The Female World of Love and Larceny in the Eighteenth Century

Men were transient figures (and often dupes) of light-fingered sex workers, but women’s relationships with each other were often more enduring. I was recently delighted to learn of the return of the period drama Harlots for a third season. The television series set in rival eighteenth-century London brothels is good viewing, even if its portrait[…]

Victorian Penny Dreadfuls

Examining what made these cheap, sensational, highly illustrated stories so popular with the Victorian public. By Judith FlandersHistorian Introduction In the 1830s, increasing literacy and improving technology saw a boom in cheap fiction for the working classes. ‘Penny bloods’ was the original name for the booklets that, in the 1860s, were renamed penny dreadfuls and[…]

John Ruskin Taught Victorian Readers and Travelers the Art of Cultivation

He was refined, very famous, and eccentric. Near the dawn of the twentieth century, a young Englishwoman named Lucy is visiting an ancient church in Florence, unsure of what she is looking at, or how, exactly, to see it. She doesn’t have her Baedeker, a popular travel guide, and is feeling lost without it. “She[…]

Livingstone’s Posthumous Reputation

The shaping and reshaping of Livingstone’s legacy as an icon of the British Empire. This essay examines David Livingstone’s posthumous reputation, focusing on his status as an icon of the British Empire. It overviews the numerous biographies that have taken him as their subject and explores the changing ways in which Livingstone was represented as[…]

Victorian Print Culture

In the 19th century, more people were reading more publications than ever before. This explains how technological, social and educational change made this possible. Introduction The 19th century saw a massive expansion of the printed word. The sheer volume and diversity of printed matter was unprecedented: from moral and instructional works to crime novels and[…]

Victorian Readers

Exploring the way Victorians bought, borrowed and read their books, and the impact of the popular literature of the period. Introduction Victorians were great readers of the novel, and the number of novels available for them to read increased enormously during Victoria’s reign. The activity of reading benefited hugely from wider schooling and increased literacy[…]

Spiritualism, Religion, and Mathematics in the Victorian Period

Many were conflicted between their desire to believe and their want of rigorous intellectual explanation, and material proof for their belief. By Sylvia Nickerson Late nineteenth-century British culture was somewhat preoccupied with the presence of ghosts. Conjuring spirits at séances was a popular pastime, with the exploits of some spiritualists, such as the medium Henry[…]

The Journalist Who Exposed Sex Trafficking in Victorian London

W.T. Stead’s 1885 account of the process by which wealthy Londoners procured teenagers for sex became a global news story, but the police refused to investigate. Wealthy men soliciting underage girls for sex. Girls lured to expensive homes by promises of good-paying jobs. Captains of commerce and heads of state reveling in debauchery. Officials looking[…]

Victorian Biological Research in Western Equatorial Africa

By midcentury, Victorian natural historians seemed hungry for information from formerly inaccessible regions of Africa. With a groan that had something terribly human in it and yet was full of brutishness, he fell forward on his face. The body shook convulsively for a few minutes, the limbs moved about in a struggling way, and then[…]

The Celebration of Nature in Victorian Poetry

The pervading strength and influence of Christianity becomes apparent in the abundance of religious poetry created during the Victorian period. Introduction Despite the publication of Darwin’s radical text On the Origin of Species  (1859),which promoted a theory of evolution that directly threatened the authority of Genesis, the pervading strength and influence of Christianity becomes apparent in[…]

On the Ceylon National Review, 1906-1911

Exploring rich and surprising form of Ceylonese nationalism inflected by late-Victorian radicalism. The Ceylon National Review (1906-1911) was the official organ of the Ceylon Social Reform Society, an organization founded by the art historian Ananda Coomaraswamy in an effort to combat colonial influence and reinvigorate Ceylonese cultural production. Coomaraswamy also served as an editor at the Ceylon[…]

European Explorations in the 18th and 19th Centuries

An introduction to the development, sponsorship, and goals of European expeditions from the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries. By Christopher Lawrence Introduction In David Livingstone’s overland expeditions in Africa, as in most nineteenth-century expeditions, science and medicine played a key role in geographic exploration. In fact, many expeditions deliberately set out to acquire new scientific[…]

Unearthing the Health of Victorian London

What bones tell us about the lives and deaths of the dead. In 2011, AOC Archaeology completed an archaeological excavation at St John’s Primary School, Peel Grove, in Bethnal Green, London, ahead of the construction of a new nursery school. The site was a former burial ground privately run as a commercial business by pawnbroker[…]

David Livingstone and Victorian Medicine

Analyzing the evolving state of British health in the nineteenth century and how Livingstone’s perceptions of this health influenced his understanding of Africa and his writings. By Christopher Lawrence British Health in the 19th Century The practice and understanding of medicine profoundly changed during the years of Livingstone’s life (1813-1873). These changes grew out of[…]

The Victorian Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, 1888-1901

The history of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (1888-1901), the most influential hermetic society of the nineteenth century. Introduction This article presents the history of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (1888-1901), the most influential hermetic society of the nineteenth century. Its members practiced and trained initiates in using natural magic to[…]

How ‘The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám’ Inspired Victorian Hedonists

There began a cult of Khayyám that lasted at least until the First World War. By Roman KrznaricPublic Philosopher How did a 400-line poem based on the writings of a Persian sage and advocating seize-the-day hedonism achieve widespread popularity in Victorian England? The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám was written by the eccentric English scholar Edward FitzGerald, drawing[…]

Edward Gibbon Wakefield on Systematic Victorian Colonization and Its Discontents

Systematic colonization constitutes one of the most powerful and destructive examples of the ability of Victorian representations to permanently reshape the globe. Abstract In 1829, Edward Gibbon Wakefield published his first statement of a “systematic” theory of settler colonization, A Letter from Sydney: The Principal Town of Australasia. Wakefield offered a novel economic theory of[…]

Colonial Circuits between Europe and Asia in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries

The emergence of colonial migration circuits between Europe and Asia followed the ascendency of European mercantile and military power. Introduction The emergence of colonial migration circuits between Europe and Asia followed the ascendency of European mercantile and military power. In the early 19th century, the European presence in Asia was still extremely modest and very[…]

Victorian Occultism and the Art of Synesthesia

‘Thought-Forms, a strange, beguiling, frequently pretentious, utterly original book first published in 1901, emerged from a ferment of late-Victorian mysticism.’ “I have always considered myself a voice of what I believe to be a greater renaissance—the revolt of the soul against the intellect—now beginning in the world,” wrote William Butler Yeats to his mentor, the[…]

Hearing, Sensing, Feeling Sound: On Music and Physiology in Victorian England, 1857-1894

Acoustical science fundamentally transformed the ways that Victorians conceptualized the relations between aesthetics and the body. This article focuses on new developments in the burgeoning field of acoustical science that emerged in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century. During this time, sound science began to flourish in England, particularly through lectures by Hermann von Helmholtz and John Tyndall[…]

Publishing in Victorian England: Opening Up the ‘Class’-Room

In the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, reading was a privileged skill available to the upper-class elite. This began to change with publishing and more access to education. The History of Reading In the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, reading was a privileged skill available to the upper-class elite. Books were very expensive items and most of[…]