Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain

Written by Judith Flanders
Review by Sally Zigmond

When we think of the Britain in the Victorian age, certain images spring to mind; grim industrialisation being the most potent. But it was directly as a result of industrialisation that regulated secular leisure-time was created. Bank holidays and the ease and relative cheapness of rail travel meant that whole populations could decamp to the coast and so the foundations were laid of the traditional seaside holiday.

                Mass tourism is a Victorian invention as is the commercial aspects of Christmas. Railways and mechanised printing methods encouraged the spread of affordable newspapers and magazines (courtesy of Mr W H Smith and others). They offered self-improvement as well as jokes, puzzles and serial fiction from the likes of Charles Dickens. The bicycle gave mobility to many, especially young women. The new department stores were chiefly designed for the suburban wife. Not only could she shop for clothes and household items without her husband, she could meet friends in the restaurant and take comfort in the rest-room. (A vital consideration when spending a day in town!)

                The Victorians were the first to fully embrace leisure and Judith Flanders brings this to life with gusto. Well illustrated and packed with fascinating facts, it’s a rattling good read as well as an essential resource for an historical novelist. With its comprehensive index, notes and bibliography, this is an excellent companion volume to her previous book, The Victorian House.