Hutchinson 2002. ISBN 0-09-179421-8

Wilson's book is an enjoyable romp through Queen Victoria's reign in 19th Century Great Britain with a great feeling for the time and place.

Parts of society come to life whether he is describing the undoubted love of Victoria for Prince Albert or the Chartists being photographed congregating on Kennington Green. He uses writers and artists such as Dickens, Kipling and Beardsley to depict the cross currents in the cities, country and empire as urban workers, rural squires, aristocrats, politicians and industrialists struggle to resist / adapt to / make sense of the enormous consequences of the Industrial Revolution.

A possible flaw or strength of the book, depending on ones opinion, is the heavy influence of Wilson's own politics on the text.

He approvingly quotes Lord Ashley, talking about his ancestral village in Dorset; "What a picture contrasted with a factory district, a people known and cared for, a people born and trained on the estate, exhibiting towards its hereditary possessors both deference and sympathy, affectionate respect and a species of allegiance demanding protection and repaying it in duty."

Wilson himself says,".. my dream of being a country parson... How one longs to be in that photograph taken on an Autumn day in 1882...". He sympathies clearly lie with Dicken's Pickwick in his nostalgia for an idealized pre industrial (feudal?) rural England.

He goes on to shortchange the actual innovation underlying the industrial revolution. Nothing is said about the inventors or technologists and the northern manufacturers are mostly discussed with regard to labour conditions. Strangely, in the age of engineering, the greatest engineer of them all, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, doesn't even appear in the index.

Neverthless the flux of new ideas is there and they constitute a road of no return. After Lyell's "Principles of Geology" and Darwin's " On the Origin of Species" became mainstream thinking, religious belief was profoundly shaken and the world would not be the same again.

He covers this aspect well and shows how


Darwinism became a phenomenon of the 1850's.

Wilson's dislike of commerce and industry causes him to shoehorn the whole question into an awkward Capitalist / Proletariat format. He suggests that a workers revolution should have done away with it all and expresses surprise that it never happened. Appealing to Wordsworth for assistance, he says, "With a profound gift for foresight, he (Wordsworth) saw that the growth of the free market, far from promoting liberty would in fact enslave". He asks whether the word "individual" can exist in the "capitalist jungle".

But then he switches to acceptance, quoting Herbert Macluhan, "It is useless to rail against capitalism. Capitalism did not create our world; the machine did."

He describes at length the social injustices of the Industrial Revolution all the while wishing it away. The British Empire is treated in the same way, most unfairly being described as a license to loot and murder.

However, the truth does tend to slip out. Speaking of Kipling and his evocation of Indian life in the novel "Kim" he comments that, "In Kim everyone takes multiculturalism, and the Raj, for granted. India and Pakistan over the last 50 years have not offered the world a very perfect model of mutual tolerance."

And more fundamentally, towards the end of the book; "The Harmsworth family........ exemplifies the difficulty of defining the nature of social and political change in terms which would make sense to Karl Marx or to Sidney and Beatrice Webb.The aristocratic world and its ethos of accepted deference, were done away with less by trade unions or striking dockers than by the acre upon acre, square mile upon square mile of perky, self-sufficient suburbanites who could happily get through life without once meeting a squire or a lord, still less having to doff their caps........ ........Now, the politicians have to woo the petite bourgeoisie and not lord it over them."

These suburbanite Daily Mail readers, characterized as "Carrie and Charles Pooter" appear from nowhere in the book and obviously don't appeal to him, but at least he does introduce them.

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