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Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#TuesdayBookBlog LIFE IN MINIATURE: A HISTORY OF DOLLS’ HOUSES by Nicola Lisle (@penswordbooks)(@NicolaLisle1) Not just a toy. A wonderful look at a small but fascinating world.

Hi, all:

I have a few non-fiction books pending reviews, but I was reminded of this one because of a Fair of Miniatures and Dolls’ Houses I had to cover for the radio station I collaborate with (Sants 3 Ràdio), and I had to bring you the book and its review as well.

I was so busy during the fair, there were so many people to interview and talk to (including a couple of wonderful charities, one that provides ergonomic cushions for women who had had a mastectomy due to breast cancer [Asociación almohada del corazón] and one that rescues and rehouses animals in Barcelona [Los Ángeles del Raval]), so many miniatures, exhibits, and objects to see, and so many pictures to take for the web of the radio, that I forgot to take any pictures to share here. But I promise I will add a link to the article when it is published. Oh, and you can see some examples of the work of the association organising the fair, Assarmicat, Associació d’Artesans Miniaturistes de Catalunya, here.

Here is the link to the article (in Catalan, but you can check the pictures):

https://www.el3.cat/noticia/78208/les-cotxeres-de-sants-acullen-la-20a-fira-dartesans-miniaturistes-i-exposicio-de-cases-de-

And here, the book, from the always reliable Pen & Sword.

Life in Miniature. A History of Dolls’ Houses by Nicola Lisle

Life in Miniature. A History of Dolls’ Houses by Nicola Lisle

Popular in Britain since the late seventeenth century, dolls’ houses are tiny slices of social history that give us a fascinating glimpse into domestic life over the last 300 years. In this beautifully-illustrated book, Nicola Lisle explores the origins and history of dolls’ houses and their furnishings, from the earliest known dolls’ house in sixteenth-century Bavaria to the present, and looks at how they reflect the architecture, fashions, social attitudes, innovations and craftsmanship of their day. She discusses the changing role of dolls’ houses and highlights significant events and people to give historical context. She also takes a look at some of the leading dolls’ house manufacturers, such as Silber & Fleming and Lines Brothers Ltd (later Triang). The book includes numerous examples of interesting dolls’ houses, the stories behind them and where to see them. This includes famous models such as Queen Mary’s spectacular 1920s dolls’ house at Windsor Castle and the eighteenth-century baby house at Kew Palace. There is also a chapter on model towns and villages, which became popular in the twentieth century and also give us a window on the past by replicating real places or capturing scenes typical of a bygone era. There is advice for dolls’ house collectors, as well as a detailed directory of places to visit, a timeline of dolls’ house history and recommended further reading. One of the most comprehensive guides available on the subject, this book offers unique insights into the world of dolls’ houses and is a must for anyone with an interest in the history and appeal of these miniature treasures.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Miniature-History-Dolls-Houses/dp/152675181X/

https://www.amazon.com/Life-Miniature-History-Dolls-Houses/dp/152675181X/

https://www.amazon.es/Life-Miniature-History-Dolls-Houses/dp/152675181X/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Life-in-Miniature-Hardback/p/18021

About the author:

Nicola Lisle is a freelance journalist and author specialising in history and the arts. She has written numerous articles for family history magazines, including Who Do You Think You Are?, Your Family History and Discover Your Ancestors, and was a regular contributor to Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine for many years. She is the author of Tracing Your Family History Made Easy (Which? Books, 2011) and Tracing Your Oxfordshire Ancestors (Pen & Sword, 2018).

My review:

I received an early hardback copy of this non-fiction book from Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, which I freely chose to review.

I have always been fascinated by miniatures and dolls’ houses, although I have never collected or played with them. One doesn’t need to be an expert to enjoy this book, where Nicola Lisle introduces the history of miniatures (which have been found by archeologists in Egyptian and Roman digs) and dolls’ houses (some from as far back as the XVII century).

The book opens with an introduction and a discussion of some of the oldest known dolls’ houses, where the author also explains how they transformed from luxury items whereby the rich and important could boast and exhibit their riches, to eventually becoming children’s toys, affordable for the majority of the population. Then there are several chapters which, in chronological order, talk about some notable English dolls’ houses, explaining their history and describing them in such loving detail, that even those of us who haven’t seen them feel as if we were there.

There are also chapters dedicated to dolls’ houses in the literature, model towns and villages, a chapter containing advice on how to start collecting dolls’ houses, and one on notable collectors.

The book also contains a large section of images, which give us a taster of the type of houses mentioned, and it will also be useful as a reference for anybody interested in the topic, as, apart from a detailed index, it also contains two appendixes: places to visit, featuring houses and museums where we can see good examples of dolls’ houses live, and further reading, where we can learn even more about this hobby, art, and way of life.

Dolls’ houses are not mere toys: they reflect the mores of the different periods, the role of women in the house, the differences in social classes (with the separate quarters for owners and servants), the evolution of architecture and art movements, and they were (and are) great education aids, apart from transporting us to a different time and a different place.

I recommend this title to anybody who is interested in miniatures, especially in dolls’ houses, and in social history. It is a compact title with plenty of information for those already well-informed, and a good introduction for those who don’t know much but are eager to learn. A beautiful present for those interested in toys, collectibles, and social history in general.

Thanks to Rosie Croft and Pen & Sword in general and to the author for the book, to all of you for visiting and reading my blog, and remember to share, click, like, keep smiling, and take care. Be creative and enjoy what you do!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog HUMANKIND: A HOPEFUL HISTORY by Rutger Bregman (@BloomsburyBooks) #RutgerBregman #NetGalley A bright and well-argued book full of hopeful content

Hi all:

I’m sharing the review of a book that I found perfect for these uncertain times.

Humankind. A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

‘If you only read one book this year, make it this one’ CATHY RENTZENBRINK

‘This book must be read by as many people as possible – only when people change their view of human nature will they begin to believe in the possibility of building a better world’ GRACE BLAKELEY

‘It’d be no surprise if it proved to be the Sapiens of 2020′ GUARDIAN

It’s a belief that unites the left and right, psychologists and philosophers, writers and historians. It drives the headlines that surround us and the laws that touch our lives. From Machiavelli to Hobbes, Freud to Dawkins, the roots of this belief have sunk deep into Western thought. Human beings, we’re taught, are by nature selfish and governed by self-interest.

Humankind makes a new argument: that it is realistic, as well as revolutionary, to assume that people are good. The instinct to cooperate rather than compete, trust rather than distrust, has an evolutionary basis going right back to the beginning of Homo sapiens. By thinking the worst of others, we bring out the worst in our politics and economics too.

In this major book, internationally bestselling author Rutger Bregman takes some of the world’s most famous studies and events and reframes them, providing a new perspective on the last 200,000 years of human history. From the real-life Lord of the Flies to the Blitz, a Siberian fox farm to an infamous New York murder, Stanley Milgram’s Yale shock machine to the Stanford prison experiment, Bregman shows how believing in human kindness and altruism can be a new way to think – and act as the foundation for achieving true change in our society.

It is time for a new view of human nature.

https://www.amazon.com/Humankind-Hopeful-History-Rutger-Bregman-ebook/dp/B082SXZFC9/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Humankind-Hopeful-History-Rutger-Bregman-ebook/dp/B082SXZFC9/

https://www.amazon.es/Humankind-Hopeful-History-Rutger-Bregman-ebook/dp/B082SXZFC9/

Author Rutger Bregman

About the author:

Rutger Bregman is one of Europe’s most prominent young thinkers. The 27-year-old historian and author has published four books on history, philosophy, and economics. His History of Progress was awarded the Belgian Liberales prize for best nonfiction book of 2013. The Dutch edition of Utopia for Realists became a national bestseller and sparked a basic income movement that soon made international headlines. Bregman has twice been nominated for the prestigious European Press Prize for his journalism work at The Correspondent. His work has been featured in The Washington Post and on the BBC.

https://www.amazon.com/Rutger-Bregman/e/B00ENFKSCI/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I know I write long reviews, so I wanted to give a heads up to those who prefer a brief one. I loved this book. Why? I picked up this book based on NetGalley’s recommendations as good read for these current times when things feel quite tough and most people feel quite negative. And they were right. It’s difficult to read this book and not feel more optimistic by the end of it, even if you might not be absolutely convinced by all of the author’s arguments. It is engaging, easy to read, compelling, it includes a large variety of studies from many disciplines (criminology, sociology, anthropology, history, economics, ethnology, biology, literature…), and I think most readers will be familiar and/or intrigued by many of the topics he touches on.  And it does look at all of those with new eyes. It also collects a large number of positive examples of human behaviour, so, if you need an injection of optimism, I recommend it. There is a detailed index, and plenty of notes, but as I said, it is a book written for the general public rather than for academicians or experts, and no specialist knowledge in any of the fields it touches on is necessary to enjoy it.

