In his book on writing historical fiction, James Alexander Thom writes, “To put your readers there and make them feel at home in that time, you must teach them what something is the moment they see it, and make it seem like they’ve known it all along” (my emphasis). To do so, the writer of historical fiction must herself be “at home” in her characters’ world and familiar with the objects of it.
But how to find these objects? And how to know what to call them? The truncheon? The antimacassar?
People have asked me which books I've found most useful in making myself "at home" in the nineteenth century, so I'm sharing some titles from my go-to research shelf:
What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist: The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England by Daniel Pool
Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth-Century London by Lynda Nead
Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England by Kristine Hughes
Victorian City and Country Houses: Plans and Details by George E. Woodward.
Books on special topics:
The Medical Profession in Mid-Victorian London by M. Jeanne Petersen
The Ascent of the Detective: Police Sleuths in Victorian and Edwardian England by Haia Shpayer-Makov
London: A Life in Maps by Peter Whitfield
City of Dreadful Delight and Prostitution and Victorian Society by Judith R. Walkowitz
Victorian Treasures: An Album and Historical Guide for Collectors by Carol McD. Wallace
The Victorian Country House by Mark Girouard
The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs. Disraeli by Richard Aldous
"Criminals, Idiots, Women & Minors": Nineteenth Century Writing by Women on Women, ed. Susan Hamilton
The Princess Alice Disaster by Joan Lock
Handbook of English Costume in the 19th Century by C. Willett Cunnington and Phillis Cunnington
The Victorian Underworld by Donald Thomas
Red for Danger: The Classic History of British Railway Disasters by L.T.C. Rolt