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VictorianVoices.net was born in a tiny bookstore in England, though I didn't know it at the time. All I knew was that I'd just acquired an intriguing-looking really really old book for about $10!
The book turned out to be a tattered copy of All the Year Round, edited by none other than Charles Dickens! That was the start of my addiction.
In England, bound volumes of Victorian magazines can be found in nearly any used bookshop and even in charity thrift shops! In a shop in Hastings' Old Town, just yards away from the English Channel, I discovered The Girl's Own Paper whilst searching for copies if The Strand. The owner quickly picked up on my lust for tattered Victorian magazines - and since my budget was on a diet, the more tattered, the better!
But such volumes (including one so fragile it came in a plastic bag) are a bit difficult to read. They have a habit of falling apart in one's hands - not to mention leaving those hands reeking of mildew and must. So, to better enjoy my treasures, I tried scanning them.
By the time we returned to the US after 15 months in England, I realized I'd developed quite a library of scanned Victorian magazines. Why not share that library with the world? And so Mostly-Victorian.com was born. At the time, I called it "Mostly" Victorian as I also envisioned posting materials from other periods.
In 2014 I revamped the site, loaded more than 2000 articles, and launched the monthly magazine Victorian Times. In the process, I realized that the vision for the site had shifted from "mostly" to "pretty much exclusively" Victorian. (We may stray occasionally into the Edwardian, but if so, the authors will still be Victorians!) So, in 2015, I changed the name to VictorianVoices.net.
Even after more than 100 years, the Victorian period still fascinates us. It continues to inspire collectors, decorators and designers. Right now Victorian design is definitely "on trend" and shows no sign of fading away. Scrapbooking, one of the hottest crafts in America, has its roots in the Victorian period.
I think one reason the period still intrigues us is that it is, of all "historic" periods, the closest to our own and literally the gateway to the 20th century. Many of the social changes of the last 100 years got their start in the Victorian era. It helps, perhaps, that the Victorian period is more "comprehensible" to us than earlier periods - it's not that easy to read a story written in Elizabethan English, for example, but Victorian English, though sometimes a bit florid, is still basically the same as our own. With advances in printing, the period saw an "information explosion" of books and magazines that is comparable to the electronic information explosion of today.
While the Victorian era is generally defined as the reign of Queen Victorian (1837-1901), it didn't simply begin when Victoria took the throne, or end when she died. Victorians, born and raised in the 1870's, 80's or 90's, were still "Victorians" even after the death of Queen Victoria - and they carried the Victorian "era" well into the 20th century. Thus, perhaps another reason we still feel such a kinship with that period is that, quite literally, we may have one. Our grandparents or great-grandparents may not have been born in the Victorian period - but they were born into Victorian homes. My grandmother, for example, was born in 1910 - which means that she grew up in a Victorian family, shaped and molded by her parents' Victorian ideas, values and styles. (Which perhaps explains a great deal, since I was raised by my grandmother...)
It's also tempting to refer to "the Victorian era" as if it were a single, homogeneous period - and people often do. People refer to "Victorian" ideas, morals, and customs as if such ideas belonged to a single, unchanging era of fustiness - e.g., "Oh, that's so Victorian!" But as you'll discover in exploring this site, the reality is much different. The Victorian era was one of constant and intense change. It was an era of a vast number of social reforms, from the protection of animals to the protection of children (in that order). It was an era of change and upheaval in the roles of women; the "feminist movement" of the 1960's was hardly new, but rather, built upon a Victorian foundation. Styles, fashions and customs changed, just as they do today. For example, our February 2014 Victorian Times charts the popularity of Valentines from their near-heyday in 1880, to their decline in the 1890's. In the 1880's, a group of young women discussed how they might manage to take a "walking tour" without a male chaperone; by the mid-1890's, women were shocking the Victorian world by wearing bloomers on bicycles. We probably wouldn't have heard nearly so much about stodgy, stuffy "Victorian attitudes" if there weren't so many Victorians struggling to break the mold!
Our logo says it all: "A topical treasury of articles from Victorian magazines." There are already several sites where one can download or access digital copies of Victorian magazines in their entirety. (The best is Internet Archive.) However, downloading (or paging through) entire copies of 500- to 1000-page annuals is not the easiest or most efficient way to conduct research! It's tedious - and you have to know where to find what you want before you even start looking.
VictorianVoices.net provides the largest, if not the only, topical compendium of articles from Victorian periodicals on the web. Our topical approach makes research so much easier! If, for example, your passion is Victorian royalty, you don't have to comb through multiple volumes just to locate a handful of articles. Just click on our "royalty" section and you'll discover a host of articles on Queen Victoria, her family, her household, her palaces, her doll collection - even the names of her favorite pet dogs! If you want recipes, we have them by the score. This is the site to visit if you want to know the proper etiquette for leaving your visiting card, how to host an "at-home" social, what to serve for high tea, or how much to pay your servants.
