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Inventing the Victorians: What We Think We Know About Them and Why We're Wrong
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Inventing the Victorians: What We Think We Know About Them and Why We're Wrong

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  195 ratings  ·  26 reviews
"Suppose that everything we think we know about the Victorians is wrong." So begins Inventing the Victorians by Matthew Sweet, a whirlwind tour thru the soul of the 19th century & a round debunking of assumptions about it. The Victorians have been victims of the "the enormous condescension of posterity," in historian E.P. Thompson's phrase. Locked in the drawing room, ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published December 10th 2001 by St. Martin's Press (NYC) (first published 2001)
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Stephen Goldenberg
If you believe that the Victorians were so prudish that they covered up their table and piano legs with chintz, that Queen Victoria refused to believe that lesbians existed or that Prince Albert had a ring through his penis, then you need to read this book to put you straight. Matthew Sweet not only debunks these myths but also shows how many aspects (particularly the worst ones) of modern day society had their foundations in the Victorian era. Things such as the worst excesses of advertising an ...more
Perhaps no other era in British history is subject to quite as much stereotyping and myth-making as that of the Victorians. We acknowledge the contribution they made to our lives, the legacy they have bequeathed in the forms of bridges, buildings, roads, museums and theatres, the Empire, but to a very large extent we still dismiss what they represented to themselves.

As Matthew Sweet ably points out,,the Victorians are what we define ourselves against. It is in rebelling against Victorian strictu
Matthew Sweet is a journalist and not a historian and that comes through in several ways in his work, first he is a more interesting writer than a lot of history writers, not such a stodgy style. But on the downside he has the tendency to link lots of things to how they are today, he also tends to be much more of a biographer than I really like. Still for anyone interested in the Victorian age I'd really recommend this book. He takes a look at what he considers to be the fallacy of Victorian Eng ...more
Jae Jaggart
I came across this title when I read an interview with John Logan, creator/writer of the TV series Penny Dreadful. He rated it pretty highly and given the incredible sense of authenticity Penny Dreadful (set in the early 1890's possesses - even if the characters aren't real!:) it was a must-read. It proved to be fantastic for the smaller, everyday historical details that fall through the gaps in a lot of non-fic books on the period, no matter how good they are, and gives a great sense of, and to ...more
Helen Kitson
In this book, it's Matthew Sweet's stated aim to show that the Victorians weren't as different from us as we sometimes believe; that they were more sexually liberated, less patriarchal, and generally more fun than the ways in which they are sometimes portrayed. He argues that our wonky view of the Victorians is largely due to the fact that we are selective in which sources we use to support our ideas of our great- or great-great-grandparents (depending on the reader's age: my maternal grandmothe ...more
Sweet sets out to prove that the Victorians were not so different from us. He has a point: they were the beginning of the current industrialized, urban-oriented society we live in today. To this day many of the phrases, assumptions, and phenomena (sex scandals as news, professional sports teams, advertising techniques) from that era remain.
Unfortunately, Sweet is good at research but bad and piecing it together. He lards the text with heaps of anecdotes and snide asides, makes wild assumptions,
Erik Graff
Oct 22, 2012 Erik Graff rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: the English
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Fast-paced, detailed, overstated and very British, this book attacks common notions about the Victorian era, which is to say the 19th century, in the English-speaking world. It also branches off into diatribes against contemporary social critics and politicians in the UK who either extoll the supposed characteristics of the period (Tories) or decry them (Labour).
This would presumably be a light read for a contemporary English person. For an American not steeped in BBC television it presents som
This was an enjoyable and insightful book. The author’s main point is that the Victorian stereotype of the stuffy, prudish, repressed society is inaccurate. They were more like us than we think, and they may even have been more open about some things than we are now. They were the beginning of our contemporary ideas on all manner of topics. The author himself says that there is so much information from the period it would be easy to make whatever case for the Victorians that you wanted. But I th ...more
Mar 14, 2009 Susanne rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who love British social history
This book is about British Victorians.

This is important to recognize because otherwise the author's vehemence doesn't make sense. Apparently in Britain there is a perceived active hatred of Victorian culture and this is the mindset the author is trying to change.

