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Featured Books and DVDs: The Victorian Era 

Posted on by Amanda Alexander

The origins of the modern lending library can be traced back to Victorian era in the United Kingdom (~1820-~1914), during which time booksellers began offering book rentals. Soon circulating or subscription libraries began to pop up, allowing families to borrow one volume at a time for an annual fee that was less than the price of purchasing one book. While today’s libraries do much more than book lending, the impact of the earliest circulating libraries – which greatly improved access to knowledge for an increased population – still resonates today, particularly here at the Penn Libraries, where we seek to advance information access by opening scholarship and resources to expansive audiences. 

January’s Featured Books and DVDs are the brainchild of Florrie Marks, Music Library Administrative Assistant, a lifelong fan of Victorian era composing duo Gilbert and Sullivan. “Gilbert and Sullivan has been a cradle-to-grave love affair for me, and I have music directed all 14 of their comic operas, written from 1871-1896,” Marks says. “Gilbert’s libretti satirize universal, timeless themes, and Sullivan’s music pairs perfectly with the lyrics and allows the humor to shine; indeed, the two collaborators brought out the best in each other. London's Savoy Theatre, built specifically for them in 1881, is still going strong. My love of Gilbert and Sullivan led to my general appreciation of the Victorian era.” 

This month’s Featured Books and DVDs will transport you to that era through food, music, and of course, stories. The book selections go beyond the Victorian Era classics we all know, and include texts by residents of British colonies at the time, including Jamaica and India, as well as contemporary works that explore the society, famous crimes, and even recipes from Victorian England. Meanwhile, check out one of the Featured DVDs to learn more about the woman for whom the era is named, to enjoy retellings of classic novels, and to see Gilbert and Sullivan performances come to life.  

After you get a taste of Victorian life through one of the following great period books and DVDs, you can also learn more about everyday life in Victorian England through one of the Penn Libraries’ databases, where you can scan and review rare materials. 

You can find all of this month’s Featured Books and DVDs on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They can also be ordered through the Books by Mail service, for College House delivery, or for no-contact pickup through the self-service lockers. 

Books 

Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography by Michael Ainger 

A biography about the famous and successful collaborators, for whose works London's Savoy Theatre was built. 

Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands by Mary Seacole 

Mary Seacole, a self-described “female Ulysses” from Jamaica, recorded an engaging memoir of her 19th-century travels and exploits. After her offers to nurse the sick and wounded were rebuffed during the Crimean War, she traveled to the war zone independently to provide succor to ailing soldiers while bearing witness to battlefield horrors. 

Murder by the Book: A Sensational Chapter in Victorian Crime by Claire Harman 

A behind-the-scenes look at an infamous trial in Dickens-era London, which focused on a novel that was said to have inspired a gruesome murder. 

The Topsy Turvy World of Gilbert and Sullivan by Keith Dockray and Alan Sutton 

An exploration of the way Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas satirized legal, military, political, and societal aspects of Victorian society. Includes background information on many key people of the era. 

Sāvitrībāī Phule, Samagra Vāṅmaya by Sāvitrībāī Phule 

Born in Maharashtra, India in 1831, Phule was an educator and social reformer as well as a prolific writer. This volume contains her poetry and other works in Marathi. 

The Face in the Glass and Other Gothic Tales by Mary Elizabeth Braddon 

A collection of deliciously dark Gothic tales from Mary Elizabeth Braddon, the Victorian Era’s “Queen of Sensation.” 

Empire of the Song: Victorian Songs & Music by Olivia Bailey 

This illustrated book covers many types of popular Victorian music, including dances, music halls, opera, songs, concerts, brass bands, and more. Check out the accompanying CD in the Ormandy Music and Media Center. 

Slum Travelers: Ladies and London Poverty, 1860-1920 edited with introductions by Ellen Ross 

A collection of writings by “lady visitors” — upper-class women who ventured into London’s poorest districts to help the poor. Annie Besant and Dorothy Tennant are among the eminent Victorians included in this volume. 

Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan by Toru Dutt 

This volume of delicately rendered poems represents an extraordinary achievement for a young Bengali woman in British India. It was published a few years after Dutt’s death at the age of 21. 

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold 

The author’s focus is not on the notorious murders of the “canonical five” but on their lives. If you’ve ever wondered how easy it was to drown in the depths of poverty and despair in Victorian London, this is the book for you. 

Dinner with Dickens: Recipes Inspired by the Life and Work of Charles Dickens by Pen Vogler 

You may not associate Dickens' work with "warm and cozy" — but these scrumptious recipes will change your mind! Vogler’s recipes are updated to enable readers to recreate Victorian classics like mutton stuffed with oysters, dandelion sandwiches, and Leicestershire pork pie. 

Gilbert and Sullivan’s London by Andrew Goodman 

A guidebook taking us to the places associated with Gilbert and Sullivan in and around 19th century London. 

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