Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cool History Resources No. 1

Because I like the idea of ongoing series in this blog (gee, could you guess?) I'm starting a new one.

As a writer of historical fiction, I'm deeply addicted to non-fiction books about my favorite times and places...and nineteenth century England would, of course, be at the top of that list. Recently I found a wonderful book perfect for anyone interested in how nineteenth century English children (and teens) lived: Making Victorians: The Drummond Children's World 1827-1832, by Susan Lasdun (Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1983).

The Drummond family, though not noble itself, was nevertheless highly connected to several aristocratic families and comfortably wealthy--Papa Drummond was great-grandson of the founder of Drummond's Bank and a partner in his own right. His eight children (seven daughters and one son) were a lively crew, with somewhat odd names (most of the girls had hyphenated names like Emily-Susan and Agnes-Priscilla)...but most importantly, several of them loved to draw and paint. They left hundreds of charming sketches and water-colors of their daily life, showing everything from them at their lessons (and being reprimanded if they didn't know them!) to playing charades with such distinguished guests as Lord Palmerston, to strolling in the garden. We get to see the rooms of their house depicted over and over again in different scenes (and begin to recongnize the furniture, draperies, and rugs), the amazing dresses and hats of the era (remember some of those prints I showed you?), the servants and guests, the games they played and the dances they practiced with the drawing room rug rolled up...life up close and personal, one hundred and eighty years ago.

The text, while a little outshone by the delightful sketches, nevertheless is lively and informative, and covers children's education, leisure time, clothing, servants, and even punishment and correction (several watercolors show several of the girls refusing to wear backboards to help improve their posture and being scolded!). An interesting fact to keep in mind is that these children were the exact contemporaries of Princess Victoria, as the text frequently observes (all eight were born between 1810 and 1820), and activities mentioned in her diaries can be seen in these sketches.

Where to find it: It's out of print, sadly. Try your local library, local used book store, or an on-line used book vendor. I recently found my copy on Amazon for just a little over ten dollars.

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