is that domestic service flourished because “economic necessity forced larger poor families to put their children–meaning, mostly, their daughters–into service as one of the few means of feeding and clothing them, and putting a roof over their heads. Second, because servants “knew their place…”

I think this is kind of a chicken/egg thing here, and I know there are conflicting opinions out there. Dawes also portrays the servants he interviews as being endlessly jolly and forbearing under all circumstances. This become less surprising to me after he revealed halfway through the book that his mother was a servant.

Overall, I think it is worth a look for the personal anecdotes attained from correspondence with people who had served in the early twentieth century.

–Reviewed by SJ

Drabble, Margaret. For Queen and Country: Britain in the Victorian Age, Seabury Press, 1978.

Drabble’s book is a fairly brief overview of the Victorian period. It’s good for people who want to dive in on the surface level and get an overview of what the period was all about. The chapters focus on the Queen, who is, in some ways, representative of the wealthy classes, the burgeoning middle class, and the very poor. There is also a chapter on what gets covered a lot from the era–the wondrousness of the age and how much progress the Victorians made in science and engineering while still being appallingly backwards. An anecdote that comes to mind is a story of a women from a conservative religious background who was compelled to whale on a nudie Greek statue in a museum with her parasol, and was praised by her fellow congregants. The final chapter is a summary of the arts during this time–painting, music, poetry, literature. Though the book is meant to be a shallow dive into the times, Drabble does a good job of highlighting overarching themes of the era: dedication to progress with a deep sentimentality for days of yore, and religious doubt, viewed through a moderate feminist lens.

–Reviewed by SJ

Hughes, Katherine. The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton, Knopf, 2006.

Reviewed by Amelia as a post.

Myers, Walter Dean. At Her Majesty’s Request: An African Princess in Victorian England, Scholastic, 1999.

I picked this book up at the library and realized two things about it right away–one, that it is meant for late elementary to junior high kids, and two, that it was a really interesting story that I probably could not read about anywhere else. Myers tells the story of how a captive seven-year-old Egbado princess who was destined to become a human sacrifice for a competing tribe is rescued by a compassionate British sea captain who does not believe in slavery. Talking quickly, the captain acquired the girl as ”tribute” for Queen Victoria.  The girl apparently let go of her birth name and became Sarah Forbes Bonetta, and the Queen looked after her for the rest of her life, educating Sarah, supporting her financially, and eventually helping to arrange her marriage to a suitable man and becoming the godmother to Sarah’s children. Part of it is a sad story about a young woman who never quite finds “home,” and also an interesting look at relations between nineteenth-century England and West Africa.

–Reviewed by SJ