Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Researching the Victorian Era

If you are tired of the same old fables about the Victorian era, i.e. the old stereotypical things written on the web that say the Victorians were a repressed, unhappy people who had no rights, then check out The Benevolence of Manners,)a reprint of Simple Social Graces, here

The original edition is a hardback with the title, "Simple Social Graces." Both are reasonably priced at Amazon. In case you forget to scroll down to the reviews, I'll paste them here. I've spoken of this book many times and told how it portrays a more accurate view of the era of our great grandmothers, and gives better documentation than many sites where you read typical assumptions about the Victorians, most of which is fable. This book is really absorbing and I hope those who are researching the Victorians will read it.

Editorial Reviews:

'Book Description
We can go home again, and not just to the hearthbut to the art of love and the art of civilized living. . .
Imagine a time when common courtesy was a standard for all, when a genuine moral authority reigned supreme and when relations between the sexes were marked by mutual respect and honor. These were the hallmarks of the Victorian era.
In The Benevolence of Manners, sociologist Linda S. Lichter guides us on a wonderful journey back to the complex world of our Victorian ancestors, illuminating their most precious concepts and presenting a wealth of invaluable advice for our troubled times: the fine and elusive art of living.
Although the Victorian era is often misunderstood as a time of sexual repression, it was in fact a time of sexual floweringwhen love and romance were unshackled by chronic infidelity and exploitation.
In Victorian families, the greatest gift a parent could give their child was not complete indulgence, but a strong sense of self-reliance and restraint.
Victorian parents successfully instilled confidence and character in their children by holding them to the same high standard of civility as adults.
Whereas we often seek to be "good enough," the Victorians strove for consistent perfection. The Victorians achieved more, and received more, because they expected the very best from themselves and others.
These Victorian values, as Lichter eloquently explains, are not simply outdated relics, but priceless tools for mending the many problems of our modern world. If we have the courage to follow the path the Victorians have left behind, we can regain the joy of gracious living. Slowly but surely, Victorian wisdom can again become our own. About the AuthorLinda S. Lichter is co-director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington D.C. With her husband, Bob Lichter, she has co-authored The Media Elite and Watching America, and she has written for The Wall Street Journal, Reader's Digest, The New York Times, and other publications


A very wonderful book, it's a real eyes opener. There is a lot of truth in there. The author, really shows us how different society is today from the Victorian era, and shows we should have kept some of their ways of doing things, and can learn alot on how to live from them era.


It was wonderful to discover that a woman traveling alone in Victorian America could do so without fear of molestation. In our enlightened era, we can't do that today at High Noon! They must have been doing something right, those Victorians. After reading this book, I don't see how any woman could bristle at a man holding a door open for her. Some still do, thank God and I'm ALWAYS grateful! The most important message in the book for me was that everyone should strive to be a better person in everyway. Amen to that!!!



Anonymous said...

I have had this book for years and never get tired of rereading it and using it for reference. When I think back on the relatives and people I knew who were from this era or taught by fathers and mothers from this era to revier this era it is with awe and a sense of peace. I am so thankful to have witnessed if not the real times, at least some of it in the character of it's people. They were my ideals. The elders you looked up to with respect and love. I could go on and on but have before on this subject when you have mentioned this time in history before. Thanks for keeping up the good work on getting out the word and righting misunderstandings some have about the Victorian world.

Anonymous said...

Dearest Lady Lydia,

My dear sister, you should consider taking up archery as you're constantly hitting the target spot on! (smile)

I crave to read this book and add it to my collection. How thoroughly has society thrown out not just the baby, but the whole family with the bathwater??? Civility is free, it costs nothing, it's as available to the poorest of the poor as it is to the richest of the rich. It's not a set of over-rigid, outdated archaeic and hollow rituals but a way of living and interacting with others that makes life genuinely bearable and pleasant for all... Civility, Decency, Modesty, Virtue, Faithfulness, Loyalty, Discression and the art of keeping confidences (to name but a few values) cost $0000 but are worth infinitely more than their weight in gold. If these attributes go hand in hand with Genuine, Authentic Biblically grounded Christianity, the ills of secularism that can warp any principle regardless of how good it may be will be avoided. Gentle readers, do take a moment to read Ephesians 5, Ephesians 6 (these chapters in their entirety), James 1: 27, James 2: 14-26 and James 5: 1-9. You can also read chapters 3 and 4 in their entirety. Now, some may say accusingly that these strike against the very central foundation of civility, living and manners practiced by the Victorians. This is not the case, as humility and defereance in favour of others are the very pillars that held up Victorian society. Then, as now, when folk strayed from the Biblical God inspired way of life, exploitation did occur but it occurs in secular capitalist (or rather Plutocratic) society today without the restraints of faith in Christ jesus and His word to stand as a check and balance.

Let us re-capture decency and civility by a smile, a measured demeanour, a 'please' and 'thank you' and a heart focused upon the word of God in practice and the well-being of others rather than ourselves.

For those of you without a Bible, you can look up God's word in to-the-point, current English at


Mrs. E.,

Lady of the house said...

I read this book a few years ago. Truly eye-opening and worth the read. At the time I was a recent graduate with a B.A. in history, and I considered myself quite knowledgeable of the Victorian ways and how life was at the time. My professors and other books written by the "enlightened" ones impressed upon me how awful life was in those days. This book and your blog have really dispelled a lot of those myths.

