Art and Money: The Peacock Room

Rose and Silver

For a man who described his artworks as Harmonies or Symphonies, in his personal life the famous artist James MacNeill Whistler created plenty of discord. One of his greatest quarrels happened with his former friend and artistic patron, F.R. Leyland.

Called the “Liverpool Medici,” Leyland was a self-made man who rose from office-boy to wealthy ship-owner.  He was an accomplished amateur pianist and an art lover with a discriminating eye for both Old Masters and contemporary artists, including Botticelli, Rosetti, Burne-Jones, and Albert Moore.

In order to fulfill his ambitions of living like the culturally enlightened merchant prince he believed himself to be, Leyland bought an elegant house in Kensington, The Mansion, at 49 Prince’s Gate and began to remodel it to suit the needs of a merchant prince. And thus began the saga of “L’art et L’argent (Art and Money), or the Story of the Room.”

Noted interior designer Thomas Jeckyll was hired to remodel the dining room. Jeckyll’s original plan was to cover the walls in Spanish leather hangings that had once belonged to Catherine of Aragon. They were painted with her heraldic device, the open pomegranate, and a series of red Tudor roses, to symbolize her union with Henry VIII. Walnut shelves would hold Leyland’s extensive collection of Chinese blue and white porcelain.

The centerpiece of the room was to be Whistler’s large painting, Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain.  Toward the end of the remodeling Jeckyll became ill, and Whistler was asked to finish the room and oversee the placement of his painting on the wall.

Then the trouble began. Whistler thought the red Tudor roses painted on the leather wall hangings clashed with the colors in his painting. He wrote to his patron, and Leyland agreed that maybe the flowers could be painted yellow instead. Then the artist wanted to paint a “wave” pattern on the on cornice and wainscoting. Leyland agreed again.

The Peacock Room

Whistler painted, and then he kept painting. “I just painted as I went on – without sketch or design – it grew as I painted…And the harmony in blue and gold developing, you know, I forgot everything in my joy of it!”

He re-finished the ceiling in imitation gold with painted peacock feathers. Then he gilded the walnut shelves. Blue and green paint covered the antique Spanish leather. The panels on the walls were embellished with golden peacocks.

When he was done, Whistler was so pleased with his work that he called the newspapers and held press conferences in the finished room. In a letter to Mrs. Leyland, he confided that he thought his work was wonderful and worth a “large sum.” He billed his patron Leyland 2,000 guineas.

Leyland was definitely not pleased.

The finished room was not at all what he’d expected—nor did he expect to pay 2,000 guineas for work he hadn’t agreed to. Furthermore, the artist’s nerve in calling in the press before he’d even gotten a look at it really upset him. To add insult to all these injuries, Whistler was also having an affair with Leyland’s wife.

Leyland grudgingly agreed to pay £1,000 for Whistler’s work. Oddly, he didn’t kick Whistler out of his house, despite all that had happened. Whistler, deciding that Leyland probably wouldn’t hang three of his other works on the wall opposite Princess, came back to the Mansion and as a final act of defiance, painted two huge peacocks in the empty spot where his pictures were to have gone. One peacock was supposed to be Leyland, standing on a pile of gold coins, and the other peacock, meant to represent Whistler himself, is letting loose with an angry shriek.

Finally, in 1877, Whistler was barred from the house, but that did not put an end to his romance with Mrs. Leyland. When her husband found out, he wrote to the artist: “I am told you were seen walking about with my wife at Lord’s Cricket Ground. It is clear that I cannot expect from you the ordinary conduct of a gentleman. If I find you in her society again I will publicly horsewhip you.”

Thomas Jekyll, the interior designer whose original plans had been completely altered by Whistler, took one look at the Peacock Room and had a breakdown. He was later found in his home, feverishly gilding his bedroom floor and babbling about fruits and flowers and peacocks. He was committed to an asylum, where he died soon afterward.

