Victorian Book Report: Liza Picard, Victorian London

As usual, I don’t have much to say about this one; it’s Liza Picard, and she’s awesome. Information on daily life in London, this time in the middle Victorian period. (I don’t know what I’ll do if I continue on with a Blitz and/or modern book; for the first time since beginning the Onyx Court series, I won’t have Liza Picard to light my way.)

This might be my least favorite of her four works, not through any fault of hers. It’s just that by the Victorian period, London had gotten so huge, and so diverse — in the senses of class, ethnicity, religion, and everything else — that the resulting book inevitably feels less personal than the Elizabethan one did. She still has a wealth of excellent detail, but more and more it feels like impressionism, a scattering of data points from which to imagine the whole.

Despite that, she is and always will be the first author I recommend when someone wants to know about London daily life in the past. There are topics she doesn’t cover — for those, I have other books — but she’s a pretty excellent place to start.

0 Responses to “Victorian Book Report: Liza Picard, Victorian London”

  1. nightwolfwriter

    Haven’t read her Victorian stuff yet, but I’m definitely devouring her Elizabethan book as a guideline for developing my own fantasy cities.

    I use that book, Life in a Medieval City by Joseph & Frances Gies, and The Medieval Underworld by Andrew McCall as good starting points. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but all together, they help me keep things reasonably realistic – even in a world with magic.

    • Marie Brennan

      Ooh, the McCall’s a new one by me! I’ve been a fan of the Gies for a while, though; if I ever write a genuinely medieval society, I’ll look to them as my first resource.

      • nightwolfwriter

        Even though I’m writing in a fantasy milieu, my degree in Medieval History gets real fussy if I don’t do things close to what they should be. (Clothing, weapons, castles, towns, buildings, streets, etc., all have to be pretty darn close to real or I can hear my professors critiquing my work in my head.)

        • Marie Brennan

          Fantasy milieux have to make sense, too, according to whatever internal logic they follow, however oddball it may be. One of the easiest ways to ensure that is to copy a real-world culture — so if medievalism is what you’re following, then by all means you should be rigorous about it. (Barring the points at which fantasy alters the landscape, of course. But there’s a big difference between doing that deliberately, for a known reason, and doing it out of sloppiness.)

          And you know, we could use more genuinely rigorous medieval-style fantasy. So I say rock on with your researching self. 🙂

  2. april_art

    Oh, cool. I love Everyday Life in *** -type books. I’ll definitely have to check those out.

    • Marie Brennan

      Picard’s great because she devotes more or less equal attention to the poor, middle class, and rich, and to men and women alike. A lot of other books, especially on the nineteenth century, seem to focus more on the elite.

  3. sartorias

    There was a guy named John Ashton whose books have been out of print for nearly a hundred years, but his details about life in the previous century can’t be beat. If you can find them.

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