In the acknowledgements, the author explains how the book came to be. Dutch philosopher Rob Wijnberg told him he had a project. He wanted to launch a new kind of publication “with no news, no advertising and no cynicism”. That became De Correspondent and Bregman explains that the book is the result of working there for seven years, and of many of the conversations he had with readers over these years. This explains, perhaps, why the book is so varied. Anybody who has done research (academic, for work reasons, for a specific project, or out of personal interest) knows that once you start pursuing something, it’s easy to get side-tracked by bits of interesting information and go down the rabbit hole following those, because sometimes those discoveries feel more interesting than the original story, or simply because new things keep coming to light, and, well, you just need to know more.

This book is roughly divided into two main halves. One where the author, after explaining his thesis about the nature of human beings (I’ll only tell you he calls us ‘Homo Puppy’. I’ll let you read the rest yourselves), he explores a large number of studies and arguments proposing that human beings are naturally egotistical, violent, aggressive…  and challenges many of those. Bombings during the war, psychology experiments (the Stanford prison experiment by Zimbardo, the Milgram experiment on obedience to authority involving electroshocks …), friendly foxes, Neanderthals, educational experiments, studies of old civilizations and ancestral bones, Easter Island, William Goldwing’s Lord of the Flies, Hobbes and Rousseau’s philosophical ideas among other, all are discussed and analysed. I was familiar with many of the studies, and even with some of the criticisms, later reappraisals and evidence against them, but not with all, and I have learned plenty and been inspired to dig deeper into some of the stories.  Although he supports all of his claims and interpretations with notes, he does it in an engaging way, and the result is an accessible and clever page-turner.

In the second half, Bregman shares examples of people and communities who have done things differently with impressive results.  I was aware of some, like the way Norway runs its prisons, but others made me pause (in particular, the reference to Jos de Blok, who runs a home healthcare organisation without heavy top-down management and allows the groups of workers to organise and manage themselves), and  I particularly enjoyed part 5, ‘The Other Cheek’.  The author acknowledges that, of course, the instances he discusses are not perhaps as well-accepted and regarded as he thinks they deserve, and one example does not change everything, but he does maintain that an optimistic attitude can bring a positive change, and I hope he is right.

He also includes, with some reluctance, ten rules to live by at the end of the book, and I cannot fault them, although they are not easy to implement. I have already mentioned the acknowledgments section, the notes, and the index, that occupy around 19% of the e-book.

In sum, I enjoyed the book enormously, and I think most readers will get something positive out of it. I know not all reviewers are convinced by the author’s arguments, and that is to be expected, but I think no matter what conclusion you reach by the end of it, it offers plenty of food for thought. I definitely will be looking into some of the initiatives he talks about in more detail, and I will follow Bregman’s career with interest from now on. If you need a bright and well-argued book, full of hopeful content, don’t hesitate. Go for it.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, the author and the excellent translators, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and to stay safe and keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview BESIDE THE SEASIDE: A HISTORY OF YORKSHIRE’S SEASIDE RESORTS by John Heywood (@penswordbooks). Beautiful and informative #non-fiction

Hi all:

I bring you a book that I could not resist reading at this point when most of us are (or have been) stuck indoors.

Beside the Seaside by John Heywood

Beside the Seaside: A History of Yorkshire’s Seaside Resorts by John Heywood

Almost all of us have happy memories of excursions and holidays spent beside the sea. For many, these will have included the Yorkshire coast which runs unbroken for more than one hundred miles between the two great rivers, the Tees and the Humber. Within those boundaries are the popular seaside resorts of Whitby, Scarborough, Filey and Bridlington as well as numerous smaller and quieter but equally well-loved destinations. How did the love affair with the area start and how did it develop? Over the years, all the ingredients for the perfect holiday are there – the spas, the sea and sun bathing, board and lodgings, entertainment and just as importantly, the journeys there and back. Beside the Seaside takes a detailed but entertaining look back at the history of these resorts over the last four hundred years and asks, what does the future hold? Packed with information, this book is fully illustrated with photographs, old and new, together with paintings and etchings. Coupled with the thoughts and memories of tourists and travelers from the 17th century through to the present time, it gives a fascinating insight into how our ancestors would have spent their time at the coast. Evocative and intriguing, absorbing and surprising, John Heywood’s book will appeal both to those familiar with the area and to others who just enjoy being Beside the Seaside.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Beside-the-Seaside-Paperback/p/14321

https://www.amazon.com/Beside-Seaside-History-Yorkshires-Resorts-ebook/dp/B07928QP45/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beside-Seaside-History-Yorkshires-Resorts-ebook/dp/B07928QP45/

https://www.amazon.es/Beside-Seaside-History-Yorkshires-Resorts-ebook/dp/B07928QP45/

About the author:

I am an experienced professional family and local historian living in West Yorkshire. History has been my passion for over forty years. I blame my parents for taking me to every abbey, castle and historic house they could find. I am so glad they did though. My first book Silent Witnesses told the story of those men from the village of Horbury near Wakefield in Yorkshire who paid the ultimate price during the Great War. My latest book Beside the Seaside – A History of Yorkshire’s Seaside Resorts was a great labour of love to research and write. Both my wife and I take great pleasure in being by the sea.

I am currently working on my second book for Pen and Sword due for publication in Spring 2019. I am a contributor to several magazines and have recently collaborated with Wakefield Cathedral on a World War One project.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Heywood/e/B07C3S7ZXK/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

This gorgeous non-fiction book offers readers a history of Yorkshire’s seaside resorts. I lived in South Yorkshire for quite a few years, and I had a chance to visit some of the resorts mentioned in the book (Scarborough and Whitby more than the rest), but I didn’t know much about their history or how they had evolved over the years. I had no idea that many of these resorts had had piers, for instance (it’s difficult to survive as a pier on the Yorkshire coast, as I’ve learned by reading this book), or the fact that many of them had started life as spas (people were going to take the waters in Scarborough as far back as the early XVII century).

Heywood has done a great job researching the topic, and although he tackles the subject chronologically (we go from the very early mentions of the resorts by visitors to our era), he divides it up in chapters centred on different topics that can be consulted independently as well, like those on boarding and lodging, bathing fashion, the journey (the train helped the expansion of the tourism enormously, as it did with so many other activities), excursions, entertainment, and a dip in the sea, where the bathing machines make an appearance. I’ve always been fascinated by bathing machines, and I couldn’t help but think they would be a fantastic way of ensuring social distance was maintained while bathing, in the post-COVID-19 era). There is plenty of information about what happened in these towns during both World Wars, and how they pulled through the difficulties and changes over the years, as well as plenty of details on the different venues, buildings, gardens, facilities, performers, attractions…  This book works both, as a reference for people interested in any of these topics and also as an engaging non-fiction piece of historical and social British seaside history.

The book includes some fantastic illustrations, pictures, and advertisements of the era, which are a joy to see and help us better understand how visiting all these resorts in the past must have felt like. There is also a bibliography for those who might want to read more on the subject, and an index in case you’re looking for specific information.  Readers who love curiosities and social history will have a field day with this book. And if you’ve always wondered how the British love with the seaside towns and the seaside resorts came to be, this book offers you many clues.

