Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Book Review: Dining with the Victorians by Emma Kay

Title: Dining with the Victorians
Author: Emma Kay
Publisher: Amberley Publishing
Publication Date: 2014 (2015)
Pages: 272
Format: Hardback
Genre: Non-Fiction/History/Food
Source: Xmas Gift

From traditional seaside holiday treats like candy floss, ice cream and fish & chips, to the British fascination for cooking and baking, the Victorian era is one that has shaped British culinary heritage. Victoria's austere attitude after an age of Regency indulgence generated enormous cultural change. Excess and gluttony were replaced with rigid tradition and morally upright values, and Victoria's large family became the centre of the cultural imagination, with the power to begin new traditions. If Queen Victoria's family sat down to turkey on Christmas day, so did the rest of the nation. Emma Kay explores how the wide class divide in the Victorian era created a gulf in the food world. The more destitute would be fed gruel in the workhouses, and the alternative street diet sparked a whole new workforce of 'mudlarks', trotter boilers, food slop traders and sewer 'toshers', to name but a few. Imagine Glastonbury food sellers operating in the porta-loo section, and this might go some way to describing the scene. Wealthy Victorians feasted to excess, but they also struggled with the antithesis of this, with their belief that the control and denial of food were akin to healthy, moral values. Food was a significant part of the Victorians' lives, whether they had too much of it or not enough. The resounding words of Dickens's Oliver with an empty bowl of gruel come to mind: 'Please, sir, I want some more'. Journey through Britain's food history with Emma Kay, and discover the fascinating, gruesome and wonderful culinary traditions of the Victorians. (Goodreads Synopsis)

I loved the idea behind Dining with the Victorians, and the book was full of interesting information and anecdotes. However, I was disappointed with the quality of the editing. A few typos slip through in all books, but there were a number of grammatical problems in the prose, including some sentences that simply didn't make sense or meant something other than what the author intended. For example, at one point the author wished to say that lack of birth control meant that many children grew up in large family units. However, the sentence, taken as written, said that lack of birth control meant that children were large. The irritation this bad editing caused did spoil my overall appreciation of the book, even though in general I liked it. I would recommend it to casual history lovers, but it's probably not one for the scholars. I give it three stars for the interesting concept.

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