The Victorians, by A.N. Wilson

March 13, 2007 at 3:12 pm | Posted in Books, Non-Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Seven hundred and twenty-four pages are a lot but, even so, telling the story of the Victorian age in a single volume is a significant achievement. A.N. Wilson’s The Victorians will no doubt be used by academics but it is not essentially an academic work: drawing largely on secondary sources, he covers the period from 1837 until Queen Victoria’s death by writing about the things that interest him most. So anyone who wants a complete picture of Victorian politics, or social history, or art, will find it better to look elsewhere. What Wilson does is convey the flavour of the age: its anxieties, its achievements, its increasing but increasingly unevenly distributed wealth. We find out who he admires (Prince Albert, John Ruskin, Christina Rosetti, Oscar Wilde) and who he does not (principally Queen Victoria: after Albert’s death, he writes, “ there was no longer an intelligent member of the royal family,” and he later attributes the present Royal Family’s wealth to Victoria’s “amassing a private fortune from public funds”). This is popular history at its best – thoroughly researched and information-packed but, thanks to Wilson’s wise selection, astute analysis, and transparent prose, a thoroughly “good read” at the same time. The people of the Victorian age emerge with remarkable freshness and clarity.

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