Inventing the Victorians, Paperback
3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Suppose that everything we think we know about 'The Victorians' is wrong?

That we have persistently misrepresented the culture of the Victorian era, perhaps to make ourselves feel more satisfyingly liberal and sophisticated?

What if they were much more fun than we ever suspected?

Matthew Sweet's Inventing the Victorians has some revelatory - and entertaining - answers for us.

As Sweet shows us in this brilliant study, many of the concepts that strike us as terrifically new - political spin-doctoring, extravagant publicity stunts, hardcore pornography, anxieties about the impact of popular culture upon children - are Victorian inventions. Most of the pleasures that we imagine to be our own, the Victorians enjoyed first: the theme park, the shopping mall, the movies, the amusement arcade, the crime novel and the sensational newspaper report.

They were engaged in a well-nigh continuous search for bigger and better thrills.

If Queen Victoria wasn't amused, then she was in a very small minority...Matthew Sweet's book is an attempt to re-imagine the Victorians; to suggest new ways of looking at received ideas about their culture; to distinguish myth from reality; to generate the possibility of a new relationship between the lives of nineteenth-century people and our own.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 288 pages, 12 b&w illustrations
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: British & Irish history
  • ISBN: 9780571206636



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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

Thoroughly enjoyable read on a wide cross section of Victorian era myths and facts.

Review by

In this book, it's Matthew Sweet's stated aim to show that the Victorians weren't as different from us as we sometimes believe; that they were more sexually liberated, less patriarchal, and generally more fun than the ways in which they are sometimes portrayed. He argues that our wonky view of the Victorians is largely due to the fact that we are selective in which sources we use to support our ideas of our great- or great-great-grandparents (depending on the reader's age: my maternal grandmother was born the year Queen Victoria died).He presents evidence to support his theories, though it could be argued that he is as selective as anyone in choosing which sources he uses to back up his arguments; then again, there is an awful lot of source material out there, both proving and disproving some of his key statements, which perhaps only goes to show that the Victorians were as diverse and heterogeneous as we are.Nevertheless, I think it's a worthwhile project to rescue the Victorians from some of the stereotypical ways in which we view them - that they were prudish, stuffy, stern, and deeply repressed. Are we more enlightened than our ancestors? In some ways, perhaps, but then again our social mores have changed, our values have shifted in some areas (not always for the better, though, necessarily).Sweet's scope is wide - perhaps too much so - and his subjects range from cinema, to narcotics, sex, food, and - of course - sex. It's a good overview for anyone wanting to know a little more about the Victorians, and as a starting point for thinking about our received ideas of that era and perhaps challenging our own stereotypes. I did feel that Sweet tends to leap from - as another reviewer put it - 'suggestive idea to a monstrous exaggeration', but the book is a good read and filled with interesting facts and plenty of food for thought. [June 2007]

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