Review: Vile Victorians by Terry Deary

Title: Vile Victorians

Author: Terry Deary

Illustrator: Martin Brown

Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Children’s Books, Humour

First Published in 1994

Year of Publication of this Edition: 2011

Publisher: Scholastic Non-Fiction

Collection: Horrible Histories

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Of all the Horrible Histories books I own, I was mostly excited to read Vile Victorians because some of my favourite writers belong to this period and because the 19th century is fascinating to me. With these ideas in mind and with child-like anticipation, I picked up Terry Deary’s book hoping to learn new and disgusting things that happened during Queen Victoria’s reign.

 In the Introduction, Terry Deary writes that there are two kinds of histories: the horrible history and the glorious history. It really depends on the teacher if one chooses to relate the truth about that certain period or one is carried away by the great deeds of the remarkable people from the past. Also, the author warns the reader that this book is not suited for sensitive persons; therefore: “If you have a weak stomach then don’t read it or, if you have to read it, then read it with your eyes closed.” (Loc. 27) Now, this is the funniest disclaimer I’ve ever read. However, I think that such a warning would have been necessary before the first chapter of Horrible Histories Gruesome Guide: London too because that book really grossed me out.

The Vile Victorians’ timeline stretches from Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1837 to her death in 1902 and the author highlights the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of this historical era. In this book, you will read about: Queen Victoria, Victorian childhood and its hardships, Victorian schools, games, Victorian literature, aspects of Victorian life (towns, work and funerals), strange food, Victorian army, villains and so on.

Although I was very excited to read this book, it didn’t impress me as much as I’ve expected to because I already knew some of the information about Victorian Britain from the Horrible Histories TV show I watched a few years ago. Indeed, there are a lot of shocking facts that you probably didn’t know and some are very hard to believe, but if you read at least one of Charles Dickens’s novels, you will notice how hard life was for the poor and for the children living in London and in other parts of Britain. Small kids were forced to work in warehouses or in mines for many hours, putting their health at risk and their lives in danger for very few money. On the other hand, Victorian schools weren’t any better either, because teachers were very harsh and the pupils were usually punished for insignificant reasons. Another topic I’ve found both interesting and sad was the way girls were selected to become maids in the Victorian household and the schedule a maid had from the moment she was awake to her bedtime.

Besides Terry Deary’s jovial and witty style, I enjoyed the way he mocks writers playwright and poet for the excessive melodrama found in their works and he also gives some examples, including a small excerpt from Dickens’ novel The Old Curiosity Shop. There are also a few stories that will break your heart and question the sanity of adults and human nature in general.

In the end, Terry Deary concludes that the Victorian age wasn’t overall that bad because Britain had electricity and cars at the turn of the century. The author believes that the following quote from A Tale of Two Cities would have described Victorian Britain perfectly, not only France and its tumultuous Revolution: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”(Loc. 1300)

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