One of my favorite book genres is historical fiction set in Victorian England. These books offer a strange kind of comfort, even though I intellectually recognize that I would hate the soul-chafing strictures that society imposed on women, minorities, and those who were not lucky enough to be born rich and/or titled. So why do I love it so? And why is this particular timeframe such a popular setting for historical fiction?
I think one of the things that draws us to novels set in that very rigid society is the fact that there were rules for every single situation. While it would have been suffocating to be stuck in such rules, worried about the cut direct, being gossiped about during the season, and never finding anyone “at home” when you went to make social calls, the fact that everything was codified offers us in 2020 a kind of comfortable nostalgia. When living in the modern world sometimes feels like a kind of free fall, knowing exactly what colors someone in mourning is allowed to wear or the precise type of paper a respectable person uses for correspondence can feel freeing, rather than constrictive. At least, from the perspective of a reader just visiting the world for a few hours.
I’ve been thinking