People’s lives, Lewis. People’s lives. And loves.Inspector Morse, ‘The Wolvercote Tongue’
This long-awaited ‘book of the blog’ by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden focuses on the human foibles and astonishing life stories of a selection of 18th-century people. The writing duo, who are a major presence in the online Georgian world (their website is heading for a million hits and they command a combined Twitter following of 8,000), describe themselves as ‘Super Sleuths who blog about anything and everything to do with the Georgian Era’. If there is something to find out, any nugget of interesting information, they will winkle it out. Their other hat is ‘Genealogists’ so they are able to dig deep into the family backgrounds of their subjects.
Here you will find the famous – the Prince Regent makes several appearances in the micro-biographies – and those who have since fallen into obscurity. Thank you, Joanne and Sarah, for telling me about Elizabeth Calloway, who was prosecuted for arson when her brandy-shop-cum-lodging-house in Cecil Court, off St Martin’s Lane, caught fire; the zebra who became a wedding present to Queen Charlotte; the imposter ‘Lady Wilbrahammon’; Caroline Herschel, astronomer; the former ploughboy John Streeter, whose windmill once stood on the seafront near Regency Square. I loved them all.
For this new book the authors have leant towards the stories of women (their previous three titles have been biographies of women), but not to the exclusion of men. But even here, the women take centre stage. The chapter on Georgian botanist (and undeniable hottie) Sir Joseph Banks looks at the string of broken relationships he left in his wake before he settled down into marriage; that on William Millard, the former superintendent of the anatomy theatre at St Thomas’s Hospital found in possession of a female corpse and sent to prison for bodysnatching, tells the story of how his reputation was defended by his widow Ann. As a writer about women myself, I am all for this. Women and their lives, whether extraordinary as many in this book or mundane, have for too long been cast aside as mere adjuncts to the main action.
This is a good-size hardback (16.5 x 24cm), well produced, with over 100 stunning full-colour illustrations, many of them full-page. I particularly loved the depiction of a fleet of oxen moving the above-mentioned windmill to its new home, William Herschel’s telescopes, and the many caricatures and portraits. As on the blog, the writing style is jaunty and fun, at times a little arch in an 18th-century style. It’s a flowing, easy and enjoyable read, and would make a fantastic gift for lovers of popular history or an entry point into the Georgian world.
Pen & Sword provided me with a review copy of this book, for which I thank them.
All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century
Joanne Major and Sarah Murden
Pen & Sword (2019)