Archive | August 2015

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.

At Home for a Victorian Breakfast


During the Victorian era, many English people shared the belief that one ought to “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper.”

In those days, most of London had breakfasted by 9:00 am, with the poorest tucking into their bread-and-butter and tea at daybreak, while the middle and working classes enjoyed more substantial fare (whether at home or in a chop-house) in time to be at their jobs by 10:00 am.

However, the “upper ten thousand,” also known as the leisure class – made up of members of the aristocracy, the gentry, officers in the British Army and Navy, members of Parliament, Colonial administrators, and members of the Church of England – might not eat breakfast until even later than that.

Whatever the time, breakfast staples to be found on most British tables included bread-and-butter, tea and some sort of protein: Eggs, sausages, bacon, ham, fish, or kidneys. Leftovers from the previous night’s dinner were a good bet to show up on the breakfast sideboard.

A Victorian gentleman might enjoy eggs, sausages, ham, bacon, or perhaps kedgeree (an Indian dish made of smoked fish and curried rice) with his buttered toast. He might even like to gnaw on some Deviled Bones, which were leftover beef or chicken bones coated with a spicy “devil sauce” like Harvey’s or Worcestershire sauce, and roasted until brown.

A Victorian lady, on the other hand, would most likely be expected to choose lighter, blander dishes. Bread and butter and maybe a coddled egg plus a cup of cocoa would be deemed appropriate for a female. A woman’s supposedly delicate constitution would not be able to tolerate spicy foods, and high protein consumption would have been discouraged, especially during puberty, as meat was held to aggravate the “illnesses” of that developmental stage.

Children also were fed bland foods – porridge, or bread and milk, was considered enough for the little ones.

Fruit was considered problematic. Was it healthy to eat fresh fruit? Mid-Victorian writers on health topics tended to think that fresh fruit caused colic and digestive problems, although the great Mrs. Beeton wrote in her Book of Household Management that fresh grapes were an effective cure for constipation (provided one did not eat the skins or the seeds).

However, by 1887, Mrs. Panton, author of From Kitchen to Garret, thought that both adults and children should eat fresh fruit regularly.

In her chapter on Meals and Money, Mrs. Panton warned that “hot buttered toast or hot fresh bread should never be served, as these two items make the butter bill into a nightmare.”

Instead, she suggests that the lady of the house – whom she quaintly refers to as Angelina – offer fruit for breakfast, with honey or marmalade (which Mrs. Panton thought was much more healthy than butter anyway). “Have nice fresh brown bread or Neville’s hot-water bread, the nicest bread made; oat-cake (2 s. a tin at any good grocers, she says); and fresh crisp dry toast,” she instructs, “and then I think neither Edwin nor Angelina can complain.”

Of course, Edwin is the fictitious husband of Angelina. This amused me, because I like to think that Mrs. Panton chose the names “Edwin” and “Angelina” after a pair of Gilbert and Sullivan characters. In the duo’s wonderful “Trial by Jury,” the plaintiff Angelina sues the defendant Edwin for breach of promise. The opera ends with Edwin and Angelina happily un-married – but it seems Mrs. Panton thought the two characters deserved domestic bliss instead!

For further reference, you may want to consult:

Inside the Victorian Home, by Judith Flanders
Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton
From Kitchen to Garret, by Jane Ellen Panton


Five Great Victorian Studies Reference Sites, plus blogs


If you’re like me, you want to know all the fascinating tidbits and details about life in the Victorian Era. Well, fear not – there are plenty of great reference sites out there on the Internet. I’ve collected five useful general sites here.

1. Victorian Voices – The list of lists. Find articles, websites and blogs on every aspect of Victorian life from America, Gardening, and Country/Village life to Royalty, Women’s Issues, Work, and World Cultures.

2. Victorian Research – Find the libraries and other places where primary sources and archival records are housed. Also, under the heading “Discussion” there are many groups and blogs on Victorian matters.

3. The Victorian Web – Arranged by topic in a diamond shape, the site offers information both about the UK and other nations during the Victorian era on topics including social history, political history and gender matters, philosophy, religion, science and technology, writers, artists, and theater and entertainment as well as much more.

4. Victorian London – The Victorian Dictionary, Lee Jackson’s website, has a wonderful archive of primary sources describing various aspects of London life during the Victorian era.

5. Victorian Literary Studies Archive – Professor Matsuoka of Nagoya University, Japan, has put together a huge collection of links on the Victorian era in London, Manchester, Knutsford, and the U.K., English Department in Japan, English department overseas, Dickens Fellowship, Victorian Studies Society, Victorian authors Dickens, Gaskell and Gissing, Victorian Websites, 19th century authors, English literature, British Authors and American Authors.

You might also want to explore the Victorian-era information on British History Online


I compiled the following list of blogs at random over the course of my previous searches. I have identified the blogger where I could, but I don’t know any of these folks.

