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This Victorian Life: Modern Adventures in Nineteenth-Century Culture, Cooking, Fashion, and Technology

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  413 ratings  ·  93 reviews
Part memoir, part micro-history, this is an exploration of the present through the lens of the past.

We all know that the best way to study a foreign language is to go to a country where it's spoken, but can the same immersion method be applied to history? How do interactions with antique objects influence perceptions of the modern world?

From Victorian beauty regimes to ni
Hardcover, 332 pages
Published November 3rd 2015 by Skyhorse
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Average rating 3.53  · 
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 ·  413 ratings  ·  93 reviews

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Michelle Farley
Nov 17, 2015 rated it liked it
I loved the history, but couldn't get past the precious writing style. ...more
May 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had my doubts at first, but the further along I got in the story, the more I liked it. Chrisman writes very well, rarely venturing into deep-in-the-weeds territory of her fixation. She has a good sense of humor regarding some of her attempts, such as making her own mattress to fit their new non-standard sized Victorian bed, baking bread (The Brick), etc. Being a western Washington resident, and a fan of travel narrative, I was fascinated by her tale of riding her Victorian bicycle 65 miles eac ...more
May 04, 2017 marked it as abandoned-dnf  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-read-2017
I thought this would be a fun read with lots of details about 19th century tools, clothing, households, etc. Maybe it's in there somewhere, but I barely made it through the sample.

The book starts off with a defensive tone, which is a really strange way to start a book given the reader is probably interested in and sympathetic to the topic since s/he picked up the book. That was off-putting, rather like getting yelled at as soon as you walk in the door for something you didn't do and knew nothin
May 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
It’s all too easy to romanticize the past, and that is exactly what Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman make their life doing. To say the least, they have an unconventional lifestyle. They live like Victorians, abandoning modern comforts and conveniences for antiquated technology. Sarah documents this living experiment in this memoir.

It all started with a corset. For Sarah’s 29th birthday, Gabriel gave her the controversial undergarment and it didn’t take long before Sarah wore it regularly and fully ado
Sarah Coller
Nov 07, 2017 rated it liked it
This is the kind of book I really love and, in fact, this was one of the most interesting books I've read in a long time. However, the author's attitude was a big turn off for me. In several cases throughout the book, Chrisman discusses some of the negative attention they receive for living an out-of-the-norm lifestyle. Granted, this is part of her describing their reality so I wasn't irritated that she brought it up, I was more annoyed by her attitude about it when I thought about my own experi ...more
Apr 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
In some ways this was a fairly enjoyable read, with some interesting insights, but overall the author's attitude ruined it for me.

I liked the discussions on using various household items and the insight into aspects of daily life in the 19th C. I thought that it was well-researched and the idea of living a (white, straight, upper-middle class) 'Victorian' life seems really interesting and fun, although not for me.

However, I disliked the uncritical romanticisation of the era and the lack of ackn
Steven Belanger
May 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
I first became interested in reading this book while I was researching books about living in Victorian New England. I found a clip online of a modern man looking like a Victorian man jumping on the back of a two-wheeled Victorian bicycle and then sort of leap-frogging to the top of the gigantic front wheel. Beneath this clip was an article that was itself mostly well-written, but angry towards this modern / Victorian man. The gist of the articles anger can be summed up by saying the writer was p ...more
Cricket Muse
Dec 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
The title caught my eye as I passed the new book shelf at the library. Since I teach English literature I couldn't resist reading a modern perspective of the Victorian era, a time period that greatly influenced our present era. I found the book enchanting, and I'm usually not fond of non-fiction, especially memoirs. Yet, Chrisman is a gifted wordsmith, especially in her descriptions:
preface--"Too many academic historians view the past as a dead thing to be dissected and then encased in glass." T
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Interesting idea and worthwhile experiment in living historically, but aggravating book. Ms. Chrisman comes off as annoyingly provincial and naive. I expect people trying to recreate bygone technologies to expound upon finding how to rebuilt and use such things, such as her adventures in sewing her own mattress to fit and antique bed. However, the Victorians weren't really that long ago and many technologies aren't lost at all...canning and fountain pens, for example. Her descriptions of the bum ...more
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I chose this book because I found the idea quite interesting but Mrs. Chrisman comes across as VERY pretentious. Up to chapter 16 it was tolerable because the chapters flowed well enough together to tell a story but chapter 16 was just too self-important and unnecessary. (It is a very short chapter in which nothing happens and we learn nothing more than that she was asked to sit for multiple portraits because she was so pretty and intriguing. Ugh. It was just so pompous.) After that, each chapte ...more
May 13, 2016 rated it liked it
The topic and their commitment-priceless. The writing style is quite verbose and has a LOT of needless details so the book is really bogged down. Their experiments and choices are fascinating and I did learn a few things but I wanted so much more and instead got a lot of useless details (pages and pages about plumbing in their house,etc.) that has nothing to do with a victorian life but just owning a home. She says she runs a business out of their house but then writes nothing else about it. How ...more
Leigh St John
May 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I not only love and admire the author and her husband for their devotion to my favorite time period, but also adore her writing style. Thank you for another glorious glimpse into your living convergence of two worlds.
Abby Borsato
Apr 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
While I did not hate the writing and found parts of her story interesting, I couldn't get past her pretentious and at times smug attitude throughout her narrative. I also disliked her comparisons of the criticism she has faced to racism and found her defensive manner in this way to be tasteless. ...more
Beth Ann
Jan 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Full of interesting information, though the author's writing becomes a little precious at times. ...more
Feb 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
The author really needs to stop comparing herself, and the way she is treated because of her lifestyle choices, to minorities experiencing racism.
I really enjoyed this author's book Victorian Secrets so thought I would like this one as well. I admit that I skimmed a bit during her descriptions of bicycle touring, but other than that I found this book quite interesting. I love visiting living history sites and learning from re-enactors how things from the past worked, especially domestic things, so I find the author's lifestyle fascinating. Her discussion on how well authentic antiques work (versus modern replicas) was particularly interes ...more
Sheryl Tribble
May 10, 2019 rated it liked it
A considerable improvement over her first book. She still pokes fun at people for not understanding her chosen lifestyle, but much more gently, and the proportion of pertinent information is much higher. I agreed with her from the first that using objects from earlier times as a daily thing will teach far more about them – and about daily life in those times – than reading or otherwise speculating about “what it was like” will, and this book provides numerous examples of that sort of thing, whic ...more
Jun 17, 2017 rated it did not like it
I was very interested in the premise of this book, and I hoped to learn about Victorian life or at least about how they make their pseudo-Victorian life fit into the modern day.

