August 3rd, 2016


I'm Not A Victorian Myself But Some Of My Best Friends Were

Kirstie is returned from a holiday on Jersey and I let it slip that I was there once. She's full of questions. "Where did you stay?" "Who did you go with?" "Did you fly?" And I want to say. "Are you writing my biography?" but I'm too well brought up for that kind of gruff Evelyn Waughism and fend her off with, "It was half a century ago."

Talking about things being a long time ago I'm reading a well-reviewed modern novel set in the late 19th century- and it's spoiled for me by the multiplicity of false notes. Characters are continually doing and saying things that would have had their companions' eyes popping out and hair standing on end if they'd done and said them in the supposed period. Just one example: a lady's companion asks a Liberal politician of whom she disapproves if Mr Gladstone is still "consorting with hookers." Remember Liza Doolittle's "not bloody likely"? Well this is leagues beyond that- yet nobody turns a hair. Also "hooker" is an Americanism- barely heard in Britain before the second-half of the 20th century. The word a well-bred young lady wouldn't have dreamed of saying to a gentleman is "tart".

Oh, and where are all the domestic servants? Every middle-class household had domestic servants- even if they couldn't really afford them.

I was born 50 years after the death of Queen Victoria- I knew Victorians- I had them in my family- and for me it's a living world. I know instinctively how it works. I feel it on my pulses. But for this writer it's as gone, gone gone as Thebes the Golden- a fancy-dress environment into which she inserts 21st century people.

I feel old.