06 March 2013

Review: England in the Nineteenth Century by David Thomson

Mass market paperback, 254 pages
Published 1986 (originally 1950)
Acquired October 2008

Read January 2013
The Pelican History of England: 8. England in the Nineteenth Century (1815-1914)
by David Thomson

I felt much more grounded in this book than in the previous Pelican History of England, Plumb's England in the Eighteenth Century. Partially, I am sure, this is because I study Victorian literature, and thus have more of a background, but I think it helps that Thomson doesn't divide his book into phases based on prime ministers whose importance I am supposed to take for granted, but three different "phases" (1815-50, 1851-74, 1875-1914) that emphasize, in turn, reform, progress, and statehood. With less of politics and more of the social situation, Thomson provides a very readable, light history with occasional moments of insight, such as: "Later generations have come to regard as man-made and intolerable many things which the Victorians accepted as without remedy. The Victorians regarded as intolerable many others things which their ancestors had deemed without remedy, and they had slowly to invent appropriate means to deal with these new-found but not novel social evils. [...] Evils felt to be humanly remediable were tackled as promptly, and, on the whole, as competently, as the means at their disposal allowed" (115). He's obviously working at point to reclaim the Victorians from later criticism (i.e., Lytton Strachey et al.), and I too am all for that.

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