Mini Review: The Victorian City by Judith Flanders

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

A work of nonfiction written by Judith Flanders and read by Corrie James, The Victorian City: Everday Life in Dickens’ London looks at Victorian London bit by bit, e.g. creating roads, getting around on roads, trains, the market, street sellers, slums, water quality, etc. I prefer this over chronological descriptions, as I can see a progression for each element of the city. While Corrie James reads beautifully and clearly in her British accent, the content is a harsh contrast: the Thames is basically a turd canal; if you’re loved one died and you wanted her 6 feet under, the cemetery might dig up some other corpses stacked bunk bed-style, chop them up with spades, throw their pieces on the ground, cover the pieces with boards that new mourners stand on during your loved one’s funeral, and afterward throw the pieces back in the hole on top of the fresh corpse; and by chapter 9 we’ve had four Cholera outbreaks (thanks, poop water). There’s a lot about poop.

Happily, part three is entitled “ENJOYING LIFE,” so I was relieved, but the first chapter was “1867: The Regent’s Park Skating Disaster” during which forty people died while ice skating. Okay, it’s not a pleasant book to listen to, but I maintained loads of details, and Judith Flanders ties in examples from Dickens’s work that demonstrates he not only wrote fiction, but was practically London’s biographer. Unfortunately, more people seemed to think like Scrooge about social welfare in the 19th century. An interesting, informative book especially aimed at Dickens readers. I would recommend the audio book and check in occasionally on the physical copy to see poems, lists, and images.


  1. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners by Therese Oneill. Factual information about that time period but written in a humorous manner and mostly has do due with life as a woman then. Definitely going to be more about poop. 😉


    • Oh, how exciting! Thanks! There never seems to be much about women in the history books I read because men are the ones doing, building, ruling, etc. I mean, very little is said about women in Flanders’s book, and sadly I didn’t realize that until I read this comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting. I’ve never tried a non-fiction audio book, and my husband doesn’t think he’d be able to follow one like a fiction book, but I would read the book version! Lots of yuckiness, the maps of those times, showing cholera and the like, are always shocking.


    • Honestly, I think nonfiction works are easier to follow with audio because I’m worried with fiction that if I miss any little thing, I’ve missed something pivotal. In nonfiction, that’s often not the case. You can space out a bit and bounce right back.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting that I can’t think of any case in a Charles Dickens novel when he mentions the issue of human and animal waste everywhere. The author gave some examples, but Dickens’s writing is a bit smoothed over compared to what he actually saw and experienced on his long walks through London.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “A turd canal”! Brilliant. I actually have a copy of this one languishing on my shelves. I was worried that maybe it would be dry and boring. I am revising my opinion and hope that I’ll actually read it soon now! Thanks for this!


  4. I don’t know London, but Melbourne was a Victorian (era) city and was known as Smellbourne until major sewerage works in the 1880s diverted sewage from the river. It was longer, until the 1970s really, before inner city abattoirs and tanneries were moved from river-side.

    I listen to some non-fiction in my 200 audiobooks each year. A long one about the campaigns leading up to the Battle of Waterloo is the last one I remember. I don’t find any noticeable difference to reading.


    • The big difference for me between listening and reading is if the book has images and footnotes, like The Victorian City did, that I miss out on. Also, a terrible voice narrator will ruin a whole book for me. Sometimes, a great voice narrator will make the book even better than it was on paper alone because they heighten emotions with proper inflection.


  5. If you’re interested in the topic, I really recommend How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman, which I listened to as an audiobook read by the author (normally I don’t like authors reading their own audiobooks, but she’s an excellent narrator). It’s another exploration that is organised by theme rather than chronology – so she discusses food, clothes, farming, leisure etc. It covers rural Victorian families as well as ones in the city.


    • Oooh, nice. This one focused on the London that Charles Dickens frequently walked to get a sense of the city for his writing. I think that’s why he was so good at making the city feel real. The Victorian City even discussed how the London Dickens described became more like a record than fiction.


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