AN Wilsons The Victorians
is the longest and liveliest of the books which have appeared in the wake of the centenary of Victorias death. As one might expect, Wilson, Evening Standard columnist, novelist, and polemical biographer, has an eye for colourful detail, cannot resist gossip about the great and good, and smells out cant and hypocrisy at 10 paces. Familiar tales are told about the sexual proclivities, religious hypocrisies and gargantuan economic and imperial appetites of the Victorians. But the book is more than an exercise in debunking. Wilson sees 19th century Britons as the harbingers of modernity: the first society to grapple with and agonise over the Darwinian struggle of social mobility and industrial growth. He documents in detail the relentless drive for getting on, sympathises with its victims--in the English towns, the Irish bogs and on the Indian plains and warms to the critical commentary of the chief sages and seers of the era: Carlyle, Dickens, and Manning. The intellectual set-pieces of the time--the Gothic revival, religion versus science, Anglo-Catholicism--are particularly well-handled.
As well as being its strengths, the authors prejudices are at times the books weaknesses. Apart from Victorias Prime Ministers and the Irish nationalist leader, Parnell, Wilson doesnt much like the politicians of the period (or the political economists), and these aspects of Victorian history get rather short shrift. And the narrative occasionally jumps and jars as he tries to include everything and anything (Dostoyevsky and Wagner wander in at one stage). But there is much to amuse and instruct throughout, and, just as important, not a little to argue with as well.--Miles Taylor
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"The best single-volume work on the Victorian age yet written" (Andrew Roberts Evening Standard
"Huge, entertaining volume of popular history" (Sunday Times
"A wonderful book" (Sunday Telegraph
"A masterpiece of popular history" (Frank McLynn Independent
"Wilson is incapable of writing a dull sentence... This is the history of a vanished world brought to vibrant life" (Beryl Bainbridge Observer