I recommend this book to students and fans of social history, to those who love to read about Britain, its culture, and its towns and cities, to people who love Yorkshire, its coast and seaside towns, to historical authors thinking of setting their stories in these locations or eras, and to anybody who loves to take a stroll beside the seaside. I enjoyed the opportunity to be out and about, especially now, and I hope to be able to visit the area again in the future, armed with plenty of useful knowledge and a new perspective.

Ah, and I couldn’t help but share this.

Thanks to Rosie and the author for this book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep safe and keep smiling. 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Rituals & Myths in Nursing: A Social History by Claire Laurent (@penswordbooks). A deserved and loving homage to a true caring profession

Hi all:

I hope you are all keeping safe and well. I’m not quite back to my usual activity yet (more on that tomorrow), but I had to share this book.

Rituals & Myths in Nursing: A Social History by Claire Laurent 

Rituals & Myths in Nursing: A Social History by Claire Laurent

Nursing is a complex profession steeped in tradition and history. Tried and tested ways of working have been the mainstay of how and why nurses do what they do. Completing tasks in a certain way because Sister says so describes the custom and practice of nursing, passed on through the generations that existed for most of the 20th Century and can still hold sway today. Science and evidence-based practice have weakened the hold on tradition but ritual is still part of the fabric of nursing. Packed with amusing and sometimes poignant reminiscences this book paints a picture of nursing from the first registration of SRN No 1, Ethel Bedford Fenwick in 1919, to the present day. Each chapter follows a theme, explores the historical background and brings it to life with stories told by nurses from different eras. We have tales of alcohol prescribed to dilate blood vessels or simply for the feel good factor. Enemas were less fun, given for almost all bowel conditions; High, hot and a helluva lot!’ was the phrase for remembering this ritual. Written with humour and a light touch, readers don’t need a nursing background to enjoy these stories, but those who trained as nurses will identify with many of the amusing and often eccentric traditions retold by generations of nurses.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Rituals-Myths-in-Nursing-Paperback/p/16724

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rituals-Myths-Nursing-Social-History/dp/1473896614/

https://www.amazon.com/Rituals-Myths-Nursing-Social-History/dp/1473896614/

https://www.amazon.es/Rituals-Myths-Nursing-Social-History/dp/1473896614/

Nurse and author Claire Laurent

About the author:

Claire Laurent is a writer and nurse with a family rich in nurses, medics and midwives. After qualifying from St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, Claire trained as a journalist with Nursing Mirror. Years as a freelance health journalist followed, as well as a Masters in Public Health with several roles in that field. However, it was a partial return to clinical nursing that inspired this book recognising the complexity of modern nursing versus its strong traditions.

http://www.clairelaurent.co.uk/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me a paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

This is not the first book about nursing from Pen & Sword that I review, but it seems a particularly appropriate moment to read it and comment on the changes that have taken place in a profession that is right now at the forefront of everybody’s mind. The hard work all the healthcare professionals are doing, at a high personal risk, should not be underestimated, and I hope this health crisis (the coronavirus pandemic) will make governments realise that there are certain things that we should never try to make savings on, because the consequences can be catastrophic. But, let’s talk about the book.

The above description captures perfectly the essence of this book. It is packed full of anecdotes by nursing staff from different generations, as the long list of acknowledgments at the beginning of the book reflects. It is a wonderful combination of fun, bizarre, and touching episodes, memories of uniforms, strange cures (and I’ve heard of some of them, so yes, fashions change over the years), strict cleaning routines that would have made army sergeants proud (including how to make a bed properly), ghosts,  cooking breakfast in the wards, what used to pass for medication… all of them steeped up in the social circumstances of the period and reflecting the changes, not only in Medicine and Nursing (from learning on the job, nursing became a university degree, and from tradition and usage they moved onto evidence-based practice), but in society at large. Although I haven’t worked in a hospital for a few years, one of my best friends is a nurse; I have worked and met many nurses, and all the stories rung true for me.

The book includes some wonderful black and white illustrations, a bibliography (with blogs and websites as well as books and articles), a detailed index and even a chart of medical slang. The book is divided into twelve chapters: Without Rhyme or Reason (talking about training and the reasons why women [and later on, men also] decided to go into the job, in many cases out of family tradition); Nurses Who Rustle (uniforms, badges and related items); Handover and Hierarchy (times have changed and the way things are done have also changed, mostly for the better, although there is plenty of nostalgia and some true characters most nurses will never forget); Hygiene and Hijinks (cleaning protocols have changed in so many ways…); Egg White and Oxygen (treatments that had very little, if any, scientific base, but were followed religiously at the time); Bladders, Bowels and Bodily Functions (I don’t think I need to explain this); Medicines and Mystical Powers (this chapter deals not only with medications and drugs that would never be used now and were probably quite dangerous, but also with the procedures and routines imposed in the past that are almost impossible to believe now); Things that go Bump in the Night (ghosts stories… What proper old hospital does not have one ghost or many? And of course, the ghosts of nurses are hard at work ensuring the wellbeing of patients even after death); Dust, Dirt and Domesticity (cleaning protocols past and present); Once the Dust has Settled (gloves, potions, kits…); Theatre theatricals (being in a surgical theatre is an experience as nurses know only too well); Life and Death (births, deaths and everything in between).

This book is a delight. It’s full of many voices, from different eras, from nurses that had worked in a variety of specialties, all sharing personal stories or stories that they had heard on their jobs. Some are emotional, some funny, and I must warn people who are squeamish about illnesses and bodily functions, as there are some anecdotes that might make them cringe. But anybody who enjoys books about nursing, social history, or just a genuine story with plenty of heart, should read this book. And if you know any nurses or anybody interested in the topic don’t forget to recommend it. It’s a great homage to a profession that has always been and remains, a true caring profession.

Thanks to Rosie, the author, and all the nurses, doctors, and health professionals, and others helping us these days (as always), thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep reading, smiling, and especially, keep safe.

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview SHEFFIELD IN THE 1980S: FEATURING IMAGES OF SHEFFIELD PHOTOGRAPHER, MARTIN JENKINSON (IMAGES OF THE PAST) by Mark Metcalf, Justine Jenkinson (@MJIMageLibrary) (@penswordbooks) Inspiring pictures of recent UK history

Hi all:

This is one of those books that show the power of photography to convey events, moods and historical events.

Sheffield in the 1980s: Featuring Images of Sheffield Photographer, Martin Jenkinson (Images of the Past) by Mark Metcalf, Justine Jenkinson

Sheffield in the 1980s: Featuring Images of Sheffield Photographer, Martin Jenkinson (Images of the Past) by Mark Metcalf, Justine Jenkinson

The social, industrial and economic changes imposed on the Sheffield area during the 1980s are captured with remarkable clarity in this second Images of the Past book featuring the work of freelance photographer Martin Jenkinson (1947-2012). The former steelworker and adopted Sheffielder’s knowledge of his fellow citizens’ lives gave him a unique understanding, which he used to capture some incredible images of those troubled times.

In Sheffield in the 1980s the reader will find themselves drawn into remembering a decade of remarkable changes, some good but many for the worse. It was something that many northern England and Scottish cities experienced during this period, while at the same time, parts of south east England, especially the City of London, boomed. The gap between north and south became a chasm.

Jenkinson, who constantly sought ways to improve his skills, photographed people in their everyday lives at work and at play. However, where he excelled was his work with the trade union and labor movement in workplaces, on protests, demonstrations and pickets. His photographs in such situations create a political awareness that fills the page and forces the observer to seek to find out more.

