Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Inventing the Victorians: What We Think We Know About Them and Why We're Wrong” as Want to Read:
Inventing the Victorians: What We Think We Know About Them and Why We're Wrong
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  204 Ratings  ·  27 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Inventing the Victorians, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Inventing the Victorians

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 734)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
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
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 liked it
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
Beth Ann
Jan 31, 2016 Beth Ann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you have an interest in Victorian history, read this book. I mean it. Get it and read it. Matthew Sweet does a wonderful job of diving into the assumptions and mythology we have created around the Victorians. And tearing them apart. Since Mr. Sweet is a journalist by trade, he does a wonderful job of taking a dense and well annotated lot of information and writing it in a way that doesn't put you to sleep. This book is full of moments where you simply have to put it down to take a note. (I to ...more
Jun 19, 2008 Britt rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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 really liked it  ·  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
Sep 19, 2014 Jen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 11, 2014 Joseph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 27, 2009 Hilary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 01, 2007 Maggie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 08, 2015 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books
Interesting and factual with a lot of detail. A good research book.
Sarah Harkness
Jan 21, 2014 Sarah Harkness rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nelly
An easy read, covering some old ground and some new,
Apr 09, 2012 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nf
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
Jan 24, 2013 Erika Mailman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 09, 2007 Miss Mandatory rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 02, 2011 Jessie B. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 31, 2012 Ira rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Всё бы было вообще замечательно, если бы автор пореже повторял, как он объективен, да как все неправильно любят викторианцев, один он прав!
Portia Costa
Apr 02, 2010 Portia Costa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed this lively look at some of the lighter, more fun sides of Victorian life, written in a witty, entertaining style.
Andy Emery
Oct 04, 2013 Andy Emery rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simply excellent. Super-rich in detail on Victorians' lives. Great source material for any aspiring historical novelists...
Mar 24, 2014 Sheila rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really interesting look at Victorian Britain, giving a different viewpoint on some long-held preconceptions.
Dense but fascinating
Feb 24, 2012 Gerry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
some new ideas
Sarah marked it as to-read
Feb 07, 2016
Marc marked it as to-read
Feb 06, 2016
Wistful Reader
Wistful Reader marked it as to-read
Feb 06, 2016
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 24 25 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Victorians
  • London in the Nineteenth Century: A Human Awful Wonder of God
  • Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain
  • Victorian People and Ideas
  • The Victorian Celebration of Death
  • City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London
  • Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism
  • Victorian London: The Tale of a City 1840-1870
  • Victorian Murderesses: A True History of Thirteen Respectable French and English Women Accused of Unspeakable Crimes
  • The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital
  • The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England
  • The London Underworld in the Victorian Period: Authentic First-Person Accounts by Beggars, Thieves and Prostitutes
  • The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England
  • The Victorians
  • The London Monster: A Sanguinary Tale
  • Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England
  • The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum
  • Queen Victoria's Little Wars

Share This Book