- E. Nesbit’s voluminous output, including her children’s books, provide a detailed picture of middle class late Victorian and early Edwardian life, from popular slang (brekkers, anyone?) right down to the colours of the forms that various tradesmen use.
Finding neglected classics
Here are a few ideas – please share your own!
- Follow leads in the ‘standard’ classics: what is the hero or heroine reading? I used Northanger Abbey as the starting point for my foray into popular gothic novels – Jane Austen makes fun of Catherine’s addiction to The Monk by Henry Lewis and The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, for example. The heroine of Udolpho, in turn, I discovered, fortifies her character through a regimen of ‘good’ reading, and so the trail goes on...
- Check out the advertisements and previews in those musty, second hand books on your shelves.
- Check local history societies or the shops of stately/historic homes, National Trust shops etc. for local autobiographies. Again, you’ll get insights into everyday life. An example that sticks in my mind is A Kingston Lacy Childhood, the recollections of Viola Bankes, of the upper class Bankes family of Dorset. When Viola’s father died, she was told for years that he was working abroad, and only found out the truth through the mistake of a servant!
- If you’re fortunate enough to live near a major, older library, peruse their older catalogues for the period you’re writing in (this brings back memories of many happy hours in Cambridge libraries).