Despite the enmity that had grown up between them, Leyland never had the Peacock Room re-done. It stayed exactly as Whistler had created it until Leyland’s death in 1896 at the age of 60.

In 1904, the American industrialist Charles Freer bought the entire Peacock Room and had it shipped to the United States, where he installed it in his own dining room in Detroit. When Freer died in 1919, the Peacock Room was permanently installed in the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The Peacock Room should be open to viewers again in the summer of 2017.




Sources and further reading:


The Aesthetic Movement,  by Lionel Lambourne



By James Abbott McNeill Whistler – This file was derived from James McNeill Whistler – La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine – Google Art Project.jpg:, Public Domain,

Peacock room: By Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M Sackler Gallery –, CC BY-SA 2.0,




Uncle Tom’s Cabin – The Power of the Pen

Harried Beecher Stowe

“So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

Supposedly, this is what Abraham Lincoln said when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862.  In any event, her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin had a deep and lasting impact on the public not only in America but around the world, according to the Harriet Beecher Stowe center. From that source I learned:

Uncle Tom’s Cabin originally appeared in installments published in an anti-slavery newspaper, The National Era, in 1851. The next year it was published as a two-volume book. It sold 300,000 copies in its first year, and became the second best-selling book of the 19th century after the Bible. A best-seller in the US, Britain, Europe and Asia, it was eventually translated into 60 languages.

Because the book personalized the political and economic arguments about slavery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped many 19th-century Americans determine what kind of country they wanted.  Frederick Douglass wrote of Uncle Tom’s Cabin that “nothing could have better suited the moral and humane requirements of the hour. Its effect was amazing, instantaneous, and universal.”

Eliza escapes across the frozen Ohio River, carrying her baby and herself to freedom.

The book had as many critics as supporters. The poet Langston Hughes called the novel, “the most cussed and discussed book of its time.”

Southerners claimed that the stories were wildly exaggerated, which led Beecher Stowe to publish a second book, called A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in which she detailed the first-hand accounts that she had collected and on which she based the events in her novel, including the runaway slave Eliza’s dramatic escape from slave-hunters by leaping from ice floe to ice floe across the winter-bound Ohio River.

I would guess that W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan might have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or at least heard of it. The first London edition of the book came out in May, 1852, and sold over one million copies. By the time both men had reached their adult years (in the 1860s), the book was widely known and there were even stage adaptations of the work.

According to the Gilder Lehrman history site, even Queen Victoria had a copy of the book.

On the eve of publication, Stowe presented a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. In this accompanying letter addressed to Prince Albert, Stowe acknowledged that England had made some strides since the “less enlightened days” in their treatment of an “oppressed race.” She then appealed to the sympathetic hearts of the British people and their queen, writing “the author is encouraged by the thought that beneath the royal insignia of England throbs that woman’s and mother’s heart.”

Slavery had been abolished in England in 1807, and in the British colonies in 1833 (albeit gradually; The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 legally freed 700,000 in the West Indies, 20,000 in Mauritius, and 40,000 in South Africa, but not in the territories controlled by the East India Company and Ceylon).

The fugitives were safe.

On  Friday, September 3, 1852 the London Times published an article entitled “The English Opinion of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is at every railway book-stall in England, and in every third traveler’s hand. The book is a decided hit. It takes its place with “Pickwick,” with Louis Napoleon, with the mendicant who suddenly discovers himself heir to £20,000 a year, and, in fact, with every man whose good fortune it has been to fall asleep Nobody, and to awake in the morning an institution in the land. It is impossible not to feel respect for Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

I hadn’t read Uncle Tom’s Cabin before, so even though I considered some of the portrayals of the characters to be problematic, I was struck by how exciting the story was. It is clear to me why Uncle Tom’s Cabin left such an indelible mark on history.

Have you read Uncle Tom’s Cabin? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments.