In the US, Victorian attitudes really held sway until the 1960s (with the "sexual revolution" etc.). So in America, Sweet's premise that the people of the 1930s weren't that different from the people of the 1890s is just singing to the
It took me too many months to read it to give it a fair review. That may be a review in and of itself. It was good. It was not what I expected from the title. I expected more a history of how the Victorians came to be. It's more a look at who the Victorians were as framed by the current view of our society. Maybe we've typecast them too much. I may read it again one day in a more condensed setting so I can get a better overview. Sometimes it was too focused. Sometimes not focused enough. Interes ...more
A thoroughly good read but not quite as engaging as I'd hoped. I still recommend it, but be prepared to skim so parts which offer far too much detail about names and events you won't be too concerned with remembering.
Spirited and lively, this book intends to rescue the Victorians from the lazy cliche that they were repressed, prudish and reactionary. I enjoyed reading it, but who ever thought this in the first place? The author goes for the tabloid end of human endeavour for examples - sex, drugs and the Victorian equivalent of rock and roll. How much more convincing if he had gone into the areas where we really are living in a world made by the Victorians - science,technology, business, social and health ca ...more
An excellent look at the Victorian period that challenges the prevailing myths of the period and reveals the Victorians to be closer to us in their attitudes and lifestyle than we ever expected. Sweet delves deeply to the roots of those perennial misconceptions in manner both scholarly and engaging - a difficult feat. This was the introductory text to my Victorian Studies MA, and for good reason. If you think the Victorians were stuffy hypocrites with a distaste for naked piano legs and sex, Swe ...more
Courtney Stoker
The first half of this book is pretty good, if a little anti-academic. However, the second half veers a bit off course, and the author falls into the trap of projecting onto the Victorians just as much as he accuses popular culture. He claims they vilify them, while he idolizes them. There is a middle ground (one academics, actually, usually take), and Sweet avoids it as much as possible. Overall, a good example of how the Victorians are invented by modern people, rather than a smart takedown of ...more
Sarah Harkness
An easy read, covering some old ground and some new,
I'm interested in history but lack the staying power for a heavy history book: I enjoyed the way this was presented - the book approaches the Victorians through different aspects of social history with a nice balance between detail and overview. I particularly enjoyed the fascination with high wires and thrill seeking: interesting that it seeems to be coming back into fashion!
Lauren Albert
Sweet's arguments seem to be two--1) the Victorians weren't Victorian and 2) if they were Victorian, we are more so. I (ironically enough) found some of his humor inappropriate--not because it was sexual or showed anyone's piano legs but because it seemed to lack compassion. Anyway, the book was interesting and full of anecdotes of non-Victorian 19th-century behavior.
Erika Mailman
I was lured in by the book's thesis, that the Victorians weren't as prudish and fusty as we think. The book doesn't wholly support that, I don't think (although I'm not all the way through yet), but does indeed give some gems of information about the Victorians. I wish my version of the book had the jacket art that this one does (the woman reading nude on her lounge!)
Miss Mandatory
The perception of Victorian society as repressive and morally uptight are finally destroyed in this jolly, informative read - and what we think are 20th century inventions - celebrity, serial killers,cinema, sensations, advertising, sexual permissiveness - turn out to be Victorian inventions.
Proof if ever I need it that we are still in the 19th Century.
Or I am.
Jessie B.
Victorian has come to mean conservative and stuffy but reading this book I realized that this was a mistaken impression and in many ways Victorian society was much more open than the society of the early 20th century and many of the roots of popular culture and attitudes and practicses that we take for granted as modern started in this fascinating period.
Всё бы было вообще замечательно, если бы автор пореже повторял, как он объективен, да как все неправильно любят викторианцев, один он прав!
Portia Costa
Enjoyed this lively look at some of the lighter, more fun sides of Victorian life, written in a witty, entertaining style.
Andy Emery
Simply excellent. Super-rich in detail on Victorians' lives. Great source material for any aspiring historical novelists...
A really interesting look at Victorian Britain, giving a different viewpoint on some long-held preconceptions.
Dense but fascinating
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