So whilst some of the images in this book capture joy and laughter they also exhibit suffering. They provide a loud cry for social justice, a better world where unemployment is no more, poverty is swept away and everyone, black and white, male and female can enjoy a life where their talents are used for the collective improvement of all. Jenkinson’s photographs are about a world we still must aim to obtain.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Images-of-the-Past-Sheffield-in-the-1980s-Paperback/p/16850

https://www.amazon.com/Sheffield-1980s-Featuring-Photographer-Jenkinson/dp/152676136X/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sheffield-1980s-Featuring-Photographer-Jenkinson/dp/152676136X/

https://www.amazon.es/Sheffield-1980s-Featuring-Photographer-Jenkinson/dp/152676136X/

About the author:

About Justine Jenkinson

Justine Jenkinson, Martin Jenkinson’s daughter, gave up her job as a HR personal assistant in the Civil Service in 2015 to run her father’s image library full time. This was to enable her to keep his legacy alive by continuing to contribute his images to publications and exhibitions. Justine is exploring her father’s archives to find images that haven’t been widely seen before, which will then be added to the Martin Jenkinson Image Library website. Twitter: @MJImageLibrary

About Mark Metcalf

Mark Metcalf is a freelance writer with a passion for football. His recent work includes the highly successful book Flying Over an Olive Grove: The Remarkable Story of Fred Spiksley, a flawed football hero and which is now being incorporated into a documentary film, set for release in 2020, on the early years of football. Mark is a regular contributor to the Big Issue North magazine and the various publications of Unite the union and for whom he has written a series of booklets on trade union greats such as Benny Rothman and Mohammad Taj.

About Martin Jenkinson

Martin Jenkinson was the official Yorkshire National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) area photographer during the period that included the miners’ strike of 1984/85. In addition to his NUM work, Martin was also commissioned by many other unions, notably the National Union of Teachers and the TGWU/Unite. A former steelworker, Martin combined his politics and belief in workers’ rights, equality and social justice with his passion for photography. He died of cancer aged 64 in June 2012.

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me an early paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I worked in Sheffield and lived in the area for almost 10 years and had visited it on occasions as well before that, and although it was long after the 1980s (I arrived in the UK in the early 90s), I was familiar with Martin Jenkinson’s work, had seen some of his iconic photographs of the period, and could not resist the opportunity to sample some more. This was a particularly interesting and intense period in the history of the city, with the closures of many steel and cutlery manufacturing companies, the pit closures in the region, and with many strikes and much social unrest, that Jenkinson recorded in his work. It is impossible to look at his pictures and not wonder about recent events.

This book combines a great selection of images from the period with some background text, that rather than providing lengthy explanations about each image, is organised as an introductory write-up for each one of the sections. Although there isn’t much writing, the brief summaries offer a good overview to people who might not be familiar with the historic-social circumstances of the era and provide a solid context for the fantastic images.

The book is clearly a labour of love from Jenkinson’s daughter, and it includes a foreword by Helen Hague, a reporter who has worked at a number of local and national newspapers and was a personal friend of the photographer, a Tribute, written by Chris Searle, summarising Jenkinson’s career, and a number of sections that help organise the photographic content: Who We Are Exhibition (that was an exhibition at Sheffield’s  Weston Park Museum of Jenkinson’s work, which run from November 2018 to April 2019), Steel (that includes images of strikes, a section on cutlery and silver, one on retail and the public section [including images of women taking up various jobs  that were still an uncommon sight at the time], one on rail freight), Local Government (National and Local Government Officer’s Association [look out for David Blankett], SYCC and fare cuts [about increases to the public transport fares, hotly contested], the Manpower Services Commission [a new programme to fight unemployment, also hotly contested], Campaigns and Protests (People’s March for Jobs, Cutler’s Feast [where Margaret Thatcher was not particularly welcomed, but she went nonetheless], The Miner’s Strike [this is one of my favourite sections and many of Jenkinson’s iconic photographs are featured here], Eversure [a wonderful picture of a wedding couple visiting a picket at the factory where they both work],  the National Abortion Campaign, Sheffield Campaign for Access to Moorland, Sheffield Campaign Against Racism and Anti-Apartheid, Anti-Nuclear Protests, Sheffield Street Band), Sheffield & Its People (another great section including some pictures of Hillsborough Football Stadium that are impossible to look at without thinking about the later tragedy), a section referring to The Martin Jenkinson Image Library, and a final section of Acknowledgements.

This is not a nostalgic book about the Sheffield of the 1980s, although there are pictures of some very recognisable landmarks, but rather a book about certain aspects of the period and its people, and they show the concerns and interests of a man who had worked in the steel industry and suffered in his own flesh the changes brought by its demise. It’s not a book of pretty pictures, although there are some beautiful images, but that is not the aim. They are pictures that tell a story, and not always a nice one. As Helen Hague says in the foreword: ‘Martin Jenkinson had a gift for capturing the moment.’

The book is packed with black and white pictures chronicling a city and its people in an era of major political, social, and economic changes, and anybody interested in the 1980s in the UK will find plenty to enjoy and to make them think in this book. I know many writers find inspiration in images, and here they will have a field day. In case you want to get an idea of what type of images you might find in the book, you can check the Martin Jenkinson Image Library(here).

A fabulous book for lovers of photography with a social conscience, and for anybody interested in the recent history of Sheffield and of the UK in general.

Thanks to Rosie Croft and the team of Pen & Sword, thanks to the authors (and to Martin Jenkinson) for their great work, thanks to all of you for writing, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

 

 

 

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview A History of Women’s Lives in Eastbourne by Tina Brown (@penswordbooks) Informative, entertaining, inspiring, and part of an important series #UKHistory

Hi all:

I bring you a book for those of you interested in non-fiction and women’s history.

Cover of A History of Women's Lives in Eastbourne by Tina Brown
A History of Women’s Lives in Eastbourne by Tina Brown

A History of Women’s Lives in Eastbourne by Tina Brown

The south east coastal town of Eastbourne is probably best known today for being a popular seaside holiday resort, frequented by the retired generation. It has long, golden beaches and a gentile pace of life and, from that point of view, little has really changed from the mid 1850’s to today. However, for the women of the town and their advancements and achievements, a significant period was between 1850 and 1950, when changes in medicine, education, family life and the right to vote played an important part in their lives. The First and Second World Wars also brought about their own changes and challenges. A History of Women’s Lives in Eastbourne delves deep into these historical subjects and more.

Links:

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/A-History-of-Womens-Lives-in-Eastbourne-Paperback/p/15918

https://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Womens-Lives-Eastbourne/dp/1526716194/

https://www.amazon.com/History-Womens-Lives-Eastbourne/dp/1526716194/

https://www.amazon.es/History-Womens-Lives-Eastbourne/dp/1526716194/

About the author:

Tina Brown lives and works in East Sussex and runs a business researching and organising historical experiences and guided tours around the area. She has published numerous historical books on her home town of Hastings and is currently working on further titles. Tina is passionate about history and the social changes which have helped to shape how we live today. During the research for this book Tina has spoken with many people who were able to share stories handed down through their families and gather details of the lives of the women who made Eastbourne what is it today. Tina has visited locations, searched archives and interviewed people to try and gain an understanding of what life was like during 1850-1950 for the women of the town.

(Just to clarify matters, the author is not the same Tina Brown who has written about Princess Diana and lives in New York, because when I checked her name on Amazon the other author’s books also came up).

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

This book is one of a series about Women’s Lives, and I recommend you check Pen & Sword’s website if you are interested in a particular city or area, as a large number of books have already been published and you’re likely to find a relevant one (or one might be on the making). I had been intrigued by the collection for a while and finally requested this one because my first job as a junior doctor was in Eastbourne, East Sussex, in the South East of England, I remained in the area for quite a few years and although I visited museums and talked to people about the place, I didn’t learn much about the role of local women and their lives in the past.

Eastbourne felt quite different to what I was used to when I first moved there, with its gentile atmosphere, the seafront, the fancy (if somewhat old-fashioned) hotels, the Victorian pier, and the natural beauty of the Downs and Beachy Head. As the author explains in the description, the book centres on the lives of women from 1850 to 1950, and it also offers a brief but useful background into the history of the period. Although this will not cover new ground for history experts, it will help casual readers place the lives of these local women in context, and it contains gems specific to the local history and to the women´s social history, and it also incorporates previously unpublished personal accounts and those narrated by relatives and friends of women who had lived in the area.