Eliza: By A.S. Seer’s Union Square Print., N.Y. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Fugitives Safe: Public Domain,
Harriet Beecher Stowe by Painter Alonzo Chappel (1828–1887); Engraver: Unknown – Modified version of public domain image. Library of Congress LC-USZ62-10476 (3-18), Public Domain,

Beauty in the Eye of the Victorian Beholder

What features were considered beautiful in the Victorian age?

Would our teenage Victorian sleuth, Lucy Turner, have considered herself beautiful by the standards of the day — and if so, what would she have done about it?

Lucy, as we can see from her photos, was small and slender with blonde hair and blue eyes. She probably would have had light colored eyebrows and eyelashes, and possibly even freckles on her nose. Being the youngest daughter of a respectable, upper-middle-class widow, however, she would not have worn make-up.

Victorian women were under pressure to look beautiful, but no respectable female of that age would be caught wearing cosmetics – at least not visible cosmetics. Any woman with noticeable makeup was considered vulgar. However, Victorian women did manage to employ a variety of beauty techniques that – although sometimes harmful to the wearer – were not noticeable to the male eye.

The Victorian ideal for a maiden was a pale complexion, thick dark hair, flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes. Was this a result of the Victorian fascination with illness and death?

Lucy would probably not have done much to darken her eyelashes — or at least one hopes she didn’t, since there weren’t any safe cosmetics for that purpose. But she might have made use of some skin preparation to remove any trace of freckles.

As explained in an article in the New York Times, Victorian women sought to improve their complexions with many toxic preparations  including lead and arsenic that also produced the fainting, languor and sickliness of disease. Belladonna made the eyes sparkle, but was a poisonous derivative of deadly nightshade.

504153One group of Victorians who set their own standards for feminine beauty were the pre-Raphaelites. This group of artists, including Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Edward Burne-Jones, and William Holman-Hunt favored women they called “stunners” – ones who had strong features including Roman noses, low foreheads and thick lips.  The pre-Raphaelite models, in some ways, even blurred the lines between masculine and feminine features, adding to the visual tension of the art.

Sadly for Lucy, she probably wouldn’t have made  a good pre-Raphaelite model because of her small nose, big eyes and delicate features.

On the plus side, there were some Victorian experts who argued that a woman’s most attractive asset was her mind – assuming, no doubt, that she was clever enough not to appear smarter than her male companions ( and there is no historical record that I know of to prove it, but I think that Lucy was clever).

Usually, health and meticulous grooming are the main elements of beauty, and this article explores the Victorian ideal of “cleanliness is next to godliness.”   (Note: Contains nude images depicted in works of art). The article also explores how developments in medical knowledge, such as germ theory, influenced beauty and fashion. Perhaps Lucy will get to investigate a murder that leads her to learn more about health in the Victorian era.

The notion that a woman’s physical beauty is her most important feature is not a new one. The use of cosmetics has been a subject of debate and dissention throughout recorded history. The issue was not resolved during the Victorian age, nor has it been in any time period since. And so it goes.

Those interested in the subject of makeup throughout history can check out Maggie Angeloglu’s wonderful book, A History of Make-Up.

What do you think about the use of cosmetics? Are we much more advanced in our notions of beauty and health than our Victorian forbears?

Leave me a comment and let me know!






Victorian Tweets to Tickle Your Fancy

I browsed around Twitter today, and found the following gems! If you’re looking for some interesting, pretty, funny and inspiring tidbits of information, check out these tweets:

Victorian Cat Funerals

Victorian Samplers embroidered by young girls

Digital Dickens-Finding Boz online

A 1898 Critic’s Choice List of Best Novels – Have you read them all?

Victorian Spinning Tops, now in GIF form

Ode to Kate Greenaway, Victorian illustrator


Illustration by Kate Greenaway










Victorian Love Letters from a Valet to a Housekeeper

Newly discovered Charlotte Bronte poem

Victorian Halloween Costumes

Why Victorians thought women taking Tea Breaks was dangerous

Browse and enjoy!




