In this deceptively thin volume Kristine Hughes has created a work full of the intimate and sometimes overlooked details of everyday life in these periods. Structured around three key focus points – everyday life, government, war and the economy and society – Hughes has used The Writer’s Guide to delve into the streets, homes and finances of our ancestors and bring their experiences back to life.
For that reason, although it is titled The Writer’s Guide it is brilliant reading for anyone with an interest in these periods of history. Although full of daily realities that will lend authenticity to the work of a novelist of these eras, The Writer’s Guide will also add another layer of knowledge and nuance to a historian’s understanding and interpretation. A more ‘standard’ work of popular, or academic, history would perhaps not provide such an insight into real, lived experience in such a clearly laid out and comprehensive manner.
However, the size of this book is perhaps its downfall. Even with so many interesting details, it cannot help but to fall short on itself. With such a wide timeframe to cover – over two periods which saw significant political, cultural, social and economic change – it is more of a whirlwind tour, a brief overview, than a definitive guide. One can’t help but be left feeling that there is more to be said. So, why The Writer’s Guide is certainly full of useful observations, it is more of a starting point for readers and writers than an exhaustive guide. Though I freely admit that this may well be a matter of perception on my part – I found this book so interesting that I was disappointed to finish it. Perhaps, then, I am bound to claim it was not long enough.
Yet the bibliography at the end of each chapter does help to make up for any perceived deficiency in content. It is as though each chapter provides an introduction – whets the appetite, so to speak – enabling the reader to later go back to the things that interested them the most and begin planning the next stage of their reading and research.
In short, The Writer’s Guide will most certainly live up to its marketing tagline as a ‘timesaving reference book’. From the timeframe of mourning to pattern of the daily milk round(s), this work will allow any aspiring writer or history enthusiast to get a real feel for how people lived, ate, socialised, courted, married and much more.
Hughes, Kristine, The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England From 1811-1901, (Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1998).