Category Archives: Books

Review: A Life of Jerome K. Jerome

Carolyn W. de la L.Oulton, Below the Fairy City: A Life of Jerome K. Jerome (Victorian Secrets, Brighton, 2012)

The English writer Jerome K. Jerome is usually remembered for one book: his 1889 novel Three Men in a Boat, which was immensely popular in its day, and continues to spawn countless adaptations and homages. This is no surprise: the book still reads like a handbook for the modern observational comic, with its sharp one-liners about hypochondria, DIY, consumerism and dogs. Despite its meandering, anecdotal tone, the book more than holds its own against competitors, from George Grossmith to P. G. Wodehouse and, later, Nancy Mitford; not least because its perspective is not that of the upper-class twit, or self-important middle-class, but of a proud lower-middle class: a world Jerome K. Jerome knew, and knew better than to patronise. In siding with this class, Jerome risked mockery – Punch referred to him, scathingly, as a ‘cockney pilgrim’, whilst others branded his work ‘vulgar’ – but he also garnered a huge, appreciative audience, becoming a leading figure in what was termed, a little lazily,  ‘The New Humour’. Continue reading

Review: The Real Life Women of Downton Abbey and Life Below Stairs

Instinct invites me to be suspicious of any book with ‘real’ in the title, let alone one that also manages to fit ‘really’ into its sub-title. Such is the case with Pamela Horn’s The Real Life Women of Downton Abbey: How wives & daughters really lived in country house society over a century ago, recently published in hardback by Amberley Press. If one ‘real’ is unfortunate, two seems careless.

There are plenty of other reasons to be suspicious of this book, not least the fact that it is actually a re-printing of a much earlier text, first published in 1991 with the title Ladies of the Manor. Re-printing a book is no crime in itself – especially if it is in demand – though there is something a little cynical about the way this book has been re-branded to cater for a new audience (although, it must be noted, it is by no means alone). If the book had been re-written, or at least edited, to appeal to Downton Abbey fans, it would be a different proposition. Instead, the book has simply be re-titled and printed in a smart hard-back edition. All very handsomely produced, though at £20 many readers might prefer to scour second-hand book stores for old copies of Ladies of the Manor.

This is not, then, a new book by any means, nor is it in any way connected with the TV show Downton Abbey. Continue reading

Lord Dunsany, Call for Submissions

Lord Dunsany – Wanderer in Dream
Collected Essays

“Two players sat down to play a game together to while eternity away and
for their board they chose the sky from rim to rim, whereon lay a little
dust; and every speck of dust was a world upon the board of playing.”

Since the publication of The Gods of Pegāna in 1905, Lord Dunsany has
occupied a unique place in the cannon of fantasy literature. Beloved by
figures as diverse as H.P Lovecraft, Yeats and Jorge Borges he continues
to attract devotees and scholarly research in equal measure. This
collection of essays aims to address not only Dunsany’s works themselves
but also to relate them to wider critical, historical and theoretical
fields by publishing works that examine either Dunsany’s influences, his
presence in contemporary culture or his long-term effects upon literature. Continue reading

Neo-Edwardian Fiction

Many thanks to Celia M. Cruz Rus (postgraduate student, University of Malaga) for providing the following guest post on Neo-Edwardian fiction:

If you want to immerse yourself in the Edwardian period while enjoying some literature, you can always go back to Henry James or E. M. Forster but if you want to try some contemporary fiction, here are  a few suggestions:

Falling Angels (2001), Tracy Chevalier. The Waterhouses and the Colemans meet at the cemetery on the day Queen Victoria dies. From that day onwards, thanks to their little girls’ friendship and fascination with the graveyard, their destinies will be tragically entangled.

Snobbery with Violence (2003), M. C. Beaton. The first novel of the Edwardian Murder Mystery Series is a funny, light-hearted story which sees Lady Rose Summer, a debutante who has a reputation as an ex-suffragette, investigating the death of a guest with the help of her maid and a detective on her first season.

Arthur & George (2005), Julian Barnes. This is a beautiful tale based on the real story of how acclaimed the Sherlock Holmes author became a sort of detective himself and helped prove a young solicitor innocent.

– “Dictation” (2008), Cynthia Ozick. This short story found in the collection Dictation: A Quartet imagines a meeting between Henry James’s typist and that of Joseph Conrad, who has designed a plan which will make them immortal.

[If you are interested in providing a guest post for this blog, based on your research, please e-mail us at]

Ashgate and the Edwardians

Ashgate Publishing have just released their Literary Studies catalogue for 2012. This contains various books which may be of interest to Edwardian scholars, including Sally Dugan’s Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel: A Publishing History, Kristine Moruzi’s Constructing Girlhood through the Periodical Press, 1850-1915, Churnjeet Mahn’s British Women’s Travel to Greece, 1840-1914 , and Jane Bownas’s Thomas Hardy and Empire. Follow the links for more information on these titles.

No Surrender

This week saw the publication of Park Lane, a new novel by Frances Osbourne (wife of the current chancellor) about the shifting social hierachy in Edwardian England. The latest in a long line of historical novels about the suffrage movement, Osbourne’s book has disturbed some readers, on both stylistic and political grounds. As Julie Burchill put it in The Observer: “There is something repulsive about a book that celebrates a pivotal moment of social progress – votes for women – by the wife of a man who serves in a government that contains more well-born nobodies than any since the second world war, men who would probably not have attained such status had they had to get there on their own merit rather than been given a leg-up by their expensive educations and extensive crony network.”

Meanwhile, No Surrender (1911), Constance Maud’s crusading realist novel written at the zenith of the suffrage campaign in England, has recently been republished by Persephone Books.

According to the Persephone Books website: ‘When Emily Davison, who was to die in 1913 under the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby, reviewed No Surrender, she wrote: “There is scarcely a notable incident of the militant campaign which is left untouched. As we devour its pages, we once more review such unforgettable as the Pantechnicon incident, the protest of the Grille, the Suffragette Fire-Engine, the sending of women by Express Post to the Prime Minister, and the final word-picture of [the procession of 1910]. But for vivid realism, the pictures of prison life, of the Hunger Strike and Forcible Feeding, are difficult to beat. It is a book which breathes the very spirit of our Women’s Movement’”.’

For an insightful exegesis of Edwardian women’s suffrage fiction, see the chapter on ‘Suffragette Stories’ in Jane Eldridge Miller’s Rebel Women: Feminism, Modernism, and the Edwardian Novel (1994).

Call for Papers: Pedagogies of the End

Call for Papers: Pedagogies of the End: Teaching and Knowledge at the Fin de Siècle

Co-Editors: Dan Bivona, Arizona State University, and Helena Gurfinkel, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.500-word abstracts and 1-paragraph bios to and by August 1st, 2012.

This collection explores a possible relationship between the fin in the fin de siècle (the turn of the nineteenth century) and pedagogy. We welcome essays about fin de siècle literature and culture Continue reading