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How to Be a Victorian

(How to Be #1)

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  4,692 ratings  ·  778 reviews
Step into the skin of your ancestors . . .

We know what life was like for Victoria and Albert, but what was it like for a commoner? How did it feel to cook with coal and wash with tea leaves? Drink beer for breakfast and clean your teeth with cuttlefish? Dress in whalebone and feed opium to the baby? Catch the omnibus to work and wash laundry while wearing a corset?

How To
Hardcover, 458 pages
Published July 30th 2013 by Viking (first published March 1st 2013)
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Crystal L. Definitely. If you've ever seen any of the TV programs that Ruth Goodman was on, the book is basically written the same way in which she presents on T…moreDefinitely. If you've ever seen any of the TV programs that Ruth Goodman was on, the book is basically written the same way in which she presents on TV. (less)

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This is a pre-dawn to fast-asleep story of the day detailing everything from what a poor girl, middle-class lady, working man would have used to wash their faces, through breakfast, work, children, medicine, leisure and so to bed. It is only political in as much as the laws of the day affect daily life, for example, working hours and education. It is perhaps the book that has brought me closest to exactly how a Victorian would have lived and experienc
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ruth Goodman is an expert. I could even call her a Victorian lady through and through! She is a historian who does more than just write about the period, she actually lived the life of a Victorian woman doing hundreds of menial jobs that we are 9fortunately) spared today. While listening to this invaluable book on all aspects of everyday life under the reign of Queen Victoria, I was overwhelmed by all the details the Authoress covers, the details that are mostly omitted in historical fiction, an ...more
Jul 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was fascinating. Ruth Goodman set out to explain what life was like for the Victorians, starting from when they got up in the morning until they went to bed at night. There are chapters on getting dressed, using the privy, personal grooming, exercise, meals, school, work, and even sex.

I'm a nut for British lit, so I was thrilled when I first heard about this book. Goodman has some credibility in this field because she spent months living in re-created Victorian conditions on a farm. H
Tristram Shandy
Jul 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, favourites
Little Nell Never Brushed Her Teeth, and No-One in Barchester Ever Changed Their Underwear

Okay, most likely they did. However, Dickens and Trollope did not find it worth their while to record it, for which we may, after all, feel grateful since Little Nell’s dental hygiene or excursions on Bishop Proudie’s linen would not have carried on the respective plot very much.

And yet who has not asked themselves at least once in a while how people in the Victorian era started their day, how they washed t
I grew up in a late-Victorian terraced house. This house had wooden sash windows, tiled porch and kitchen floors, a slate roof with terracotta finials and two chimneys with terracotta pots that lead down to six fireplaces.