Victorian Valentines

Valentine image with caption

Valentine image with caption

Across the centuries, humans have loved to celebrate love. From the ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia, to the Renaissance vision of courtly love, to Ophelia’s sad mention of Valentine’s Day in Hamlet, February 14 and Valentines have been symbols of romantic love.

In Britain around the 1820s, specially-made papers for sending Valentine’s Day greetings began to be marketed. They became so popular that they were soon being made in factories. Often flat paper sheets printed with colored illustrations and embossed borders, they were designed to be folded up and sealed with wax for mailing.

Elaborate lace quarto: Double-layered, openwork, cameo-embossed lace by the English firm of Joseph Meek, circa 1850. Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury

Elaborate lace quarto: Double-layered, openwork, cameo-embossed lace by the English firm of Joseph Meek, circa 1850. Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury

A very fancy Valentine could be made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the 1830s. Books and pamphlets containing sentimental verses and appropriate messages could be purchased by those wanting help in creating their card.

In 1835, 60,000 Valentine cards were mailed in Britain, despite postage being expensive.

After the introduction of the Penny Post in Britain in 1840, when adhesive stamps costing only a penny made mailing letters easy and inexpensive, sending Valentine’s Day cards became even more popular. And as the century progressed and mail deliveries around London became more frequent, a card sent in London in the early morning might easily be delivered to another London address the same day.

The stationery manufacturers Marcus Ward and Company helped to popularize printed Valentine cards. Specializing in stationery and general publishing, the firm won a medal for their color lithography in the Great Exhibition of 1851. In the 1860s, the firm was well-known for its calendars and greeting cards decorated by the likes of Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane.

Valentine by Kate Greenaway: England, circa 1870. Design from an illustration for the book, Melcomb Manor, a Family Chronicle. Printed by Marcus Ward, London,1875. from Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury

Valentine by Kate Greenaway: England, circa 1870. Design from an illustration for the book, Melcomb Manor, a Family Chronicle. Printed by Marcus Ward, London,1875. from Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury



The Laura Seddon Greeting Card Collection at Manchester Metropolitan University gathers 450 Valentine’s Day cards dating from the early nineteenth century, printed by the major publishers of the day.

Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury contains a wealth of information about the history of valentines and information about the National Valentine Collectors Association.

Here is a lovely collection of Victorian Valentines assembled by The Guardian.

And who wouldn’t relish receiving a Victorian Valentine with a picture of Cupid on roller skates?

For those who like their Valentines snarky, check out these “vinegar Valentines. ”



Skittles the Victorian Courtesan

In the first of my upcoming mystery stories featuring Lucy Turner and William Gilbert, Lucy gets to know the Duchess of Sanditon, a young woman with a checkered past – before marrying her older, war-hero Duke, she had worked as a “pretty horsebreaker” just like the famous real-life courtesan, Skittles.


Catherin “Skittles” Walters

Who was Skittles, you ask?
Skittles was the nickname of Catherine Walters, Small and slender with blue gray eyes and chestnut hair, she was exceptionally beautiful and dressed with excellent taste. Her personality has been described as bubbly, outspoken, direct and bawdy, as well as affectionate and sympathetic even toward lovers who had left her. She never wrote any tell-all autobiographies, and seemed to remain on good terms with the men she’d had affairs with.
She was born in a drab and dirty dockside house in Liverpool on June 13, 1839. Her mother died when she was very young and her father, described as a custom employee, was apparently a heavy-drinking man. Her nickname is said to have been gained from the time she worked setting up skittles, a type of bowling pin, in a bowling alley.  At some point in her childhood she became an expert rider.
No one knows for sure where Skittles first learned to ride. Maybe she worked as a bare-back rider in a traveling circus, as one story had it. Or maybe she got a job in a local stable and taught herself to ride while exercising the horses. The fact was that she loved horses and could out-ride and out-hunt most men.
She arrived in London as the 16-year-old mistress of George, Lord Fitzwilliam. He set her up in a pretty London townhome and when the relationship ended, he made her a generous settlement of £ 300 a year and a lump sum payment of £ 2,000.

