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Victorian Studies 44.2 (2002) 305-307

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Book Review

Pleasures and Pastimes in Victorian Britain

Pleasures and Pastimes in Victorian Britain, by Pamela Horn; pp. viii + 280. Stroud and New York: Sutton Publishing, 1999, £19.99, $34.95.

Pamela Horn's history of Victorian pleasures and pastimes offers an informative tour of nineteenth-century British leisure. A work of synthesis, it does not break new ground in [End Page 305] the study of Victorian recreation. But in fairly short compass it treats topics from poaching to horse racing, and tourism to music hall. Horn has plumbed specialized histories of foxhunting, sports, fashion, shopping, manufacturing, and music, as well as a good number of memoirs of Victorian life, works with titles like That's the Way It Was and So Long Ago. These provide a bounty of revealing anecdotes—though one wishes Horn described the genre or the individual memoirists briefly, if only to acknowledge the possible problem of nostalgic misrepresentation.

The book is for the most part arranged thematically, with sections on, for example, "Gardens and Gardening" and "Public Houses, Beer Shops and Dances." But Horn also describes general trends over the course of the period—for example the process, familiar to readers of Hugh Cunningham's Leisure in the Industrial Revolution (1980), by which the middle classes attempted to lay claim to certain working-class pastimes like rowing.

Much of the value of this book lies in the details. It is fascinating to learn that one exclusive London tailor, Davies & Son of Hanover Street, kept guest bedrooms on its top floor—reportedly so that a gentleman might dally with his mistress or a prostitute. And one enjoys reading the revealing tale of the Lincolnshire curate told by his parishioner that the locals go to church on Sunday mornings "to please you, Sir, and goes [sic] to chapel at night to save our souls" (242).

Unfortunately, the references Horn provides for both these anecdotes are indirect. To discover the nature of the underlying primary evidence, one would have to consult the secondary works she cites. Similar instances pile up as one makes one's way through Horn's book. Much of this problem results from the inadequate system of citation she has chosen to employ. And that in turn follows from the vagueness with which the book's audience seems to have been imagined, or at least expressed.

Horn's book is much more than a coffee-table book. It shows a seriousness of purpose and a depth of scholarly insight that distinguish it from the swelling ranks of popular Victoriana. But those non-scholarly works generally seem clear about their purpose. By contrast, it is never certain whether Horn is addressing scholars, students, or the novel-readers targeted in Daniel Pool's What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew (1994). Since Horn's book has no introduction, she does not allow herself the opportunity to explain the book's approach, goal, or form. Lay and student readers will miss an introduction's guiding hand; scholars may regret the missed opportunity for Horn to position her book in relation to the historiography. She is well versed in the historical literature—Cunningham, Peter Bailey, J. M. Golby, and A. W. Purdue all appear in her bibliography—but she does not describe it.

The book's peculiar system of citation is particularly maddening. The reader is surprised to encounter the superscript numeral 64 on the first page. Superscript references direct one not to notes—there are none—but to a bibliographic list of 406 books, articles, periodicals, and parliamentary papers (more precisely, in this initial instance, to the sixty-fourth title on the list). No page numbers are provided—so if one actually wished to chase down a citation, one might have to read the entire cited book. And the puzzled reader repeatedly encounters nineteenth-century voices attributed to recent publications (since the absence of notes leaves no space for that crucial phrase "cited in"). It is especially trying that in more than one instance, a contemporary quotation is linked to a reference, [End...


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