- Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain by Judith Flanders
HarperPress, 604 pp, £20.00, August 2006, ISBN 0 00 717295 8
Will the history of the Victorian age ever be written? Lytton Strachey was emphatic that it wouldn’t. It will never be written, he declared in the preface to Eminent Victorians, because we know too much about it. Neither a Ranke nor a Gibbon could master the vast ocean of material bequeathed by those prolific generations. The historian could do no more than row across it, sink a bucket, and retrieve a few random and suggestive samples.
Vol. 29 No. 8 · 26 April 2007
I was startled by John Pemble’s assertion that ‘the masses’ in the Victorian period lack individual voices (LRB, 8 March). Working-class Victorians expressed themselves in print as well as writing letters, diaries and private memoirs. Accounts of leisure were produced by writers as diverse as Joseph Skipsey, Janet Hamilton, Philip Connell and Sergeant Jowett, while publications edited by William and Mary Howitt, for example, gave space to numerous working-class writers. Autobiographies, such as those collected by the social historian John Burnett, and studies such as Jonathan Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes demonstrate that there was a wide enthusiasm for writing. Parliamentary reports, too, convey a wealth of factual information (for example, on church outings) in their accounts of interviews with workers.