The book is divided into an introduction, seven chapters, a brief bibliography (a good starting point but not too lengthy or detailed), a section of acknowledgments, and an index. The book also includes pictures and illustrations, some belonging to the personal archives of some of the women mentioned, and also postcards and landscapes of the area. I highlighted many details I found interesting as I read it, and I thought I’d share some of those to give you an idea of the kinds of things you might find in this book (and probably others in the series). Chapter One, Education and Professional Life includes, like other chapters, brief biographies of some local women (either women born in Eastbourne or who lived there for significant periods of time), such as Emily Phipps, who studied for the bar and later moved into teaching. She was said to live by this saying: ‘If you make yourself a doormat, do not be surprised if people tread on you’, and Rosalie Harvey, a medical missionary worker, who helped over 1500 sick people, many children and babies, and animals.

Chapter 2, Working Life, included a mention of the life of female smugglers in Eastbourne, the way the people from town helped families affected by WWI, and the touching story of a woman whose biological father was a Canadian soldier in WWII whom she never got to meet, who considered herself lucky because her mother’s husband (who was also a soldier and away for most of the war) accepted her as if she were his own child, and in fact she never discovered she wasn’t his until she was 22.  One of the biographies included in this chapter is that of writer and journalist Angela Carter, who was born in Eastbourne.

Chapter 3, Family Life: ‘Home Sweet Home’, highlights how society’s rules and political laws curtailed women’s freedom in all aspects of life, even when it came to dress and fashion. Getting a divorce was very difficult for women, even after changes in the law in the late 1850s and in the 1920s.  Having recently read a book about Lady Astor and her penchant for fashion, I found out in this chapter that Queen Victoria wore a headdress made of bird feathers in 1851 and that sprung a fashion (and resulted in the deaths of a very large number of birds). Reading about the change brought to the lives of women by a minor invention, such as the electric iron, made me reflect upon how hard tasks that might seem easy now were for our ancestors. This chapter also includes imaginative and resourceful war-time recipes, and it mentions the good reputation of Eastbourne schools and, in particular, Eastbourne College (a wonderful building I lived quite close to for a while).

Chapter 4, Quality of Life, talks about the changes brought by the NHS, efforts in welfare, and reforms to the workhouse, and the important role women played in those.

Chapter 5, Social Life, is one of my favourites, and includes some gems, such as the fact that nearby, in Bexhill-on-Sea (where I also worked) in 1901, male and female bathers were allowed to mix in the same beach for the first time. The chapter talks in detail about the Eastbourne Pier (I only knew some details of its history and had heard about the controversy caused by its recent refurbishment, but I haven’t seen it since, so I dare not comment); it also mentions the well-known female tennis tournament at Devonshire Park, and I was very taken by the brief biography of Emily Mary Shackleton, who moved to Eastbourne, and when her famous husband died during one of his expeditions, was left to fend for herself with a considerable debt to settle. She worked tirelessly for the Red Cross and became divisional commissioner for the Girl Guides of Eastbourne. The Luxor cinema was before my time, but from the description, I would love to have seen it, and it had a Compton Organ, a fantastic instrument I was lucky to get to hear at the Penistone Paramount (don’t miss it if you are anywhere near).

Chapter 6, Political Life, places an emphasis on the local suffragist movement and some of the women who took part, including some of their heart wrenching accounts of being imprisoned and going on hunger strike, the way the attempts at reforming gender discriminatory laws were received, the first women mayors of the area, and such puzzling things as the fact that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children wasn’t formed until 1891, almost seventy years after the formation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Chapter 7, Spiritual and Religious Life, talks not only about the churches in Eastbourne, how new denominations became more popular as time passed, and also how the churches started organising social events, clubs, and activities for all ages. This chapter also includes mentions of three ghosts: the redoubt fortress one, the one at Devonshire Park Theatre, and two nurse ghosts at the All Saints Hospital. I have heard about some of them, and considering the author has written books on that topic, I would take it on good authority.

I enjoyed the combination of general history with local events, the biographies of the local women, and, especially, the personal accounts of women who had lived in Eastbourne at the time and shared their experiences (or those passed on by their relatives) with the author. As I have said before, those are the kinds of details that help history come to life and make us understand what a period was truly like, not for politicians and royals, but for the people in the street.

As this is the first book I read in the series, I cannot compare it to others, and I know each one of the volumes is written by a local historian, so their approaches might be quite different. Mine was an early review copy, and I’m sure there will have been changes in the final version, but my only recommendation, based on the copy I had access to, would be to ensure that the biographies are clearly marked as separate from the rest of the text (by using a different type of letter or by encasing them in a box, for example), as currently they are interspersed with the rest of the content of the chapter, and it is not always easy to tell where one finishes and the other one starts again. Some of the topics overlap with each other and that makes the chapters perfect for reading independently, although it results in similar content being mentioned in several chapters when the book is read in one go, but I did not find this a major problem.

I enjoyed this book, which is informative, entertaining, and inspiring, and includes enough information about the general and social history of the period to be suitable for any readers, even those who don’t generally read history. At the same time it contains a wealth of information on the local history of women in Eastbourne, which will satisfy those trying to get a picture of the era, be it for personal interest, research, or as part of an ongoing project (Writers, I’m looking at you). I recommend this title to anybody interested in any of those aspects, and I will be checking other titles in the series.

Thanks to Rosie and the author, thanks to all of your for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

 

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview WHAT WOULD MRS. ASTOR DO?: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO THE MANNERS AND MORES OF THE GILDED AGE by Cecelia Tichi (@NYUpress) A solid reference book, easy to read, full of amusing information #socialhistory

Today I bring you a non-fiction book where, as they say, reality can be stranger (or more extreme) than fiction.

What Would Mrs. Astor Do?: The Essential Guide to the Manners and Mores of the Gilded Age by Cecelia Tichi.
What Would Mrs. Astor Do?: The Essential Guide to the Manners and Mores of the Gilded Age by Cecelia Tichi

What Would Mrs. Astor Do?: The Essential Guide to the Manners and Mores of the Gilded Age by Cecelia Tichi.

A richly illustrated romp with America’s Gilded Age leisure class—and those angling to join it 

Mark Twain called it the Gilded Age. Between 1870 and 1900, the United States’ population doubled, accompanied by an unparalleled industrial expansion, and an explosion of wealth unlike any the world had ever seen. America was the foremost nation of the world, and New York City was its beating heart. There, the richest and most influential—Thomas Edison, J. P. Morgan, Edith Wharton, the Vanderbilts, Andrew Carnegie, and more—became icons, whose comings and goings were breathlessly reported in the papers of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. It was a time of abundance, but also bitter rivalries, in work and play. The Old Money titans found themselves besieged by a vanguard of New Money interlopers eager to gain entrée into their world of formal balls, debutante parties, opera boxes, sailing regattas, and summer gatherings at Newport. Into this morass of money and desire stepped Caroline Astor.

Mrs. Astor, an Old Money heiress of the first order, became convinced that she was uniquely qualified to uphold the manners and mores of Gilded Age America. Wherever she went, Mrs. Astor made her judgments, dictating proper behavior and demeanor, men’s and women’s codes of dress, acceptable patterns of speech and movements of the body, and what and when to eat and drink. The ladies and gentlemen of high society took note. “What would Mrs. Astor do?” became the question every social climber sought to answer. And an invitation to her annual ball was a golden ticket into the ranks of New York’s upper crust. This work serves as a guide to manners as well as an insight to Mrs. Astor’s personal diary and address book, showing everything from the perfect table setting to the array of outfits the elite wore at the time. Channeling the queen of the Gilded Age herself, Cecelia Tichi paints a portrait of New York’s social elite, from the schools to which they sent their children, to their lavish mansions and even their reactions to the political and personal scandals of the day.

