Beyond the “Other Victorians”

To call something “Victorian” is, in left-liberal parlance, to say that you don’t like it.  The fact that hardly anything routinely called “Victorian” accurately characterizes the era of Queen Victoria’s long reign, from 1837 to 1901, is one of the great historiographical tragedies of the 20th century.  Thus, when a large number of African bishops at the Church of England’s 1998 Lambeth Conference dared to suggest that the Church should not condone homosexual behavior because the Bible condemns it, American bishop John Shelby Spong dismissed their reasoning on NPR as “Victorian moralism”—as though the Victorian moralists were known principally for their arguments from Scripture, and, furthermore, as though no one in the history of Christianity ever made much of biblical passages condemning homosexuality until well into the 19th century.  What Spong meant was I don’t like it.

It is the noble task of British journalist Matthew Sweet to show that nearly all of our notions about what was typical in Victorian Britain are either mostly or entirely untrue.  Inventing the Victorians contains 12 mid-length essays on various aspects of life in Victorian England.  Sweet begins each by calling up one of our preconceptions about the era—that most Victorians were naive and prudish about sex, that Victorian interior decoration was characterized...

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