The Cat’s Meat Shop (Lee Jackson)
Crime and Insanity in Victorian England (David Vaughan)
The Curious World of Victorian Collecting (Mary Addyman)
Dickens Blog (Gina Dalfonzo)
The Digital Victorianist (Bob Nicholson)
The Floating Academy: A Victorian Studies Blog
The Hoarding (Andrew Stauffer)
The Hour of Mask and Mime (Diane Magras)
Journal of Victorian Culture Online: Editors’ Blog
The Little Professor (Miriam Burstein)
Looking Glasses at Odd Corners (Amber Regis)
Charlotte Mathieson
Neo-Victorian Thoughts (Louisa Yates)
Novel Ideas: Modern Musings on the Long 19th Century (Emily K. Cody and Trey Conatser)
Novel Readings (Rohan Maitzen)
Of Victorian Interest (NAVSA)
Rag-Picking History (Paul Dobraszczyk)
Royal Holloway Victorian MA (Adam Roberts)
Romantic Circles Blog
The Salt Box (Jason Jones)
The Victorian Commons (History of House of Commons Project, 1832-68)
The Victorian Era (Geerte Koeznbasje)
Victorian Geek (Catherine Pope)
Victorian History (Bruce Rosen)
The Victorianist (“Amateur Casual”)
The Victorian Peeper (Kristan Tetens)
The Victorian Poetry Network
Wuthering Expectations

Happy researching!

Victorian Slang!

dancing-savoyardsAs I was browsing over many an Internet page, I came across a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore – Victorian Slang!

Many fans of author Georgette Heyer will recall with fondness her characters’ delightful use of Regency-era slang, but I haven’t found too many resources dedicated to the particular lingo of the mid-to-late Nineteenth Century. So it was with great pleasure that I began to read J. Redding Ware’s “Passing English of the Victorian Era”

Here are some of the cool slang words that this intrepid lexicographer collected:

Adam and Eve’s togs – Naked

Adam’s Ale – Water

Back-hairing – Female fighting, in which a woman had her back hair pulled down out of its bun or chignon. The hair around the face could be arranged in curls or smooth wings, but for much of the Victorian era, the hair on the back of the head had to be tucked up.

Bad Hat – A disreputable person. Said to have originated from a comment by the Duke of Wellington, when he first appeared before the House of Commons: “I never saw so many shocking bad hats in all my life,” meaning that the commoners wore poor-quality headgear. But eventually the phrase lost all political meaning.

Bally – Excessive, great. May be a euphemism for “bloody”

Batty-Fang – To thrash thoroughly. From the french battre a fin (to beat to the end?)

Cat-lap – A London society term for tea and coffee “used scornfully by drinkers of beer and strong waters… in club-life is one of the more ignominious names given to champagne by men who prefer stronger liquors.”

Climb the Mountain of Piety – To pawn something. Related to the Italian phrase Monte de Pieta, where the first Roman pawnshop was opened.

Doing the Bear – Courting that involves hugging

Got the Morbs – Temporary melancholy. Coined from the word “morbid”

Mops and Brooms – Drunk. Probably suggested by the hair getting disorderly and like a mop.

Mother – Water. From the rhyming slang, “mother and daughter.”

Mutton Shunter – The police

Nanty Narking – Great fun

Orf Chump – No appetite. “Orf” meaning “off”. From a stable man’s reference to horses being off their food.

Play camels – To get drunk (Anglo-Indian). Said to be from camel’s ability to store their drink

Popsy wopsy – A smiling, doll-like, attractive girl

Porridge-hole – Mouth

Put a steam on the table – To earn enough money to obtain a hot Sunday dinner. A figure of speech. Refers chiefly to boiled food, the phrase having been invented before domestic ovens.

Shoot into the brown – To fail. According to Forrester, “The phrase takes its rise from rifle practice, where the queer shot misses the black and white target altogether, and shoots into the brown i.e., the earth butt.”

Skilimalink – Secret, shady, doubtful.

Smothering a parrot – Drinking a glass of absinthe neat; named for the green color of the booze.

So if you’ve got the morbs, don’t drink Adam’s ale — go somewhere skilimalink and smother a parrot!


SHOWCASE: Victorian Movies and TV Shows

This is the first installment of the Showcase of Victorian Movies and TV Shows.

Over the years, there has been an abundance of movies, miniseries and TV shows that have been set in England during the Victorian era. Original fiction as well as the works of Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, the Bronte sisters, and Elizabeth Gaskell have all been presented on the large and small screen. So what shows can you seek out for your Victorian inspiration?

Today, we’ll discuss the BBC’s 2004 miniseries, “North and South,” starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe. A four-part series, with each episode lasting about 1 hour.

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 – Richard Armitage’s swoon-worthy portrayal of the tall, dark and brooding Thornton inspired so much fervent admiration that the sheer number of messages reputedly crashed the BBC’s message-board.

Margaret’s first glimpse of John Thornton impresses her, but his later actions inspire her scorn and disgust.

John Thornton watches over the operations in his cotton mill

John Thornton watches over the operations in his cotton mill








Margaret’s impulsive effort to protect Thornton from a mob leads him to make a premature declaration of love, which she rejects.

Margaret refuses John's impetuous proposal of marriage

Margaret refuses John’s impetuous proposal of marriage








Thornton is hurt, but he bends his own high principles in order to protect Margaret from being dragged into a scandalous situation. When she finds out what he’s done, she’s grateful but still won’t reveal the secret that is not hers to divulge. Their next meeting is tense.

John and Margaret meet, but she has secrets she can't tell him

John and Margaret meet, but she has secrets she can’t tell him








Margaret leaves Milton to live with family friends in London. She says farewell to John, giving him her father’s Plato, a book he promises to cherish.

"I wish you well, Mr. Thornton."

“I wish you well, Mr. Thornton.”







Only a miracle could unite John and Margaret now. You’ll have to watch the whole series to find out how the miracle happens!