Why did the great philosophical novelist George Eliot feel so self-conscious that her right hand was larger than her left?
Exactly what made Darwin grow that iconic beard in 1862, a good five years after his contemporaries had all retired their razors?
Who knew Queen Victoria had a personal hygiene problem as a young woman and the crisis that followed led to a hurried commitment to marry Albert?
What did John Sell Cotman, a handsome drawing room operator who painted some of the most exquisite watercolours the world has ever seen, feel about marrying a woman whose big nose made smart people snigger?
How did a working-class child called Fanny Adams disintegrate into pieces in 1867 before being reassembled into a popular joke, one we still reference today, but would stop, appalled, if we knew its origins?
Kathryn Hughes follows a thickened index finger or deep baritone voice into the realms of social history, medical discourse, aesthetic practise and religious observance – its language is one of admiring glances, cruel sniggers, an implacably turned back. The result is an eye-opening, deeply intelligent, groundbreaking account that brings the Victorians back to life and helps us understand how they lived their lives.
Reviews of Victorians Undone
‘Fascinating and richly illuminating exploration of how the Victorians saw their – and other people’s – bodies … Kathryn Hughes has triumphantly succeeded in re-animating her subjects by concentrating on just one part of their anatomy … Intriguing, gleefully contentious and – appropriately enough – fizzing with life, Victorians Undone is the most original history book I have read in a long while’ John Preston, Daily Mail
‘Victorians Undone is history so alive you can smell its reek … an enthusiastic romp through a historical period that Hughes know thoroughly … Victorians Undone offers a jaunty counterweight to more sober volumes … With her love of bodily detail, Hughes does indeed put the carnal back into biography’ Lisa Appignanesi, Telegraph
‘A dazzling experiment in life writing … Every page fizzes with the excitement of fresh discoveries … Elegantly sidestepping the usual clichés of Victorian history … Each page becomes a window on to a world that is far stranger than we might expect’ Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Guardian
‘Hughes has chosen to focus on the bodies of five famous Victorians, dealing with each of them in a beautifully constructed essay narrated not only with wit and gusto , but a clear sense of purpose’ Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday, *****
‘Skilfully unwraps how the repressed Victorians really felt about their bodies’ Sunday Times
‘Hughes is never less than intelligent and industrious’ Mark Bostridge, The Spectator