Ceceilia Tichi invites us on a beautifully illustrated tour of the Gilded Age, transporting readers to New York at its most fashionable. A colorful tapestry of fun facts and true tales, What Would Mrs. Astor Do?presents a vivid portrait of this remarkable time of social metamorphosis, starring Caroline Astor, the ultimate gatekeeper.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/What-Would-Mrs-Astor-Essential-ebook/dp/B07CG2TD3H/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/What-Would-Mrs-Astor-Essential-ebook/dp/B07CG2TD3H/

Editorial Reviews

“A new etiquette guide…has just turned up, offering further proof that sliding around the naughty edges of society can be as informative as it is entertaining.”-Alida Becker, The New York Times Books Review

“Tichi delivers a crisp survey of New York’s upper-class world in the late 19th century, using society maven Caroline Astor as the guide… Presented with a breezy authority that keeps the pages turning, Tichi’s book will captivate those interested in a light look at America’s fashionable gentry of eras past.”-Publishers Weekly

Author and Professor Cecelia Tichi
Author and Professor Cecelia Tichi

About the Author

Cecelia Tichi is William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English and American Studies at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of several novels and books, including Exposés and Excess: Muckraking in America, 1900-2000 (2004), Embodiment of a Nation: Human Form in American Spaces (2001), High Lonesome: The American Culture of Country Music (1994), and Civic Passions: Seven Who Launched Progressive America (And What They Can Teach Us) (2009).

https://as.vanderbilt.edu/english/bio/cecelia-tichi

My review:

Many thanks to NYU Press and Edelweiss for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I picked up this book because I was interested in the era, late XVIII and early XIX century, personally and also for research purposes, and although I had read fiction set in the period, I lacked a reference book that would provide me the data I needed and written in such a way that it could be read from cover to cover. I’m happy to say this book provides both, facts and amusing anecdotes, and it is easy to read.

Despite the title, the book does not focus excessively on Caroline Astor, although it is organised around her figure, and it follows her life, from birth to death. Caroline Astor was the glamorous centre of New York society in the Gilded Era, and there is much talk in the book about the four hundred, as that was supposed to be the number of select guests who were truly the movers and shakers of the time. But this is not an in-depth biography, far from it, and the true focus of the book is the social history of the period, as it pertains to the upper crust. Those were changing times, and new money was starting to push out the old but not-so-wealthy-any longer families, but money was not enough to gain Mrs Astor’s favour. Class, good breeding and good manners were fundamental.

The book is divided into a number of topics: millionaires’ row (about their houses and their servants), convenience or contraption  (about new inventions, such as elevators or the telephone), competitive consumption (shopping), best dressed (clothing), well behaved (etiquette), dinner is served (food and restaurants), the social set (with quite a few subdivisions, mostly about leisure time, including theatre, opera, riding and promenades, summer houses…), the sporting life (sports), getting there (transport), money talks (including popular and unpopular advice, Wall Street, schools and newspapers), the whiff of a scandal (you’ll easily guess this one: from divorce to famous scandals of the era), on the scene (about theatre figures of the era), muckrakers (investigative journalism of the time), and funerals. There are also illustrations (quite a few, although as mine was an ARC copy and not the final version, I am sure there will be even more available to readers of the published book), and a lengthy bibliography that will be helpful for those interesting in checking out the original sources.

The author often relies on sources of the period, including articles, books on etiquette and general advice, and also fiction writers of the era (Edith Wharton, who was related to Mrs Astor figures prominently), and uses their words to illustrate the topics, and that contributes to making us feel as we were there, experiencing the fabulous and incredibly excessive world of those people.

As I said before, the book is divided into topics, and I am sure everybody will be able to find something they are interested in. I was fascinated by many of the anecdotes and by the way this set of very powerful and wealthy individuals affected the world around them. Rich women went shopping but due to etiquette rules could not go to a restaurant unaccompanied by a man, and therefore the new department stores started having their own restaurants (soda fountains to begin with) catering to women, and that spread. As they liked to travel in luxurious surroundings, yachts and train compartments would be built to their standards, no matter the price. Their parties would cost the equivalent of millions of dollars today, and they could result in having a full hunting party inside of a restaurant, horses and all.

I was also surprised to learn about things like the importance of Elisha Graves Otis’s invention of a “safety hoister” that allowed for the creation of safe elevators, and with them, skyscrapers (and know I know who the Otis I see in the elevators was), about the newspaper wars in New York, about the different electricity companies and how they helped shape today’s world, the history of the Panama hat (which comes from Ecuador), and although I knew about the fashion for using bird feathers (and sometimes whole birds) to adorn women’s hats, I was horrified to learn that some five million birds were estimated to have been killed just for that purpose. Oh, and the fact that electric cars were recommended for women drivers, as they were easier to start (no crank) and more reliable. What happened there? (I guess oil companies’ interests have a lot to respond for).  There is also mention of philanthropic endeavours, although they all came with strings attached.

In sum, this is a solid reference book, easy to read and full of amusing information and anecdotes. I’m not sure it will break new ground for those already familiar with the topic, but it works well as a reference book for the era, and as a good starting point for further research.  A glimpse into a fascinating and at the same time horrifying era of excessive consumption, glamour, and the cult of influence. Although there are lessons to be learned, the book is not intended as a criticism or a warning tale, and that’s left to the readers’ own opinion.

Thanks to NYU Press, Edelweiss and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog ELEGANT ETIQUETTE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY by Mallory James A fascinating look into the past and a great source for writers and social history researchers

Hi all:

I bring you another one of my reviews of a non-fiction book that I found delightful. I must confess I am pleased I don’t have to live by these rules as I am sure I would have been totally useless and would have done all the wrong things. But reading about it is great fun!

Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James. Book review
Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James

Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to live in the nineteenth century? How would you have got a partner in a ballroom? What would you have done with a letter of introduction? And where would you have sat in a carriage? Covering all these nineteenth-century dilemmas and more, this book is your must-have guide to the etiquette of our well-heeled forebears. As it takes you through the intricacies of rank, the niceties of the street, the good conduct that was desired in the ballroom and the awkward blunders that a lady or gentleman would, of course, have wanted to avoid, you will discover an abundance of etiquette advice from across the century. Elegant Etiquette is a lively, occasionally tongue-in-cheek and thoroughly detailed history of nineteenth century manners and conduct. Drawing upon research into contemporary advice and guidance, Elegant Etiquette is both fun and compelling reading for anyone with an interest in this period. In exploring the expectations of behaviour and etiquette, it seeks to bring the world of the nineteenth century back to life.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1526705206/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B078KBBLBC/

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078KBBLBC/

Author Mallory James
Author Mallory James

About the Author

Mallory James read History and German at University College London, before moving to postgraduate study at Queen Mary, University of London. She has long been interested in the nineteenth century, which led to the creation of Behind The Past as a place to explore (in a generally tongue-in cheek-manner) the social and cultural history of the Regency and Victorian periods. The blog aims to look at the way ladies and gentlemen ate, dressed, behaved and generally navigated the social landscapes (and minefields) in which they lived.

Her first book, Elegant Etiquette in the Nineteenth Century, was published by Pen and Sword Books in November 2017.

https://behindthepast.com/

@_behindthepast

My review:

Thanks to Alex and the rest of the team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I am a big fan of Pen & Sword books and I have learned a lot on a variety of subjects thanks to their great selection, but I must admit to having a soft spot for social history. Although I love history books and have recently become keen on historical fiction, I think that social history helps us get a better sense of what life was like in the past, not only for the kings, aristocrats, and powerful people but also for the rest of the population. The everyday life of going around one’s usual business, talking to people, working, rarely makes it into the big books, but it is what life is truly about. And those are the details that bring the past to life. As I have mentioned in previous reviews, these books are also great to provide background to writers, filmmakers, and, in general, artists looking to create works set in a particular time in history, as it helps them gain a better understanding of what it would have been like to live then.

This particular volume is a delight. I have read a number of novels set in the era and watched uncountable movies and television series that take place in the XIX century as well, and although I thought I was familiar with the customs, social rules and mores of the time, I was surprised by how truly complicated following proper etiquette was. As the author often explains, rules were not set in stone and they changed throughout the century. What was a must at the beginning of the XIX century would have been out of fashion by the end, and rules were open to interpretation, as sometimes different sources offered completely different advice. Should you eat fish with a fork and bread, two forks, or a fork and a fish knife (the answer depends on at what point of the XIX century we were eating it)? Would it have been proper for you to introduce people you knew, or even greet people you met in the streets even if you had been introduced? What was the best time to go for a walk or to visit your acquaintances? What did it truly mean if somebody was ‘not at home’?

