Corrupting History: Victorian Books

Some of you may know that The Radiometry Conspiracy is an historical fantasy, set in a skewed 19th-century England. It’s not exactly steampunk—mostly steam, little punk, so it really fits better into the historical fantasy category.

My world is not all that much like England, though. I did a ton of research, which I corrupted to suit my own purposes. (Mwahaha!) Next week I’ll write about the corruption process, but this week, I want to tell you a little story and then list some books. Sound good? Good. (Like you have a choice.)

Earlier this evening, I put the tea kettle on in the dark kitchen. After it hit boiling, I poured the tea, still in the dark, but then I realized I couldn’t see the tea steeping. Cup in hand, I went to turn on the light… but I hit the garbage disposal switch instead. It roared to life, I jumped, balanced my tea on the edge of the sink so that I could hit the right switch, and then—the tea fell. And what did I do? I caught it. (Imagine me screaming, “Son of a monkey whore!” because that is in fact what I screamed.) I now have nasty burns on the first two fingers of my right hand. Ouch.

So you’re getting a list, and then I’m going to go watch Buffy in bed and feel sorry for myself. I’ll be back tomorrow for Freudian Friday!

Kristin’s Indispensable Books for Writing about Victorian England

1. Inside the Victorian Home, Judith Flanders
This book was indispensable for teaching me about daily life for average people in nineteenth-century England. The focus was on the middle class, everything from social conventions to daily diet, including medicine, mourning, sex, and bathrooms. This bad boy has everything.

2. Victorian London, Liza Picard
The focus for this one was urban life. My fantastical society has a huge divide between the wealthy, country classes and the poor, urban classes. My characters come from the city originally, and knowing about the hideous conditions of Victorian London helped me shape the city they came from and its influence on them.

3. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, Daniel Pool
You just can’t beat trivia for slaking a writer’s thirst for knowledge and adding detail to a world. Knowing the composition and color of London’s peculiar smog really added something to my worldbuilding.

4. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, C. Willett Cunningham
This book served as inspiration. I know I’m going to have to cut the 100-word long descriptions of Eva’s dramatic ballgowns. No one really cares to read that stuff. But just being able to visualize her gowns, to look at pictures of how she might have looked, gave me inspiration on a daily basis. And when you’re writing a 215,000-word monster, you need all the daily inspiration you can get.

5. Never Give a Lady a Restive Horse, Thomas Hill
Technically this one’s about 19th-century America, but it’s loads of fun. Want to know about the Victorian language of flowers or how to turn down a suitor? This book has examples. Any social convention you could want is in this book.

So now you’re asking, “Kristin, what’s with the bold? And why are you telling me this?”

I’m telling you because I think it might help you pick books for your research. You can’t read every book on a topic. Instead, pick ones that will help you understand daily life in several environments and the social conventions of the time, and will give you some trivia to color your understanding. The inspiration and the fun is just to keep you going.

Happy researching!

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2 thoughts on “Corrupting History: Victorian Books

  1. Cool. Maybe I’ll list my references, too. Might be a good reminder for me to go back and refer to them some more as I continue writing.

    Did you pick based on recommendations or are these the best from a vast stack that you used?

    1. These are the best of a huge stack! I looked at tons, and I have almost an entire bookshelf full, but these were the ones that spent the most time next to my computer while I was writing.

      I’d be interested in seeing your references, too. I love history.

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