Matthew Sweet begins Inventing the Victorians with a sentence that should send a chill down your spine: “Suppose that everything we know about the Victorians is wrong.” Horrors! Have we all been wasting our time for the last hundred years? Will more paper than Jarndyce v. Jarndyce produced be heading for the recycling bin? Here’s Sweet’s late-breaking newsflash: Victorians liked to have a good time, including in bed, and they didn’t really put bloomers on their piano legs. The popularity of these vile canards is all the fault of the Freudians and the Bloomsburies and their (and our) craven need to prove our “modernity” by positing the Myth of the Stodgy Victorian.

This is news? Debunking misconceptions like these has been the chief occupation of Victorianists since at least the 1950s. Steven Marcus’s book The Other Victorians came...

 

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