Anonymous said...

I have read this book before, several years ago, and was instantly drawn in by the charm and formality of the era. I wish society were more formal and less familiar today. I have just reserved a copy of this at my local library to read again. Thank you for the reminder.

Mrs. H.

Anonymous said...

A very good post. I'll have to try & get the book you've mentioned.

Mrs. E. of Australia, I couldn't agree more with your comments, & I pray people will take them to heart. while reading, I was reminded of something my mother always used to say to us: "You can spot the true lady or gentleman, because they always treat the doorman the same as the King."


Dianna said...

Once upon a time, I scorned at men (well, boys, then) opening doors for me. I am happy to say that I have changed. Sometimes I can't help longing to be able to visit bygone eras. I say visit, though, because I think that although it would be very interesting, I would want to come back to today. After all, the world today is an amazing place, for all of its foibles! Thank you for reminding us of ways we can make it nicer. I like the idea of combining the best of all times for something truly wonderful today.

Anonymous said...

I got this book through inter-library loan a couple years go and I loved it.
It was a light but thought provoking read that used examples that I recognized; social rules shown in My Fair Lady, the anti-homemaking stance of Mrs. Gilbreth (mother of the authors of Cheaper By the Dozen), a few quips from Mark Twain, etc. Sometimes I think history books use obscure examples just to further "specialize" history (if that makes any sense) and keep it from being as accessible as it should be and this book was refreshing because it didn't stoop to that level.
A bonus feature is that it's pleasent to look at and the illustrations are lovely. :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I forgot to leave my name on my post.....

Many blessings to you,

Lizzy Farrow

Anonymous said...

Dear Lady Lydia,
I'm a fan of all things victorian and that book sounds wonderful. As I haven't yet red it I won't comment it more. I feel the victorians held very high and fine ideals, finer and more moral than many of ours. Instead of debating how well they succeeded in living them in reality I think it would be more beneficial to study them and find what we can learn from them and how they are applicable in today's world.

Yes, and as a European I could not just pass this "Also, you in Britain and Europe need to understand that Americans did not have a class system like yours and so people lived as they wanted to live without the barriers of a class system." The Victorian era is considered as 1837 to 1901, the rule of Queen Victoria in England. Slavery was ended in Southern USA in 1865, nearly half way through the Victorian times. I'm not saying that our systems were perfect, or even good, but can there be a more thorough class system than a divide into masters and slaves??

Thank you for the book recommendation and a many times tought provoking blog. I appreciate your aspiring to a more beautiful and better world.

Mrs. A

Lydia said...

There is a book you can read, online, I think, as well as in print, by Booker T. Washington, who was born in slavery. In it, he tells about his mother, who cried when the slaves were freed, but not for the reasons you would think. She knew that many of them would be homeless now and become vagrant or dependent in other ways. Some went back and offerred to work in the same families, for wages. Slums sprang up all around and Booker Washington provided a school they could go to to learn other trades. I don't want to get into an argument about this, but I do want to point out that many Europeans have written and said that the rich were happy and the poor were unhappy in Victorian times, offerring no documented proof. The rich were not necessarily happier in the Victorian period, in fact, it was they who erroded many of the values of the Victorian era, not the poor. To argue that only the rich were happy and the poor were unhappy because the rich had money because they somewhow cheated, is ridiculous. In America, the Victorians were responsible for getting rid of slavery, and I have written about it in past articles and comments on Victorians. They inherited slavery from a previous generation that did not do anything about it and they abhored it. They were also opposed to alchohol being sold in America, knowing it would bring down the nation, and they knew it created poverty. Again, I would encourage you to read the book The Benevolence of Manners to get a clearer picture of these people. What astounds me is the hatred toward that period, when every single student that mocks and ridicules them is related to them.

Lydia said...

The African American people were also part of the Victorian period. If you look online at the New York Public library and type in Victorian African Americans you will see what they looked like. Whether poor or not, they still had more decency and complied with the manners of the period. They didn't have the same level of crime and many of them formed churches of their own. Many of the men became gospel preachers. Religion was important to them. If you see the photographs you see an innocense in their faces and they also seem to have dignity. I don't want to argue about class or poverty/riches because the Victorians in America were much different than those in Europe. They were a people on the move, inventing, exploring, and still settling the land. In the north and in the far west, slavery was not an issue. I have written extensively about this before and I don't need to pursue it further. There is also a book you can read, online as well, about George Washington Carver, born in slavery, that is quite inspiring. He was a scientist. NOt many people write about England and slavery, but there was a problem there, too, as many of the traders were from England. Go to to read how slavery was first instroduced to the colonies of the was forced upon them by Dutch slave traders. Once these people landed on the shores, the Americans were obligated to take them, rather than leave them to wander, not knowing the language or the customs. In my opinion that was far more compassionate to go to a good home than to leave them without food or clothes, in a colonial system that had no welfare. Taking them home was better welfare than putting them out in the wilderness to fend for themselves. Ask yourself what you would do if someone forced a lot of people on you from another nation and didn't provide any plan for them.George Washington had slaves and he freed them all in his will when he died but one, who wanted to stay and whom the family dependended upon a lot.You can read about it in the Prayers of George Washington, and a book called George Washington, the Christian.