Book Review--The Victorian House by Judith Flanders

The Victorian House by Judith Flanders

I am reading The Victorian House by Judith Flanders. It is an absolutely fascinating history of Victorian life. I am currently enthralled with this piece of information.

The Lancet reminded doctors that women patients complaining of exhaustion, or an inability to walk even short distances, were probably suffering from the loads they were carrying, rather than illness or the inherent weakness of being female. By the end of the century a fashionable woman was carrying thirty-seven pounds of clothing, although the Rational Dress Society had long campaigned for women to reduce their underclothing to a maximum of seven pounds.

Thirty-seven pounds of clothes! The mind boggles. And seven pounds of underclothes was viewed as rational and was a reduction of what was usual. Thirty-seven pounds. Just think about it for a few minutes. Simply standing up would require a lot of effort.

Women were also exhausted because their houses were deathtraps. This description emphasizes the point.

The house was a dangerous place in ways we have forgotten. Painted walls were usually primed with two coats of lead, red and white; the top coat was then mixed into a base of white lead. This caused painters' colic, a type of paralysis, when the wet paint was absorbed through the skin. Wallpaper was no safer: many colours were produced by dyes made from various poisonous materials. Green papers were particularly dangerous, often having an arsenic base, as did lilac, pinks, a variety of blues, and 'French grey'; some wallpapers had as much as 59 per cent of arsenious acid in the paper. In addition, vermilion was adulterated with red lead. (Prussia, Bavaria, Sweden and France had banned these papers long before, but in the late 1880s they were still routinely used in Britain.) Arsenic in the wallpaper was one of the reasons that a 'change of air' often worked so well for invalids: those who were being slowly poisoned went to the seaside, leaving their poisonous paper behind; their health improved, and then on their return to the still-poisonous room they had a relapse.

Isn't that interesting? I knew that the paint contained lead but I never made the connection between the lead and arsenic in the paint and wallpaper and the need for a 'change of air.'  I always wondered why there was such a belief in the benefits of sea air. It all makes sense now.

I haven't quite finished the book yet but I would recommend it. I enjoy books that give me a clear picture of what it would have been like to live in a different time period and this does just that. I am not usually interested in the big picture. I don't have a burning desire to know the political history of the time or to read descriptions of the architecture of the day. However, tell me how much a woman's clothes weighed and give me a list of what was viewed as absolutely necessary to set up housekeeping and I am guaranteed to continue reading.

Golden Moments #5

Wickham Park

A perfect cup of tea out of a pretty mug on a cold morning. It was sipped while curled up under my favorite cozy but slightly ugly afghan. What a peaceful way to start the day.

A fancy box of chocolates bought for no reason and shared around the table on a Monday night after dinner.

Sitting with my husband looking out at this view. We both took the day off and went out to lunch, to the park, and to visit my grandmother. My husband proposed to me looking out at this view over twenty-eight years ago.

A book I forgot I ordered showed up in the mail. This regularly appears in "golden moments" lists but that is fine. I never can quite keep track of how many books I have ordered and I always enjoy being surprised when they arrive.


The beautiful sunsets this time of year. They make my backyard look beautiful.

My son telling me that I am a good cook but a truly exceptional baker. I had made chocolate cake.

My aunt and grandmother who found out about my blog and were flatteringly interested. Yes, I know I have had it for over two years. I just don't talk about it that much.

My son who came home so excited about something he did in shop in school that he talked for twenty minutes straight and showed me blueprints of what he was doing. I understood nothing but I thoroughly enjoyed his enthusiasm.

Jack, the cat, had surgery to remove a tumor from his mouth. Jack is my husband's baby so we were all very worried. The vet called and the tumor was benign. Jack has now recovered well and is back on a normal diet. He is distinctly irked that he no longer gets all the canned food he wants. We are distinctly pleased he will be around to complain about it for a bit longer.

autumn in New England

All the leaves that are starting to change colors. Autumn is a bit late this year but we are finally getting the cooler nights that lead to the pretty leaves. I love the smell of autumn; the leaves, the woodsmoke, the cool, crisp air. It is all wonderful.

What golden moments have you had in your life lately?

Mini Reviews


I have a huge stack of books sitting on the coffee table. They are books I have read recently and that I keep meaning to review. However, good intentions aren't getting me anywhere so instead of full reviews, I am going to make it short and sweet with a few brief sentences on each book and whether or not I think you should read it. Are you ready?

The Feast by Margaret Kennedy. A cliffside hotel on the Cornish coast is buried when the cliff collapses. You know that from the beginning but then you go back and meet all the hotel guests and find out their stories. Who survives and who doesn't? It is a bit odd. The characters are definitely eccentric and, in some ways, it feels like a quiet story. But, at the same time, you have that cliff looming over you. Read it. I thought it was great.

The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks. I have mixed feelings about this. It is the story of Rebanks and his family farm in the Lake District. His love of the land and his farming heritage is clear and appealing. His descriptions of the countryside made me immediately want to travel there. I learned a lot about sheep farming. But, at times I found myself annoyed with Rebanks as a person. Yes, I understand his farming life is wonderful but it is not the only life. He speaks a bit disparagingly of education but he went to Oxford. He loves the countryside but is annoyed by the walkers and other tourists who are also enjoying it. It all felt a bit disjointed to me. I enjoyed it on a certain level but I don't think I loved it as much as many others have. Read it if you happen to come across it but don't rush out and buy it.

Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport*. This is a very detailed account of the 1917 Russian Revolution as told through the eyes of foreign journalist etc. who were in Russia at the time. This was not an easy read. The events during that time were truly horrifying and disturbing. The book was well-researched and detailed. However, I struggled with it. It sat on my "currently reading" shelf on Goodreads for way too long. I finally finished it and feel like I learned a lot about a time and a place I knew little about but I would not say I enjoyed it. Read it if you have an interest in the time period.

The Spirit of the Age and Other Stories from the Home Front by E. M. Delafield.* I loved this so I am saying right away that you should read it. It is a series of vignettes set during WWII in a little village called Little-Fiddle-on-the-Green. They are charming and funny and full of great characters who make you laugh out loud. If you loved Delafield's Provincial Lady then you will like this. It isn't quite as good, but then, few things are.

Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate.* A woman is on trial for her life. Each member of the jury has their own history that will affect how they decide the case. The reader is introduced to the members of the jury one by one and learns about their past and then is presented with the facts of the case. It made for a very interesting story and I enjoyed it quite a bit. One of the more successful of the British Library Crime Classics.

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley.* I will read pretty much anything about Jane Austen though my favorite book about her is Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin. I didn't feel this offered anything unusual or new but I basically enjoyed it and thought it was written in an engaging manner. I was worried about that since I saw the TV show based on this with Worsley and I had not really enjoyed it. I found her a bit irritating. I think everyone feels their Jane Austen is the real Jane Austen and Worsley is no exception. Her conclusions from things Austen wrote or said are not necessarily my conclusions. Of course, I am not an Austen scholar but Jane Austen is the real Jane Austen, right? Some of it was a bit too speculative for me. Do we really need to debate whether Austen ever had lesbian sex or any sex at all, for that matter? And what was that about the titillating effects of bathing in the sea? Also, I felt Worsley frequently put modern sensibilities on Austen's thoughts and actions. But, all in all, enjoyable though not the best book about Austen that I have ever read.

I am currently reading A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell. It is an account of life in Britain during WWII. So, in other words, my perfect book. I am about halfway through and highly recommend it. What have you been reading lately?

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

A Leather Journal

Portland Leather journal

A few weeks ago we went to Barnes and Noble because my son wanted to buy some expansions for his board game. He is very into board games at the moment and ropes anyone even semi-willing into playing with him. Many of them are more fun than I would have thought. Though I must admit, I didn't know there were so many Star Wars board games. I think he is determined to own all of them. We are trying to convince him to expand his collection beyond Star Wars. He says it sounds like a good idea and then he gets pulled in by the expansion sets and decides he just has to have Chewbacca or whatever. Anyway, he was taking an endless amount of time to decide exactly what he was going to buy and I was entertaining myself by browsing all the sections of Barnes and Noble I don't usually have time to investigate. This led me to the journal section and I discovered the wonders of leather journals. It was love at first sight. They were so pretty and they smelled so good and just imagine the wonders of writing in one. They were also about $40.00. I just couldn't. Not for a journal that I would fill up and then be done with. So I reluctantly walked away, towing a Star Wars laden son behind me, and regretted it as soon as I was home. Well, kind of regretted it. I wanted a leather journal but I decided the dream was a refillable one. I emerged from the depths of an internet search later that evening having discovered Portland Leather Goods. They actually have an Etsy shop as well and they were having a sale.

Portland Leather journal

Portland Leather journal

An endless amount of dithering later (maybe this is where my son gets it) I ordered a journal. There were quite a few decisions and I am not good at decisions. You can choose from a variety of leather colors and there are approximately 50 different brands you can choose to put on the front. I chose the compass but there were also mountains and sayings and even Calvin and Hobbes. You can add your name or initials which I chose not to do. Also, you have to decide about the stone on the wrap. Do you want one? What color? Maybe a bit of wood instead? Then do you want lined or unlined paper? So many choices and all of them appealing.

portland leather wrap journal

The notebook is held in by a sturdy elastic band. I messaged the company asking if it was possible to add a second elastic so I could have two notebooks inside the leather cover. They answered very quickly and said they were willing to do it but they did not recommend it because they felt it might make the cover not fit as well. The wrap wouldn't go around as well and the brand might be in the wrong place. I said, in that case, just stick with the one notebook. I do regret that decision now though. There is plenty of room for a second elastic and the leather cover would easily fit around. It is unfortunate, but I will probably just look for a thicker notebook when I replace the one that came with it.

This is in no way a sponsored post I just really, really love this journal. Do you know how sometimes you buy something that just makes you happy? Well, this journal is making me happy. And, because it is refillable, I can enjoy it for years to come.

Portland Leather Goods also makes gorgeous tote bags. So tempting. They are more expensive than  I would usually buy (because I am...frugal. Let's go with frugal.) but they are beautiful, probably would get better with age, and they would last forever. I really want one. Maybe one day.