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Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum Hardcover – March 21 2017
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‘Victorians Undone is the most original history book I have read in a long while’ Daily Mail
A SUNDAY TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR • AN OBSERVER BOOK OF THE YEAR • A BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE BOOK OF THE YEAR
A groundbreaking account of what it was like to live in a Victorian body from one of our best historians.
Why did the great philosophical novelist George Eliot feel so self-conscious that her right hand was larger than her left?
Exactly what made Darwin grow that iconic beard in 1862, a good five years after his contemporaries had all retired their razors?
Who knew Queen Victoria had a personal hygiene problem as a young woman and the crisis that followed led to a hurried commitment to marry Albert?
What did John Sell Cotman, a handsome drawing room operator who painted some of the most exquisite watercolours the world has ever seen, feel about marrying a woman whose big nose made smart people snigger?
How did a working-class child called Fanny Adams disintegrate into pieces in 1867 before being reassembled into a popular joke, one we still reference today, but would stop, appalled, if we knew its origins?
Kathryn Hughes follows a thickened index finger or deep baritone voice into the realms of social history, medical discourse, aesthetic practise and religious observance – its language is one of admiring glances, cruel sniggers, an implacably turned back. The result is an eye-opening, deeply intelligent, groundbreaking account that brings the Victorians back to life and helps us understand how they lived their lives.
‘A page-turner … brilliant all the way through. One of the best books I’ve read in ages’ Lucy Worsley, Sunday Express
‘A dazzling experiment in life writing … Every page fizzes with the excitement of fresh discoveries … Each page becomes a window on to a world that is far stranger than we might expect’ Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Guardian
‘It is rich and scholarly, something fascinating to be discovered on every page … Hughes is a thoroughly engaging writer: serious-minded but lively, careful yet passionate… Some of the encounters in its pages, whiffy and indelible, will stay with me for ever’ Rachel Cooke, Observer
‘It is not often I read a book and think “Wow! Every historian of Victorian Britain should read this”. It is a lyrical reflection on the corporeal bodies of Victorian men and women, as well as on the way their fleshiness has become invisible to historians … This is historical storytelling at its very best’ Joanna Bourke, BBC History Magazine
‘A work of formidable scholarship … Reading it is like unravelling the bandages on a mummy to find the face of the past staring back in all its terrible and poignant humanity’ Lucy Lethbridge, Financial Times
‘History so alive you can smell its reek … With her love of bodily detail, Hughes does indeed put the carnal back into biography’ Lisa Appignanesi, Telegraph
‘No one remotely interested in books should miss it’ John Carey, Sunday Times
‘I can’t think of a recent social history I’ve enjoyed more’ The Big Issue
‘Beautifully constructed, narrated not only with wit and gusto, but a clear sense of purpose’ Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday
‘Sex certainly rears its many heads, but so does every other aspect of Victorian life, from farming techniques to court etiquette, dentistry to oil painting’ The Times, Book of The Week
‘Refreshingly unusual … brilliant’ Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times, Books of the Year
About the Author
Kathryn Hughes is the author of ‘The Victorian Governess’, ‘The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton’ and the hugely acclaimed ‘George Eliot: The Last Victorian’. Educated at Oxford University, she holds a Ph.D in Victorian studies. She is a visiting lecturer at several British universities and reviews regularly for the Daily Telegraph and the Literary Review.
- Publisher : Fourth Estate (March 21 2017)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 432 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0007548362
- ISBN-13 : 978-0007548361
- Item weight : 720 g
- Dimensions : 15.9 x 4.4 x 24 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,117,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #8,660 in Social History (Books)
- #12,151 in English History (Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from other countries
I was fascinated by the episode of Flora Hastings's belly, which I knew a little about, but discovered so many new facts. Queen Victoria was a much more vile person than I had previously thought, and I shall certainly look at her differently after this.
As a bearded person, I was very interested in the section about Darwin's beard. My trimmed beard is but a sapling compared to the mighty beards of the Victorians, I I've often wondered how they coped with them.
Not being a fan of her books, I knew little about George Eliot, and my initial reaction to her hand was "so what". It was an eye opener to read about the problems that it caused to her family and her biographers.
The section about Fanny Cornforth's mouth showed the Pre-Rafaelites in a completely different light. They took artistic temperament to the extreme! Not a group of people that I would like to have known.
It will be the last section that will stick in my mind. I have to admit, that I'd never considered who Sweet Fanny Adams was, and part of me wishes that I'd not found out. A very disturbing read, but, nonetheless totally compelling.
I'd highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the Victorian period.
Hughes puts forward an intriguing and convincing arguments for the growth of beards (literally) as a rebellion against the emasculation of men in middle-class Victorian society. Men were expected to be home bodies by mid-Victorian times, the paternalist partner to the female Angel of the House, not wild carousers who liked a bit on the side (even though they did). They worked in offices, they were 'tamed'. So, Hughes argues, they grey beards. Of course it wasn't only that. There's the Crimean War too. With the soldiers of that blood bath returning to the UK returning bearded, men saw facial hair as evidence of heroism. And then there's photography. And in particular, the photographs of Julia Cameron, which created an image for the eminent men of the age such as Darwin. So beards became symbolic of greatness and intelligence. I found this utterly fascinating, and it's left me thinking hard about the parallels with our own newly-bearded men - why? It's easy to say fashion, but surely it's not quite so simple?
Though I found the tail of Sweet Fanny Adams interesting, I have to say I did wonder at it being included in this book, and I wasn't convinced it added much to the overall theory. But this was a brilliant bit of history really well told nonetheless. Highly recommended.