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.