That house when I was a very young boy also had a coal bunker, an outside toilet, a wrought iron front gate (no railings as they'd been cut and taken away during WWII), a small front garden with fuscias all edged with dark glazed earthenware edgers. We found bottles with marbl
Jul 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is meticulously-detailed and chock full of good information, walking the reader through every moment of the day for Victorian Britons of every gender and class. I learned a great deal and was revolted by a lot of it - as I've stated on numerous occasions to anyone who would listen, THANK GOODNESS I WASN'T ALIVE THEN.
It's lacking in a lot of the macro-scale information about systems and institutions that's present in Daniel Pool's What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, but it d
Jill Hutchinson
Oct 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
I learned something very important when I read this book......I don't want to be a Victorian! To provide background for the book, the author lived a year following the Victorian way of life, so she knows of what she writes and she does it with great detail and humor. She only touches briefly on the upper class life-style and concentrates on the middle and lower classes of Britain. These families didn't have the means to employ servants, so the rigors of the day-to-day maintenance of the home was ...more
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
Every bit as good as her guide to the Tudor age. And a refresher course on why not all regulations are bad. Some prevent things like six-year-olds being hired as coal miners, or opium being sold as a gentle herbal supplement for babies, to provide Victorian examples.
Sep 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This was excellent: accessible, well researched, fascinating. It covers all aspects of Victorian life and is written by what I think is called and experimental historian’ who has spent a lot of time living as a Victorian, using all the same methods and ingredients as were used in the period.
Jul 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
A mostly fascinating read of all the big and little activities of daily life in Victorian times, arranged from pre-dawn to bed-time, as experienced by all classes and both sexes. From getting out of bed and morning ablutions, to making and wearing clothes and cosmetics, to doing the laundry, to buying, cooking and serving food, and drugging your babies and children so they don’t require as much attention (the Victorian version of iPad baby-sitting!). Even school, sport / leisure and sex is cover ...more
Mar 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
Fascinated by the Victorian era for many years now, I gobbled up piece by piece of this book. Ruth Goodman makes everything fun and interesting as she herself is not only a historian but reenacts things she has read and research herself from corset wearing, farming and everyday life of, in this case, a Victorian.
Goodman sets up the book from morning to night from having breakfast to being tucked into bed at night. Somethings she spent a lot of time on, which at times could be bad or good depe
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What makes this different from other historical books of the period is - Ruth! Ruth has worn the clothes, made the clothes, done the washing, cooked the food. There is nothing like experience and enthusiasm, and Ruth has both. I could go on and on. I've watched "Victorian Farm", "Edwardian Farm" and all the other farms and pharmacies, so yes, I already loved Ruth when I read this, but she is more than just a corker, she's a professional. There so many things in this book I had no inkling of. Lik ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Goodman, who lived for extended periods of time as a re-enactor on Victorian and Edwardian Farm for British TV, and has the historical chops to back up her experience, lays out what daily life was like for 19th century people, including the long-term use of corsets on posture, brushing your teeth with ground cuttlefish (unexpectedly effective!), that stand up washing is pretty effective and people didn't have nearly the BO you'd think, diets across the social stratum, used clothes and their fit, ...more
Dec 18, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who love Victorian history
Shelves: great-britain
This book was interesting, but certainly not riveting as I had hoped it would be. After a certain point, the amount of detail made it rather tedious. I ended up skimming those parts a bit. The author tried out many of the practices that she talks about – corsets, methods of transport, cooking, and so on. The worst part for me, and what I personally think was far too excessive, was the fact that she did not wash with water for four months! Sorry, but that’s plain out disgusting in my eyes. Four m ...more
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was everything I hoped Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners would be but failed to be. Whereas Unmentionable was low on facts with almost total reliance on "humor," this book was a comprehensive look at life in Victorian England and ten times better. I appreciated the author’s detail to every detail of life, both for the poor and working class families as well as for the middle class and upper class. I also appreciated the author’s anecdotes from her ...more
Oct 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing

I already knew that Victorian life had plenty of downsides – but this book left me convinced 120% that I would want NO part of that time period.

The book’s chapters are arranged around the tasks of a typical day – wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, go to work, etc. Each chapter shows how the middle and lower classes of the time period would have performed these tasks, with lots of primary sources cited, and both individuals and averages cited.

An excellent read – the kind of history book that l
Pamela Shropshire
"Fascinating" seems to be a common descriptor in the reviews on the book and for good reason. Ms. Goodman takes her reader through the steps of an ordinary day for ordinary people during the Victorian era. She particularly emphasizes what life was like for working-class people, citing extant letters and journals from the period.

For example:

Hannah Cullwick fitted her morning wash in just before she cooked the family breakfast, often making use of the kitchen facilities. 'Wash'd me at the sink an
Kathleen Flynn
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I generally read nonfiction for information, not with the expectation of pleasure. Although I learned a lot from this book, I also found myself laughing out loud or rereading paragraphs for the sheer joy they provided. Here is a writer who takes a deep delight in what she's doing and learning, and with sharing it with others. ...more
Katie Lumsden
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars
A fascinating, well-told and detailed account of everyday life in the Victorian period - one of my favourite non-fiction books to date!
What a fabulously fascinating book! I think this is the book I've always been looking for. I've been curious for much of my life about how our forebears lived, and I've read other books trying to figure that out. But this one really goes into great detail about how a person in the Victorian era would have lived. Not only that, but Goodman also details the differences between the poorest Victorians, who may not have gotten much notice otherwise, and the richest, who are the usual focus of these s ...more
This is a well researched, thorough, and mostly interesting book. But after renewing it twice and picking it up and putting it down countless times, I have to accept that I am not going to finish it.