Marquess of Hartington

At the age of 19, she became the mistress of Spencer Compton Cavendish, Lord Hartington, who was  nicknamed ‘Harty-Tarty.’ Their relationship, which lasted about 4 years, seems to have been very affectionate on both sides. They both loved hunting. He gave her a lovely little house in Mayfair and a life settlement of an annual sum of of £ 500 which the family continued to pay even after Hartington‘s death in 1908.
“A model of a dutiful aristocrat,” as Margot Asquith later eulogized him, Lord Hartington (a courtesy title only) served in the House of Commons before ascending to the title of the 8th Duke of Devonshire. He was a major figure in Liberal politics. While her lover was busy with his duties in Parliament, Catherine improved herself by taking lessons with a governess.
By 1861, she was one of the most notable women of the day, riding in Hyde Park’s Rotten Row between 4 and 7 pm during the Season. It must have been a wonderful scene to behold: The dandies of London gathered at the wooden rails that lined the Row, the ladies in their crinolines strolling accompanied by their footmen, children playing in the park, and maybe even the occasional “wicked old buck,” splendidly attired, angling for a glance under the bonnet of a respectable woman.
Her notoriety only increased when Sir Edwin Landseer painted “The Shrew Tamed,” with a pretty woman reclining against the side of her recumbent horse in a box stall. Even though Skittles didn’t pose for the painting, the model looked so much like her that people were shocked.
A reviewer in The Athenaeum, struck by its scarcely-veiled sexuality, said of the portrait:

“…the mighty agile sweep of the animal’s limbs, his glossy muscle-binding hide, all a-shine with health and horsehood, the powerful hoofs, the eye of subdued fire, the strong, unmastered neck, that turns graceful in its vigour, towards the slender lady reclining fearless among the dreadful feet as if there were no more harm in them than in her own, that peep, daintily brodequinned, beneath the blue riding-robe’s edge.”


The Shrew Tamed by Sir Edwin Landseer

After her relationship with Hartington ended, Catherine decided to move to Paris during the 2nd Empire of Napoleon III. The young diplomat and poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt (1840-1922) who was 23 when they met, fell deeply in love with her but couldn’t bring himself to propose. Still, later in life Blunt and Skittles picked up their friendship again, writing letters until her death.
She returned to London after the fall of the 2nd Empire, and spent her time hunting and holding Sunday afternoon tea parties which were attended only by men. She was close to Prime Minister William Gladstone and had a brief affair with Bertie, the Prince of Wales. The prince wrote her 300 love letters, which she returned to him after their liaison had ended. In gratitude, he gave her a lifetime pension.
She met her final beau, Gerald de Saumerez, when he was 16 and she was 40, and when she died in 1920 at age 81, she left her estate to him.
So that is Catherine Walters, the inimitable Skittles. In my story, I’ve borrowed some of Skittles’ life story for the fictional character that Lucy Turner and her mother meet. The mystery that Lucy and her mother – and William Gilbert – will face is, who is trying to murder the young Duchess of Sanditon? Is anyone actually trying to bump her off, or is it all in the Duchess’ mind?

Soon you’ll be able to find out!

Victorian Crochet for Christmas

onlyadancinggirlChristmas is not too far away! Are you crafty and wondering what to make for that beloved Auntie or other relation? Fear not! There’s still time to crochet a Victorian-style gift for a family member who appreciates handmade things.

During the Victorian era, a dutiful upper-middle-class woman’s leisure time would have been occupied in making decorative items to wear and to decorate their homes.

Working for financial gain was out of the question for a well-off married Victorian woman – it would have reflected poorly on her husband. Furthermore, the woman of the house would have servants to clean and cook for the family, so she would have turned her attention to other activities such as socializing by paying morning calls, doing charity work, and hobbies.

