One of the many things I love about the Victorians is their insatiable inquisitiveness. This is exemplified in Victorian Curiosities, a collection of stray facts and figures whose charm lies in its total unpredictability. It is based on Don Lemon’s 1890 Everybody’s Scrapbook of Curious Facts and has been enhanced by a selection of contemporary (and often hilarious) illustrations.
Among the advice dispensed is ‘When to Pare the Finger Nails’, ‘How to Tell a Person’s Age’, and how to chose a wife, based on the month in which she was born. Apparently, women born in November are “liberal, kind, and of a mild disposition.” Spot on!
More profound are the entries on methods of dispatching criminals around the world and popular embalming techniques, along with many more on scientific questions of the day.
My favourite entry is ‘Newspaper Names in the Far West’, which include the Cinamon Herald and Kansas Sod House and the Astonisher and Paralyzer (surely the model for some of our tabloids).
Although perhaps the perfect book for the smallest room in the house, this is actually my first ebook-only edition, one of three out-of-print titles that I shall be resurrecting this year. The other two are Helen Rappaport’s No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War and Jenny Bourne Taylor’s In the Secret Theatre of Home, a seminal study of Wilkie Collins’s fiction. More news soon.