978-1-85177-327-5 / 9781851773275

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About the book:

The Victorians get a terrible press--sexually repressed, hypocritical and heartless proponents of self-help. It's a hackneyed view that The Victorian Vision--Inventing New Britain, edited by John Mackenzie, sets out to redress. These after all were the generations that created Britain's railway network and built the London Underground; that established the basis of today's global economy; that developed photography; gave us clean sewerage; and invented mass production; who gave us trades unions and Darwinism. Most importantly, these generations created the basis of the infrastructure and attitudes we still live with today.

The Victorian Vision, which partners an exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum, cleverly tackles this huge era as a series of extended essays. These in turn divide into Society, Technology and The World, and the writers look at the nature of the Victorians themselves--a people wrestling with the realisation that the Earth wasn't made in seven days, that their industrialisation was despoiling their cities, and that the social structures that had held in Britain for centuries were being swept away in a matter of years. The book takes as its starting point Victoria herself--Delia Millar's essay focusing on the crucial "Royal patronage and influence". After the feckless and unpopular George IV, Victoria gave the monarchy a new solidity--creating in her own Royal Family a template for family as the heart of British life. Meanwhile, Prince Albert, mover and organiser behind the Great Exhibition of 1851, made a focus for British exports and industry. This slab-sized coffee table companion is really made by its superb use of pictures. Engravings, early photographs, lithographs, illustrations from Punch, and contemporary photos of Victorian artefacts tell the story of this industrious and creative breed better than 100,000 words. And the heavily moral and allegorical paintings of Dyce, Holman Hunt, Ford Madox Brown and Rossetti dramatically illustrate the moral, religious and political storms that created the Victorians' philosophy. The book is lavish and very large, but the essay format makes dipping in and out an informative pleasure, as you discover what those "Victorian values" really were.--John Rennie

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