What I got was a soap-boxing about how their way of life is better than anyone else's, and frequent insults directed towards other groups of people. Even in the prologue, historical reenactors who dare to wear costumes that aren't manufactured by historical/period methods are compared to abusive parents beating a helpless
May 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
This certainly had interesting parts, but overall I am so unimpressed with the author's attitude. I remember this from another book of hers that I read - she seems to feel both superior to and somewhat persecuted by people living modernly. Maybe I'm just reading too much into her tone and she's doesn't actually feel that way, but that's how her writing comes across to me. I find it very offputting. I did like all the details about Victorian life, and I do think the author and her husband are liv ...more
May 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful but left me with questiond

I have so much respect and adoration for this couple who have found such perfect partners to live out life as their best selves. I wish that the author would have discussed how to deal with menstruation and birth control. That is something I would like to know about going from the 21st century to Victorian times. Overall, I've learned a lot and loved this read!
Beverly Hollandbeck
May 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Good thing these two people found each other and married. The author and her husband are such Victorian era aficionados that they buy a big Victorian house and decide to live as if it were 1890, eschewing electricity, automobiles, and modern clothing. She even dons a corset. OK for them, I guess, but I do find it ironic that they order authentic Victorian items on the internet.
Mia Parviainen
Aug 31, 2019 rated it liked it
It's not often that tone becomes a distraction when I'm reading narrative nonfiction. Over the course of Sarah A. Chrisman's research, explanations, and episodes, her tone wavers from amusing descriptions of Victorian living to defending her life decisions to romanticized defiance of the surrounding world.

Chrisman writes in themed chapters about her and her husband's attempts to bring as many elements of life in the Victorian 1880s-1890s as possible into their daily living. They wear handmade r
Jun 05, 2019 rated it liked it
I found this at times very funny and some details very interesting, such as the curls on a pitcher being to rest your thumb on rather than just merely decorative or that mobile phones can magnetise a watch or the story of baking a loaf of rye bread so dense that it remained intact after throwing it out of eight story window

There were other things that I wish had been included such as did Chrisman try to copy Victorian copperplate with her fountain pen? How did she fine trying to use a dip pen?

Fascinating idea: living as the Victorians did, as much as possible in the modern age. Not for me though. I'm glad these two people found each other to live the life they both apparently want.
Sarah makes her own clothes, sewing them by hand even though sewing machines existed in their chosen period of late 19th century. She documents their further immersion into the lifestyle, in this book beginning with the purchase of a home built in their target date of 1889. Port Townsend, Washington is a go
Aug 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
I think it’s important to remember a couple key points about the author.

First, she and her husband live all aspects of their life as closely to Victorian times as they can. I think this is reflected in the tone and style of her writing, overall. While she uses many phrases that are modern and her pacing is modern, the overall tone of her writing lends to a Victorian novel feel.