There were plenty of ladies journals and magazines containing helpful instructions for making any number of things: Beadwork, painting on glass or china, decoupage, scrapbooking, and all forms of needlework including knitting, tatting, petit point and crocheting.

These hobbies are still popular among many people, myself included. Here are some wonderful online resources of vintage patterns (both Victorian and Victorian-style) for avid crocheters: a collection of rare and hard to find 1920’s (and earlier) needlework books containing patterns for beautiful creations from times past. Free, public-domain content. Old patterns, but not necessarily only Victorian. Has patterns for afghans, pin cushions, lace jabots, fascinators and more. A very lovely collection. Includes patterns for crochet, tatting, beading, Hardanger embroidery, and other crafts. More nice scanned-in crochet resources. Instructions for a lacy crocheted border. Very pretty. Two patterns for making Irish lace jabots. A jabot is a decorative frill that is worn at the collar of a blouse. Heritage crochet patterns and traditional style doilies, pillows, afghans, and more. A blogger mentions two crochet pattern books from the 1890s which she cherishes. Crocheting and darning patterns from the Victorian era as well as knitting.


[Tweet theme=”basic-full”]Crochet a Victorian Christmas Gift! #handmade #christmas[/Tweet]


21 Good Books on Art, Crime, Women, and Life in Victorian London

Here are a few favorites from my personal list of reference books. Have I missed any books that you particularly enjoy? Let me know!


1. The Aesthetic Movement, by Lionel Lambourne (2011)
In the second half of the Victorian era, artists of all varieties became inspired by the writings of Baudelaire and Walter Pater to focus more on ornamentation and aesthetic concerns. The pre-Raphaelite artists, Queen Anne architectural styles, blue-and-white china and Japanese influences all were part of the Aesthetic Movement in both fine and decorative arts. The text of this book provides fascinating insights into the historical personages – such as Oscar Wilde, James McNeill Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Ellen Terry – who led and shaped the Aesthetic Movement and the color photographs are beautiful. Lionel Lambourne was Head of Paintings at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from 1986-1993.


2. The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860-1900, Eds. Lynn Federle Orr and Stephen Calloway (2011)
Lively, interesting essays on various aspects of Victorian life and art, coupled with gorgeous color photographs of art by pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Movement artists, along with items from other decorative arts: vases, furniture, wallpapers, books and architectural elements, as well as satirical cartoons and drawings.



3. Life in Victorian Britain, by Michael Paterson (2013)
A big subject, but the wealth of material is summarized and presented in a very readable and engaging way. A great introduction.

4. The Victorian Studies Reader, Eds. Kelly Boyd and Rohan McWilliam (2007)
Excellent collection of essays by historians on various aspects of Victorian life, including religion, gender and social mores.

5. Daily life of Victorian Women, by Lydia Murdoch (2013)
A scholarly tome – but still interesting to read – on Victorian women’s life and experiences, covering such areas as family and home, politics and the public arena, health and welfare, and beauty, status and wealth. Interesting insights that present Victorian women as more actively engaged in the culture at large than one might think.

6. Daily Life in Victorian England, by Sally Mitchell (2008)
Another easily readable and engaging text on Victorian life in general, covering how people of all classes lived and celebrated the milestones of life.

7. Inside the Victorian Home, by Judith Flanders (2005)
I really enjoyed this book – the topics covered are organized according to the rooms in which those activities might be expected to occur: Cooking and food in the dining room, courtship in the parlor, and so on.

8. Victorian London, by Liza Pickard (2007)
Liza Pickard has authored a number of very interesting and entertaining books on life in London during various periods of history – Elizabethan London, Restoration London, Dr. Johnson’s London – and she brings her trademark wit and insight to the Victorian era. This is about the city, its expansion and development into a modern urban center, as opposed to a domestic view of life.

