Victorian London was smelly, and that is where Ms Picard begins her nonfiction summation of the city from 1840-1870 (Victorian London by Liza Picard, published 2005). From her detailed descriptions of the polluted Thames to the horrors of being a “maid of all work” to the entertainments of the great capital, the city of London in Victorian times becomes both delightfully and (more frequently) disgustingly palpable.
Ms Picard determined to rely solely on nonfiction sources for her descriptions, and there are plenty of first-hand accounts of the grime of the city to make the telling engaging and interesting. Her book, which is just about 300 pages, is nonetheless comprehensive in surveying a general way of life (both the necessaries and the wants) for the rich as well as the poor in those interesting years in the city. It convinced me, for one, that had I lived in 1840 in London, I’d have done all I could to get out of there (the English countryside or even America in 1840 seems, from my perspective, to have been much more pleasant, or at least a lot less malodorous).
If Victorian London has a fault, it is that it is written for those familiar with London of today, as Ms Picard is obviously affectionately close it. As an American reader of Victorian literature and someone who has never been to London or England at all, I found myself lost in references to landmarks, neighborhoods, and even money and wished for a general map of the city (not a historic one of the sewers, as was included), with the key neighborhoods she mentioned indicated, as well as an explanation of how pence, shillings, pounds, and guineas all add up. I cannot, however, fault Ms Picard for my ignorance, and this book, for what is was, was quite excellent.