Secondly, she is, in fact, also a published novelist. While this book is technically a memoir, her tendency to write as
Heather Adams
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book pretty mostly falls within a favorite category of mine -- Sabbatical Lit, except this is how they plan to live for the rest of their lives. It covers the lives of a couple living in 21st century Washington State in a Victorian home, living as close to a Victorian life as is possible (she does use a computer to submit her books, but writes them first long hand).

A couple of thoughts:

1) There is truly someone for everyone. How two people who are this passionate about living 120 years ago
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-ve-read
This was a fun read for me.
Married couple Gabriel and Sarah Chrisman have always had a fascination for the Victorian period (me too). While they had already owned a few items from that age, they decided to take it a step further and live as if it were still the Victorian age, while accepting the technology that others have. For instance, they don't own cell phones, use oil lamps instead of electrical lighting, don't drive but ride their reproduction bikes everywhere (they even talk about how th
Kilian Metcalf
What started out as an interest in 19th-century living evolved into a full-blown lifestyle. This couple live as completely as possible in the 19th century. The challenges and rewards make up the bulk of the book. Fortunately, the husband has a profession as a bicycle repairman that has changed little over the years. His job is much the same.

For Sarah keeping house is a struggle at first, but she soon settles into a life without modern technology. I wouldn't want to trade places with her, but it
Oct 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is both a delightful description of two passionate aficionados living out their dream of living in the Victorian era as much as possible - a version of a dream most history huffs have had at some point - and also a unique look at the Victorian worldview as tempered by the 21st century lens. While Chrisman and her husband cannot, as products of the modern world, have a fully Victorian worldview, they have read and thought so much about the period, and experienced as daily realities so m ...more
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Sarah A. Chrisman grew up in Renton, Washington, in the late twentieth-century, but always felt she should have been born in the 1800's. (When she was a young child, her mother took her to visit the Flavel House Victorian Museum in Astoria, Oregon, and Sarah begged to be left there.) Like any good Victorian lady, she has an advanced education in the humanities: she holds degrees in both Internatio ...more

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73 likes · 21 comments
“The people we find truly anathema are the ones who reduce the past to caricature and distort
it to fit their own bigoted stereotypes. We’ve gone to events that claimed to be historic fashion
shows but turned out to be gaudy polyester parades with no shadow of reality behind them. As
we heard our ancestors mocked and bigoted stereotypes presented as facts, we felt like we had
gone to an event advertised as an NAACP convention only to discover it was actually a minstrel
show featuring actors in blackface. Some so-called “living history” events really are that bigoted.
When we object to history being degraded this way, the guilty parties shout that they are “just
having fun.” What they are really doing is attacking a past that cannot defend itself. Perhaps
they are having fun, but it is the sort of fun a schoolyard brute has at the expense of a child who
goes home bruised and weeping. It’s time someone stood up for the past.
I have always hated bullies. The instinct to attack difference can be seen in every social
species, but if humans truly desire to rise above barbarism, then we must cease acting like beasts.
The human race may have been born in mud and ignorance, but we are blessed with minds
sufficiently powerful to shape our behavior. Personal choices form the lives of individuals; the
sum of all interactions determine the nature of societies.
At present, it is politically fashionable in America to tolerate limited diversity based around
race, religion, and sexual orientation, yet following a trend does not equate with being truly
open-minded. There are people who proudly proclaim they support women’s rights, yet have an
appallingly limited definition of what those rights entail. (Currently, fashionable privileges are
voting, working outside the home, and easy divorce; some people would be dumbfounded at the
idea that creating beautiful things, working inside the home, and marriage are equally desirable
rights for many women.) In the eighteenth century, Voltaire declared, “I disagree with what you
say but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.”3 Many modern Americans seem to have
perverted this to, “I will fight to the death for your right to agree with what I say.”
When we stand up for history, we are in our way standing up for all true diversity. When we
question stereotypes and fight ignorance about the past, we force people to question ignorance in
“Many wild foods have their charms, but the dearest one to my heart - my favorite fruit in the whole world - is the thimbleberry. Imagine the sweetest strawberry you've ever tasted, crossed with the tartest raspberry you've ever eaten. Give in the texture of silk velvet and make it melt to sweet juice the moment it hints your tongue. Shape it like the age-old sewing accessory that gives the fruit its name, and make it just big enough to cup a dainty fingertip. That delicious jewel of a fruit is a thimbleberry. They're too fragile to ship and too perishable to store, so they are one of those few precious things in life that can't be commoditized, and for me they always symbolize the essence of grabbing joy while I can. When it rains in thimbleberry season, the delicate berries get so damp that even the gentlest pressure crushes them, so instead of bringing them home as mush, I lick each one of my fingers as soon as it is picked. These sweet berries are treasure beyond price...” 0 likes
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