Another part of our goal is to provide access to Victorian magazines that aren't readily available elsewhere. Most of the online collections available at present are drawn from American libraries. It's much harder (and often impossible) to locate digital copies of British Victorian periodicals, such as The Girl's Own Paper, Cassell's Family Magazine, Chatterbox, and many others. Even some classic American magazines like Century are difficult to locate.
The underlying (or overarching) goal, however, is to create a collection that is both entertaining and informative. This site will be of immense value to anyone seeking primary source material on the Victorian era. As a writer, I have a special interest in enabling other writers to locate background materials on the Victorian world and way of life. But "informative" doesn't have to mean "boring"! Victorian "voices" are not necessarily dull, stodgy or repressive. Many of these articles are just as readable and entertaining today as when they were first written. They are posted here not simply to inform, but to be enjoyed!
Making the Most of VictorianVoices.net
The navigation menu in the left column of the site serves as your guide to the main topics on VictorianVoices.net. Many of these topics are divided into subtopics; for example, "Arts and Crafts" includes such subtopics as embroidery, knitting and crochet, painting, paper crafts and more. Our Home Page also offers a list of our major topic areas, with a brief description of each.
Our Topical Site Index gives you an instant overview of all the topics and subtopics currently featured on the site, with quick links to take you directly to whatever section you wish to visit!
You can also search for articles by publication. The Article Index by Magazine provides a list of all the magazines and issues that are currently posted to the site. Just choose a publication and click year, and you'll be taken to a detail page that lists all the articles from that particular issue that we've posted. (We don't post every article from every issue, and we don't post the fiction and poetry. From the magazine detail page, you'll often be able to access the magazine's original table of contents, which will provide a list of the entire contents of that issue. In many cases, the complete issue itself will be available in our Online Store.)
Most sections of the site are arranged topically and/or alphabetically. However, those that relate to changes and trends in the Victorian world - such as the fashion section, and sections on the changing roles of Victorian women - are arranged chronologically.
A Quick Word of Warning...
And now a brief disclaimer: Victorian magazines were not "politically correct!" In the Victorian world (or the world that editors supposed their readers belonged to), "the right sort" of people were white, upper class, educated, and English. (I won't even say "British," for even the Scots and the Welsh were often excluded.) To be white and non-British was to be a "foreigner" - no matter how long one might haved lived in Britain. Americans were slightly less suspect than European "foreigners" (perhaps because they at least spoke a form of English), but they were generally regarded as rather brash, imperfectly mannered, and even a bit childish (and interested primarily in money). Many Victorians deplored the fact that Americans had no sense of the priorities of class. As for everyone else... well, to be non-white was, to many Victorians and Victorian writers, to be scarcely regarded as human at all.
I make no apology for the Victorian viewpoint. To attempt to edit out its biases would be to present a false image of that world - and would be doing the reader a grave disservice by attempting to paint a rosy and romantic view of a period that was, for many people, not very rosy at all. Every period of history has its positives and its negatives, including our own. The purpose of this site is not to whitewash the Victorian era, but to enable the reader to explore it, warts and all.
And now, as a Victorian writer might say, "Dear Reader, pray feel free to explore -- and enjoy!"
Meet the Editor
Author, booklover, catlover, world traveler, and collector of Victorian ephemera, editor Moira Allen knows how to spin a phrase to make her life sound a lot more exciting than it is! (Seriously, scanning a 1000-page magazine is perhaps one of the least exciting jobs around...)
Enough of the third-person... I've loved old magazines literally since childhood, when I discovered my family's stash of vintage Lifes and Saturday Evening Posts in a closet. I've loved Victoriana for just about as long. My dad was a commercial artist, and sometimes, as a special treat, he'd take me along to the art supply store and let me "pick something out." I'd always make a beeline for the shelves of Letraset Victorian fonts and embellishments; I was probably the only kid in high school with my own collection of Victorian page decorations!
In England, I made the thrilling discovery that one could acquire magazines that were much, much older than those beloved issues from the 1940's, and the rest, as they say, is history. Literally.
I grew up surrounded by books. In our obligatory pre-marital class, we were asked what sort of store or business we thought our spouse-to-be would be, if they could be such a thing. My husband-to-be looked at me and said, "Old English Bookstore." Now, he looks at our bookshelves and simply shakes his head. I'm not sure whether buying antique books, scanning them and reselling them on eBay quite counts as being an OEB, but it's a lot closer than I ever expected to come...
I love Old English Bookstores, of course. It probably stems from having grown up with so many old English (British) books! My lifelong dream was to live in England, and that finally came to pass in 2007. I've also lived in Germany, so, yes, the "world traveler" part is true. Even my cat has (or at least deserves) frequent flyer miles.
I've been writing professionally for more than 35 years, and host one of the world's largest websites for writers (Writing-World.com), as well as a site focusing on historic British travel destinations (TimeTravel-Britain.com). And yes, I collect (and scan) Victorian ephemera. I currently serve as housekeeper to one cat whose sense of entitlement would put any Victorian peeress to shame. We (the cat and I) live in Maryland with hubby and over 2000 books.
If you have any questions or comments about VictorianVoices.net, please Contact Me!