9. A History of London, Stephen Inwood (1999)
This covers all of London’s 2,000-plus year history from Roman times to the present. But it’s worthwhile reading and helps to get a perspective on the city as a whole.

10. London The Biography, Peter Ackroyd (2003)
A sprawling book covering London’s two millenia of history and development, with lots of anecdotes and perspectives on how the past has left its mark on the present.

11. London Past and Present, by Chiara Libero (2005)
A nice hardcover book with glossy photos of London.

12. London, by Iain Thomson (2000)
Another nice book of photographs of London landmarks.

13. London, by John Russell (1994)
An idiosyncratic memoir of London told through witty anecdotes by a distinguished art critic. Plenty of gorgeous paintings, interesting photographs and other depictions of life in London.

14. Crime and Society in England 1750-1900 (2d Edition), by Clive Emsley (1987)
A densely-written history of crime with statistics and graphs. The second edition has a new chapter on crime and gender.

15. City of Dreadful Delight, by Jane Walkowitz (1992)
A history of gender, exploring the experiences of women in the city. From poor streetwalkers to well-off “shopping ladies,” women have become more visible in the public areas of the city, and that leads to changes in the relationships between men and women.

16. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale (2009)
Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher is Scotland Yard’s best investigator in their new criminal investigation division, but his conclusions about who committed a shocking murder in 1860 challenged public perceptions so much that it cost him his career. Fascinating true crime story.

17. Scotland Yard Casebook, by Joan Lock (1993)
By the 1870s, Scotland Yard’s Detective Branch was discredited and corrupt, and in 1878 it was replaced by the Criminal Investigation Division. Police officer and historian Joan Lock tells the story behind the change, and the new division’s successes and failures including Ernest Southey’s four murders, the dockland killings of 1869, and the Neill Cream and Jack the Ripper murders.

18. Rise of Scotland Yard, Douglas G. Browne (1956)
Starting with the very beginning of the Metropolis, around about 1050, Browne covers the origins of policing in England – the posse comitatus, the hue and cry, the Bow Street Runner, and on up to the creation of an actual publicly-funded police force. He details the early years of Scotland Yard – the cases and the scandals – and then continues on to the events and dealings of Scotland Yard in the mid-1950s.

19. Calling Scotland Yard, by Arthur Thorp (1954)
Chief Superintendent Arthur Thorp wrote this book about his own career at the Yard, and discusses cases that he personally handled in the 1940s and 1950s. So even though it’s not from the Victorian era, I found it interesting to look at how cases were investigated and solved.

20. The Marlborough House Set, by Anita Leslie (1973)
The author, a great niece of Jenny Jerome Churchill, had a ring-side seat when it came to observing life in the highest echelons of British society – and here she’s collected a wide variety of anecdotes and photographs from her Edwardian-era relatives, who intimately knew the scandalous goings-on of the friends of the Prince of Wales (Queen Victoria’s son, later Edward VII), known as the Marlborough House set. Fun to read.

21. The English Companion, by Godfrey Smith (1984)
I picked this up on a whim at a used book store, because I figured it would help to understand some “Englishisms” that an American might not otherwise learn. It’s a fun and lighthearted look at English culture, circa 1984.

So that’s my list! Make sure to add any suggestions you may have in the comments below.

15 Victorian-set Movies and TV shows to Watch


If you’re looking for visual and aural inspiration about the clothing, manners and day-to-day activities of Victorian people, the following movies and TV miniseries will help you!  Here are fifteen of my favorite choices.

The painting at left is so typical of the Aesthetic period, with the blue and white china, the color scheme, and the young woman’s distinctively pre-Raphaelite eyebrows, that I thought I’d just add it here.