Such topics and many more are discussed in this short volume, and it makes for fascinating reading. The author is skilled at summarising the rules from a large variety of sources (there is a detailed bibliography at the end and footnotes to check where each point can be expanded on), and also at providing practical examples that help clarify matters like how would you address somebody you are introduced to, or in which order would guest enter the dining room. Her turn of phrase is particularly apt, as her own explanations and the quotes and references to texts blend seamlessly, and she manages to write clearly and engagingly in beautiful prose.

The tone of the book is light and there are funny moments, but there are also reminders of how different things were for those who had more serious concerns than following the rules of etiquette. The book includes 11 chapters that deal in a variety of topics, from rank, precedence and title, to what was considered good company, paying calls, dining, ballroom behaviour, conversation, and correspondence, how to treat the service, courtship, and it also offers hints for ladies and gentlemen. The book (I had access to the paperback copy but I know the pictures are available in the digital version as well) contains a number of plates that help illustrate the proper dress etiquette throughout the century for different occasions and there are also pictures of some of the fashion accessories of the period.

I had to share a couple of examples from the book, so you can get a feeling for the writing style and the type of advice it contains:

If a lady or gentleman was plagued by a person saluting them in the street who they did not like, who they did not want to call upon, and who they thought was taking a gross impertinence continually bowing to them, it was still better for the afflicted lady or gentleman to return the recognition. (For some reason, this brought to my mind the nodding bulldogs that used to grace the back windows of cars).

Talking about men’s fashion, the book has this to say:

Similarly, a gentleman would have been restrained in his use of personal ornamentation. After all, a gentleman was a gentleman, not a magpie hankering after shiny trinkets.

Although some of the rules contained in this book might seem too fussy and silly nowadays, there are some about listening to people and being respectful towards others, no matter what their social circumstances (in fact, being more polite and generous the more difficult things are for them) that will make readers nostalgic for those more gentile and kinder times. There are always things we can learn from the past and it is important to learn and remember.

Another great little volume from Pen & Sword and one that I particularly recommend to anybody interested in XIX century history, novels, movies set in the period, and to writers and creators looking for inspiration or researching that era. It is also a fun read for people that study social history or are interested in the origins of some of our customs and on how these have changed. Unmissable.

Thanks to Pen & Sword and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW! And keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview BAD GIRLS FROM HISTORY: WICKED OR MISUNDERSTOOD? by Dee Gordon (@penswordbooks) Brief biographies of fascinating women, ideal to dip in and be inspired to learn more. #Women’shistory

Hi all:

Now I’m getting behind not only with my reading but also with the posting of reviews (by the time you read this I might be publishing more reviews per week, to keep up), but that isn’t a bad thing, is it?

Bad Girls from History. Wicked or Misunderstood? By Dee Gordon
Bad Girls from History. Wicked or Misunderstood? By Dee Gordon

Bad Girls from History: Wicked or Misunderstood? By Dee Gordon

You won’t be familiar with every one of the huge array of women featured in these pages, but all, familiar or not, leave unanswered questions behind them. The range is extensive, as was the research, with its insight into the lives and minds of women in different centuries, different countries, with diverse cultures and backgrounds, from the poverty-stricken to royalty. Mistresses, murderers, smugglers, pirates, prostitutes, and fanatics with hearts and souls that feature every shade of black (and grey!). From Cleopatra to Ruth Ellis, from Boudicca to Bonnie Parker, from Lady Caroline Lamb to Moll Cutpurse, from Jezebel to Ava Gardner.

Less familiar names include Mary Jeffries, the Victorian brothel-keeper, Belle Starr, the American gambler, and horse thief, La Voisin, the seventeenth-century Queen of all Witches in France but these are random names, to illustrate the variety of the content in store for all those interested in women who defy law and order, for whatever reason.

The risqué, the adventurous and the outrageous, the downright nasty and the downright desperate all human (female!) life is here. From the lower strata of society to the aristocracy, class is not a common denominator. Wicked? Misunderstood? Nave? Foolish? Predatory? Manipulative? Or just out of their time? Read and decide.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bad-Girls-History-Wicked-Misunderstood-ebook/dp/B0772QGVDY/

https://www.amazon.com/Bad-Girls-History-Wicked-Misunderstood-ebook/dp/B0772QGVDY/

Author Dee Gordon
Author Dee Gordon

About the author:

Dee Gordon is passionate about her East End roots and about Southend on Sea, her home for thirty years. Both these passions are highlighted in her books about these areas, and she has been writing full time since selling her London-based recruitment business in 2000. The writing fits round her caring role (she has an adult autistic son who is deaf and has other disabilities) and the many talks she gives in the local community to raise money for local charities. For more info about Dee and her books visit www.deegordon-writer.com.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dee-Gordon/e/B0034OVLOS/

My review:

Thanks to Alex and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Although totally unplanned, I find myself writing this review on the International Women’s Day 2018. One can’t help but wonder about the title of the book, not so much the wicked or misunderstood part (some definitely seem to fall into one of the two categories, while many share characteristics of both, although that depends on the point of view), but the Bad Girls. In my opinion, it makes perfect sense for the argument of the book, as the expression bad woman has a certain meaning and connotations attached to it (very moralistic and misogynistic), while perhaps bad girl allows for a more playful and varied reading. And it has nothing to do with age (the catalogue of historical figures examined by the author includes a large number of women who died quite young, but there are others who lived to ripe old ages as well). It is, ultimately, a matter of self-definition. But I digress.

This book shares a collection of brief biographies (the vast majority are under a couple of pages long), of women, organised in a number of chapters that group women in several categories (although some overlap and the author has to make a choice as to which group a particular figure belongs to). These chapters are: 1) Courtesans and Mistresses; 2) Madams, Prostitutes, and Adulterers; 3) Serial Killers; 4) ‘One-Off’ Killers; 5) Gangsters, Thieves and Con-Artists; 6) The Rebel Collection – Pirates, Witches, Megalomaniacs, Exhibitionists. The book also contains a brief bibliography (I guess otherwise a second volume would have been necessary just to include all the sources), and there are pictures of the women (portraits, photographs, illustrations), and also documents, newspaper cuttings, letters…

Although I was familiar with quite a few of the women featured (in the case of Mata Hari, for example, I had read a book about her not long ago, although in many others I still discovered things I didn’t know) there were also quite a number that I had heard the names of but didn’t know much about, and others that were completely new to me. I have no doubt that most people reading this book will think about other women they would have added to the collection, but I would say all of the women included deserve to be there. This is not a judgment of character though, as that is not what this book is about. The author’s style is engaging and, despite the briefness of the vignettes, she manages to make these women compelling (and horrifying in some cases), and she is at pains to try and paint as balanced a picture as possible, rather than just present them according to the prevalent morality of their time. Reality and legend are sometimes difficult to tell apart, but the author, tries (and at times acknowledges defeat and provides the most interesting versions of a woman’s story available).

Among the many women in the book, I was particularly intrigued by Jane Digby (1807-1881), a lover of travel and an adventurer who also had a talent for choosing interesting men, Enriqueta Martí (1868-1913), who lived in Barcelona and who, according to recent research might not have been guilty of the horrific crimes she was accused of (I won’t talk about it in detail, but let’s say that, if it was true, she was not called The Vampire of Barcelona for nothing), Princess Caraboo (aka Mary Baker: 1791-1864), who knew how to come up with a good story, or Georgia Tann (1891-1950), that I felt intrigued by when I read that Joan Crawford (who has featured in one of my recent reads) had been one of her clients. But there are many others, and of course, this is a book that will inspire readers to do further research and look into the lives of some of these women (or even write about them).

