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Thread: Favourite Victorian Non-Fiction Writing?

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    Favourite Victorian Non-Fiction Writing?

    Morning all,

    I'm an English teacher in the hunt for new resources. In the UK, the most popular exam board is AQA and on one of the new GCSE papers students will have to answer questions on two unseen texts: one from the 21st century and one from the 19th century. Curiously, students no longer learn explicitly about the Victorian era in History so I feel that in order for students to make the most perceptive inferences about the two texts they will need their blind-spots (nominally: the Victorian era) diagnosed.

    Thus, I am in the process of collecting an array of 19th century non-fiction writing that students can practice on ... so far, I have had lots of success with Dickens (A Walk in the Workhouse" "A Visit to Newgate" etc.) but feel like my initial suggestions are a bit ... old hat! If you do have any suggestions - particularly any that are geared towards social history - please share!

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew has a lot of good social history. The Condition of the Working Class in England by Friedrich Engels is pretty good too.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Its not a Victorian text, but it might help to understand the period.

    Eric Hobsbawm on the Victorian Age, I dont remember in which volume, possibly The Age of the Empire.
    I remember him starting the description of the period by "entering" a Victorian house and describing its interior: its furniture, curtains, and so on. I found it a very unusual approach for a historian.
    Last edited by Danik 2016; 02-12-2017 at 07:28 PM.
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    Internal nebulae TheFifthElement's Avatar
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    What about Unto This Last by John Ruskin or On Liberty by John Stuart Mill or Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands by Queen Victoria?
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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Darwin is not a bad writer (better than J.S. Mill anyway).

    Stanley Jevons' The Coal Question was interesting. He was an economist who was worried that Britains' coal mines were running out and that Britain would lose its preeminient position in the world as a result. It was a forerunner to the Peak Oil controversy.
    Last edited by kev67; 02-13-2017 at 09:42 AM.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    I'd strongly recommend John Ruskin's The Work of Iron, in Nature, Art, and Policy: A Lecture Delivered at Tunbridge Wells, February 16, 1858 in his collection The Two Paths.
    Previously JonathanB

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Kilvert's Diary? Newman's Apologia?
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    For biography there's Elizabeth Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte (to get in something by a women).

    For autobiography as well as Newman's Apologia, there's Ruskin' memoirs, Praeterita - https://archive.org/details/praeterita01rusk. Both writers impressive prose stylists.

    For history there is Lord Macauley's complacent and magnificently expressed exposition of the Whig view of history - https://archive.org/details/macaulayshistory01maca

    And for a highly influental Victorian guru with a totally individual, not to say batty, prose style, there is Thomas Carlyle - I've read Sartor Resartus and that was enough, but his French Revolution was an inspiration for Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. I suspect the reason he is ignored nowadays is because his ideas on the importance of Great Men sounds suspicioiusly facist, not to say sexist. (His long suffering wife, Jane Carlyle, is supposed to be among the best of Victorian letter writers but I've never read her.)

    Here's some Carlyle at random - https://archive.org/details/heroesheroworshi99carl
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    rat in a strange garret Whifflingpin's Avatar
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    William Cobbett's "Rural Rides," written in 1820s so a bit early, but a very pithy description of, mainly, southern England in the period just before Victoria.

    "Old Jago" - a late Victorian novel/expose of slum life in London. Protagonist is a lad growing up, so may be a bit more accessible to a younger audience than Carlyle, Macaulay or Hobsbawm.

    And, although it's not fashionable to say so, Victorian life was not all misery and children up chimneys. If you're using Dickens, then "The Pickwick Papers" is a great blend of laugh-out-loud funny and biting satire. And "Three men in a boat" gives a perfectly valid view of the attitudes of fairly ordinary young Victorians enjoying a holiday.
    Last edited by Whifflingpin; 02-16-2017 at 08:35 PM.
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