The book reads more like an encyclopedia, covering very specific aspects of daily life starting with waking up and working through to the end of the day. If you love reading facts without much personal narrative, this book will totally work for you. If, like me, you thought you would be reading somet
Lady Shockley
Sep 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Remarkable. By mining the books, newspapers, magazines and diaries of the era, Goodman gives the reader a clear picture of what Victorian life was like in different economic strata from dawn til dusk. No surprise, most of that time was devoted to working or getting food. Quite interesting, especially for fans of Dickens, Collins, or Gaskell.
Apr 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-book, non-fiction
I have always been an absolutely huge fan of the ‘Farm’ series - Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, Wartime Farm, Tudor Monastery and Tales of the Green Valley so when I found Ruth Goodman (one of my favourite participants to the show) had written this book, it was a must read for me!

It’s gives a look into history like no other history book. It has such an intimate, detailed view into the every day life of a Victorian, sweeping through a standard day, from waking up, eating, exercising, dressing, c
Having read a number of fictional books written during or about the Victorian Age, I was immediately drawn to this book when it was published. This Victorian scholar organizes her book by events occurring in the daily life of its Victorian citizenry. The book details a typical day from rising in the morning to going to bed at night for the various social classes, including bathing, dressing, meals, work, and recreation. As in many biology textbooks, the book ends with sexual behavior. I would hi ...more
Jan 12, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
Enjoyable and interesting to read about. I have to admit that I started skimming about 2/3 of the way because it went into such detail with the clothing that my eyes were glazing over. But I think the favorite aspect of this book was that Ruth Goodman actually tried many aspects of the Victorian life. Mm. Soot-toothpaste.
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
So much fun to read!
So not fun being a Victorian!
Nov 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
it is a MIRACLE that any of us survived
Sad Sunday (If I say it's bad, it's bad)
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fun history fans
Shelves: someday

How I dare to rate a book that I DNF?


I read only a few chapters. But I loved it and they were mighty great. Author did a great job diving into a Victorian timeline of daily life with extreme detail, interesting facts, realistic descriptions and true stories. Ruth Goodman even tried washing herself like a Victorian, making clothes in Victorian way, even trying to make a condom in Victorian fashion. What could be more Victorian? Author doesn't load your head with tons of facts, bla bla bla, d
Sarah u
One of the things I LOVE about history is learning about how people lived their day-to-day lives in bygone times. How did they wash clothes, cook food, shop, earn, drink, live, and spend their spare time? I find all this detail and more fascinating. I think it is for this reason that I count among my favourites books such as The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer and Mistress, Maids and Men: Baronial Life in the Thirteent ...more
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastically informative, yet still accessible resource for anyone wishing to understand, or to teach about, the Victorian period, peppered with the author's uncanny "been there, done that" remarks. How to Be a Victorian explains the emergence of public pools, why Monday is laundry day, why actually broth is good for you when you're sick, and what was expected of an average Jane in the domestic health department ("lancing boils, cutting off moles, removing splinters, and other minor s ...more
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Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So, this January, as we celebrate Martin Luther King...
19 likes · 8 comments
“sealing the pores were undertaken, famously with a horse. The poor animal was carefully varnished all over with several layers of shellac (the same solution that is used to varnish furniture) to ensure a complete seal, and died within hours. It was assumed that it had asphyxiated, thus ‘proving’ that the skin played an important role in respiration as well as perspiration.” 0 likes
“Countrymen wore heavy, hard-wearing cotton fabrics that were mostly pale and undyed. Townsmen wore dark-coloured wool.” 0 likes
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