The women in each chapter are organised in alphabetical order, and that means we jump from historical period to historical period, backward and forward, but there is enough information to allow us to get a sense of how society saw these women and how class, patronage, social status, money… influenced the way they were treated. There are personal comments by the author, but she is non-judgemental and it is impossible to read this book, especially some of the chapters, without thinking about the lot of women, about how times have changed (but not as much as we would like to think, as evidenced by recent developments and campaigns), and about how behaviours that from a modern perspective might show strength of character, intelligence, and independence, at the time could condemn a woman in the eyes of society, ruining her reputation and/or destroying her life.

A book to dip in to learn about social history and the role of women, and also one that will inspire readers to read more about some of these women (and others) that, for better or worse, have left a mark. A great starting point for further research into the topic, and a book that will make us reflect about the role of women then and now.

Thanks to Pen & Sword and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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#Bookreview LIFE ON THE VICTORIAN STAGE: THEATRICAL GOSSIP by Nell Darby (@nelldarby) A great resource for writers of historical fiction, historians, and people who love social history and the Victorian period #History #Victorianera

Hi all:

Today I bring another non-fiction book, and one of those that I think will be of particular interest to writers and historians (well, and to all of us who like gossip and enjoy the theatre). Here it is:

Life on the Victorian Stage: Theatrical Gossip by Nell Darby
Life on the Victorian Stage: Theatrical Gossip by Nell Darby

Life on the Victorian Stage: Theatrical Gossip by Nell Darby.

The expansion of the press in Victorian Britain meant more pages to be filled, and more stories to be found. Life on the Victorian Stage: Theatrical Gossip looks at how the everyday lives of Victorian performers and managers were used for such a purpose, with the British newspapers covering the good, the bad and the ugly side of life on the stage during the nineteenth century. Viewed through the prism of Victorian newspapers, and in particular, through their gossip columns, this book looks at the perils facing actors from financial disasters or insecurity to stalking, from libel cases to criminal trials and offers an alternative view of the Victorian theatrical profession.

This thoroughly researched and entertaining study looks at how the Victorian press covered the theatrical profession and, in particular, how it covered the misfortunes actors faced. It shows how the development of gossip columns and papers specializing in theater coverage enabled fans to gain an insight into their favorite performers’ lives that broke down the public-private divide of the stage and helped to create a very modern celebrity culture.

The book looks at how technological developments enabled the press to expose the behavior of actors overseas, such as when actor Fred Solomon’s’ bigamy in America was revealed. It looks at the pressures facing actors, which could lead to suicide, and the impact of the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act on what the newspapers covered, with theatrical divorce cases coming to form a significant part of their coverage in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Other major events, from theater disasters to the murder of actor William Terriss, are explored within the context of press reportage and its impact. The lives of those in the theatrical profession are put into their wider social context to explore how they lived, and how they were perceived by press and public in Victorian Britain.

https://www.amazon.com/Life-Victorian-Stage-Theatrical-Gossip-ebook/dp/B074P6BRCN/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Victorian-Stage-Theatrical-Gossip-ebook/dp/B074P6BRCN/

Author Nell Darby
Author Nell Darby

About the author:

In her blog, she tells us:

I am a criminal historian and freelance writer. I have a PhD in the history of crime, and also write the Criminal Historian blog.

I currently work as the editor of Your Family History magazine – you can read a bit more about my role here – and also have a monthly history column in the Stratford Heraldnewspaper. I have written for many other publications, including The GuardianOxford TimesWho Do You Think You Are?Real CrimeAll About HistoryDiscover Your Ancestors, and Runner’s World. During my PhD, I was also employed as a fact-checker for BBC History magazine, and its website, History Extra.

I have appeared on BBC Radio Oxford and BBC Radio Gloucestershire, talking about criminal history, have been interviewed by BBC Derby about Victorian mugshots, and have also been interviewed for the Who Do You Think You Are? podcast. I also review books for magazines and academic journals, including  The London JournalJournal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and Archives & Records.

I am the author of two books on the history of crime – Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in the Cotswolds (Pen & Sword, 2009), and Olde Cotswold Punishments (The History Press, 2011). My latest book, Life On The Victorian Stage, was published by Pen & Sword in August 2017.

I have just completed a four year term as a member of The National Archives‘ User Advisory Group, which I’ve written about here. I am also a member of both the Royal Historical Society and the Society for Theatre Research.

 

My review:

Thanks to Alex from Pen & Sword for providing me with a review paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

If you have been following my reviews for some time, you will be aware that I have read a number of the historical books published by Pen & Sword. I tend to be more interested in social history and how historical changes affected the lives of those who don’t always figure in the big History treatises. Being a lover of plays and a kin theatregoer, I was very curious about this book. Yes, theatre gossip was intriguing, but getting a sense of what life on the Victorian stage must have been like was my main interest. Although sometimes we discover that life has changed dramatically in a reasonably short period of times, some things do not seem to change much. And human curiosity and the love of gossip are among those things. If Victorians had no access to social media, there were plenty of newspapers and periodicals to keep them entertained, and actors were as much a subject of interest then as they are now.

The author does not follow a narrative or chooses a few big cases in this book, but rather illustrates the sheer amount of theatrical news that occupied the Victorian press of the time, not only in London but also in the provinces. As communications improved, newspapers even started featuring stories about actors in America (either natives or British authors touring there) and although sometimes the features lacked in detail (in some cases a suicide or a death would not feature the name of those involved) they were always after items that would attract the public’s attention. Darby divides the book into three parts: Part 1 deals with the business side of things (including such matters as licenses, libel, bankruptcy, breach of contract…), Part 2 looks at criminal lives (from blackmail and assault to prostitution and murder), and Part 3 delves into the personal lives of the actors (what we would probably consider gossip proper, although not all of it is gossip. The chapter on death and disaster deals with serious matter and also makes us look at security measures and disasters in theatres, bigamy seems to have been much more common than it is today, and personally I was fascinated by the chapter on breaches of promise, as I had not realise that there were laws that offered more protection to women in those circumstances than I would have expected).  Each chapter shares both, examples of standard cases of what would usually find its way into the newspapers (brief pieces with hardly any detail) and it dedicates more space to others that were better known, but no single case gets all the limelight. In many ways, this book is like a sampler, where people interested in the subject can learn more and be pointed in the right direction to research further.

The author’s style of writing is direct, and mostly allows the sources to do the talking. She provides sufficient background (on legal matters, the nature of performances, technical issues…) for readers to appreciate the items she discusses, and also some reflections on her own take on the materials. She notes how some periodicals, like The Era, were in a double-bind of sorts, as they tried hard to defend the profession of acting on the stage (that had a pretty bad reputation, especially in the case of women), insisting that actors were honourable and true professionals, whilst at the same time featured “sensational” news to attract readers. Although these days respectability is not a concept many people are worried about, it is true that the press has a hard time trying to reconcile the ideal of protectors of the truth, whilst fighting to keep the attention of the public by any means necessary. Is it possible to keep the moral high ground whilst publishing gossip and innuendo?

Although this is not, perhaps, a book for the general reading public, as I read I kept thinking about how useful this book would be to writers of historical fiction interested in the period (and not only for those considering using a theatrical background in their story but also for those thinking about the press of the time and even society at large) and to historians. Darby provides end notes full of details, both of the sources of her research and also of further information available. Although she mostly uses newspapers, she digs on the archives to confirm details such as names (as many actors and actresses used stage names and some of those were fairly popular) and discovers that Mark Twain wasn’t the only one whose death had been grossly exaggerated (deaths, marriages… were often misreported). The paperback also contains pictures that allow us to put faces to some of the names and help transport us to the era.

In sum, this is a book that will greatly assist writers, historians, and people passionate about the Victorian era and the history of the stage in the UK. It is a good starting point for those who want a general view of the topic and/or are looking for inspiration for their next story or research project. And if you just want to confirm that people’s love for gossip about the stars has not changed over the years, this is your book. (Oh, and I’m pretty intrigued about the writer too. I think she is somebody writers of historical crime novels might want to follow closely).

Thanks to Pen & Sword and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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