Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Class and Gender in the Victorian Era, with Elizabeth Varadan

My love for history began with reading historical romance novels in high school. For one thing, I could find out, through novels, what the women were doing throughout history. (Textbooks seemed to dwell on wars and the generals who fought them.) Now I love to write fiction based in historical times. Historical fiction, I believe, makes history come alive in a way that mere facts cannot.

I’ve also been a Sherlock Holmes fan for years, so when a visit to the Sherlock Holmes museum sparked the kernel of a story idea, it became an opportunity to both indulge my love of research and to re-read my favorite Sherlock mysteries.

As a former teacher, I was especially interested in how educational opportunities differed by class and gender in the Victorian era.

In my book, Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, Rusty, a street urchin, comes from a poor family. His father is dead, his mother is ill and cannot work, and Rusty is forced to scavenge whatever jobs he can. Before his father died, he would have attended one of the day schools, probably a “Ragged” school, where he would have learned, basically, the “three R’s”, mostly by rote, as well as religious instruction, usually from an unmarried “spinster”. In 1870, children were supposed to attend a weekday school from ages 5 to 10, but attendance wouldn’t have been enforced the way it is today.

Imogene, by contrast, the daughter of a banker, is schooled at home by a governess – which isn’t as privileged as it sounds. Girls were not expected to be well educated. Imogene would have been taught music, perhaps French, embroidery, handwriting, a bit of math, depending on the governess – usually an unmarried woman from a similar “privileged” background. (Because of England’s inheritance laws, sons became heirs, while daughters were groomed to marry. If they didn’t, they usually ended up caretaking elderly parents or teaching.)

On the other hand, Perry, one of Imogene’s obnoxious wealthy cousins, will start out with a governess but go on to a public boarding school like Eaton or Rugby, study classics and sports, and maybe go on to university and whatever opportunities await beyond.

Rich or poor, in Victorian times, the trajectory of ones place in life was rigidly circumscribed. In Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, Imogene is already rebelling in her friendship with Rusty and by her desire to become a detective someday like Sherlock Holmes.

Information Sources:
Regina Jeffers’s Blog Post: The Nineteenth CenturyEducational System 

A Few Novels for Children by English Victorian Authors:
Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell
Tom Brown’s School Days, by Thomas Hughes
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
A Little Princess, by Francis Hodgson Burnett

Some Excellent Contemporary MG Novels set in Victorian England:
Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes mystery series, featuring a
            Fictional younger sister of Sherlock Holmes
Splendors & Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz
Christopher Edge’s Penny Dreadful series
The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel,
   by Deborah Hopkinson

Guest blogger Elizabeth Varadan is the author of Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls: A day after Imogene’s obnoxious step-cousins pay a visit, her mother’s pearls go missing. When Sherlock Holmes is called in, Imogene, harboring a secret desire to become a detective, sees her chance to learn from the great Mr. Holmes. Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls can be pre-ordered at Amazon or Book Depository 

Connect with Elizabeth Varadan:

Twitter: @4thWishVaradan

1 comment:

  1. I love the premise of a young girl wanting to be a detective in Victorian days. I'll have to read your book.