1. North & South (2004 TV mini-series) BBC production starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe. Based on the novel by Elizabet Gaskell, this is the story of Margaret Hale, a gently-bred parson’s daughter from the pastoral South of England who is uprooted and moved to “dark Satanic mills” of industrial Milton in the North, where she meets the stern, outwardly cold cotton-mill owner John Thornton. Their clash of wills produces sparks that soon turn into a conflagration. Excellent performances by all involved.

2. Mrs. Brown (1997 movie) BAFTA-winning performance by Judi Dench as widowed and grieving Queen Victoria, who finds her joy in life reawakened by her Scots ghillie, or groom, John Brown (played by an excellent Billy Connolly). This true story traces their 20-year friendship, which began when the Queen’s closest advisers brought Brown to the Isle of Wight to encourage her to go out riding for a little fresh air. Brown proved to be a loyal, protective and utterly devoted friend to his Queen, despite the rumors and catty remarks about their relationship.

3. The Young Victoria  (2009 movie) Emily Blunt brings to life the young princess and heir to the English Throne who falls in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and finds enduring happiness with him despite the political machinations and intrigues going on all around them.

4. Jane Eyre  (2006 TV miniseries with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson) A “poor, obscure, plain and little” governess falls in love with her complicated, brooding employer. But the secrets of his past will not stay hidden, and will threaten their happiness.

5. Tess of the d’Urbervilles (2008 TV mini-series with Gemma Arterton and Eddie Redmayne; see also the 1979 movie version with Nastassia Kinski and Peter Firth). Tragic story of a young peasant girl torn between the rich man who seduced her and the conventional man who married her without knowing about her past.

6. Cranford  (2007 TV mini-series) Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, and many other prominent British actresses appear in this delightful series of tales about life, love and gossip in a rural market-town in the 1840s, just on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution.

7. Wives and Daughters (1999 TV mini-series) Another wonderful story from Elizabeth Gaskell, this time about a country doctor’s daughter who finds herself dealing with a flighty new step-mama, an impetuous step-sister, the gossip of their neighbors, and her own unrequited love for a man who thinks of her just as a friend.

8. Our Mutual Friend (1998 TV mini-series) Paul McGann stars in Charles Dickens’ tale of love, greed and secret identities in 1860s London.

9. Penny Dreadful  (2014-present TV series with Eva Green and Timothy Dalton) Gothic horror series in which an adventurous explorer, a psychic medium and an American gunslinger team up to battle all kinds of unnatural evil threatening London, including Frankenstein, werewolves and deathless Dorian Gray.

10. Copper  (2012-present TV series) In the 1860s, a rugged Irish policeman must navigate New York City’s tumultuous immigrant neighborhood, the fancy residents of uptown Manhattan, and the black community. Starring Tom Weston-Jones

11. Murdoch Mysteries  (2008-present TV series) Starring Yannick Bisson. In the 1890s, Detective William Murdoch uses brand new forensic crime techniques like fingerprinting and trace evidence to solve the most baffling crimes.

12. Effie Gray  (2014 movie) Starring Dakota Fanning, directed by Emma Thompson. After a six-year courtship, teenage Effie Gray marries the much older Victorian art critic John Ruskin. But when Ruskin refuses to consummate their marriage, Effie finds herself drawn to Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. It was a true story that shocked Victorian society.

13. Ripper Street  (2012-present TV series) Starring Matthew MacFadyen. Scotland Yard detectives in 1889 are investigating a series of Jack the Ripper-style copycat murders in London’s East End.

14. Desperate Romantics  (2009 TV series) Starring Aidan Turner, Rafe Spall, Samuel Barnett and Zoe Tapper. The vibrant lives and loves of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as they grow from penniless artists wooing their models and their Muses with equal fervor, into the most celebrated painters of their generation.

15. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: The Murder at Road Hill House  (2011 TV movie) Based on the true story of Mr. Whicher, one of Scotland Yard’s first detectives, who is called upon to investigate a dreadful murder in a quiet rural area. The unpalatable truth shocks the community and shakes their faith in the nascent science of criminal investigation.