The Victorians by Jacob Rees-Mogg review — bad, boring and mind‑bogglingly banal
A lifetime ago, when Theresa May was the new Iron Lady of British politics, the Tories had piled up a 20-point lead in the opinion polls and we were definitely going to leave the EU on March 29, Jacob Rees-Mogg agreed to write a history of the Victorians. It seemed such a good idea that it was surprising nobody had thought of it before: the last Victorian, apparently catapulted forward in time from the 1830s, writing about his favourite period. What could possibly go wrong?
Alas, if the past two years have taught us anything, it is that the best-laid plans can go hopelessly awry. May’s premiership is in tatters, the Tories are staring at electoral oblivion and Britain is trapped in Brexit limbo. But Rees-Mogg has not let us down. Right on cue his book has arrived, perfectly timed for the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth. The only problem is that it is absolutely abysmal.
I say that, by the way, with some regret. No doubt every sanctimonious academic in the country has already decided that Rees-Mogg’s book has to be dreadful, so it would have been fun to disappoint them. But there is just no denying it: the book is terrible, so bad, so boring, so mind-bogglingly banal that if it had been written by anybody else it would never have been published.
Rees-Mogg gets off to a bad start and never recovers. In his opening pages, he introduces us to “the Bloomsburyite Lytton Strachey” whose book Eminent Victorians “took a blow torch to the heroes of the British 19th century”. When Rees-Mogg “leafed through” Strachey’s book, he “was struck by its unfairness and its cynicism. It occurred to me that it was time to look again at some of these eminent Victorians and to reassess their effect upon and contribution to their world and to our own.”
Having proved to his satisfaction the importance of individuals in history, Rees-Mogg sets out his chosen dozen. Among them are four prime ministers, Sir Robert Peel, Lord Palmerston, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone, and two generals, Sir Charles Napier and Charles Gordon; the architect Augustus Pugin; the legal scholar AV Dicey; the cricketer WG Grace; and the Prince Consort, Albert. But there are no scientists, no novelists, no engineers and no artists. Charles Darwin’s name appears in the text precisely once. The names of Charles Dickens and George Eliot, almost unbelievably, do not appear at all. There is also nothing about music halls, nothing about the railway and the telegraph, nothing about football and rugby, nothing about towns, cities, suburbs and the countryside, nothing about medicine and education, nothing about transport and technology, nothing about work and leisure, nothing about any aspect of working-class life and nothing about women. To cut a long story short, there is virtually nothing about anything. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news ... -3wlg2stts