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Contemporary C19th Books
Fashion History

By Pauline Weston Thomas for



A Selection of Contemporary Writers and their Novels of the Eras.

Jane Austen

Her six major novels were published 1811-18, though some were written earlier. The setting is the world of the comfortably-off upper middle class. She does not describe the lifestyle of the poor.

The books 'Northanger Abbey' and 'Persuasion' highlight the fashionable world of Bath. 'Sense and Sensibility', 'Pride and Prejudice', 'Mansfield Park', and 'Emma' all cover the genteel world of the era.

Look also at her letters to her sister Cassandra and others. See Regency Taste and Regency Fashion.

Arnold Bennett

Arnold Bennett was a regional novelist from the Stoke On Trent Potteries and he wrote 'Anna of the Five Towns', 'The Old Wive’s Tale', 'Clayhanger', and short stories.

Anne Bronte

Bronte Anne Bronte wrote 'Agnes Grey' in 1847 and draws on her own experiences as a governess. See Early Victorian Fashion.

Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte wrote 'Jane Eyre' in 1847, 'Villette' in 1855, and 'Shirley' of 1849 is about the Luddite riots in Yorkshire. See Early Victorian Fashion 



Dickens was a prolific novelist, with material ranging quite widely over society, including the dejected neglected poor and the underworld. Characters are rather flat and situations exaggerated for satirical and humorous effects. The tone of his novels changes during his career. See Victorians, Shopping in the Past, Early Victorian Fashion, Mid-Late Victorian Fashion, The Seamstress, Victorian Recreations, and The Seaside.

George Eliot

George Eliot is another woman novelist. She wrote of the countryside she knew in 'Scenes From Clerical Life'.

Adam Bede, set in Staffordshire at the turn of the century, gives a very realistic picture of a rural community.

'The Mill On The Floss' gives a good picture of the values of a close, hardworking middle-class family of about 1825-40.

Her greatest novel was 'Middlemarch' concerning middle-class life in a country town and is complex. 


Galsworthy published a series known as 'The Forsyte Saga' spanning several generations of a wealthy upper-middle class family, from about 1880 to the 1920s.

Mrs. Gaskell

Mrs. Gaskell wife of a Unitarian minister in Manchester,  describes the working conditions of the poor of the Industrial Revolution in 'Mary Barton' of 1848 from direct observation of her parishioners.

'North and South' of 1855 begins in the fashionable London world, so offers a contrast.

Mrs. Gaskell is best known for 'Cranford', based on Knutsford in Cheshire. In it she describes, with gentle humour, the lives of the genteel poor, mainly ladies.

'Miss Mitford’s Our Village' is a charming, readable and quite realistic picture of English village life in the 1820s, in the same quiet vein.

'Silas Marner' depicts a rural cottage industry set amid a weaving house. See Social Changes Before 1815.


Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy published his novels of rural life in fictional Wessex (Dorset, Hampshire) between 1872 and 1897. They capture an English countryside world just at the point of change.

'Under The Greenwood Tree' is a lighter book centering on village life and the choir and matchmaking. 

'Tess of the D’Urbervilles' has sociological interest in addition to its tragic appeal.

D. H. Lawrence

In Sons and Lovers (1913) Lawrence gives a detailed picture, closely following his own experience, of life in a Midland miner's household from the 1880s to about 1910. 

In 'The Virgin And The Gypsy' flapper dresses are sewn and fitted. see Flapper Fashion 1920s


In 'Vanity Fair' William Thackeray describes, satirically, the fashionable world of the early C19th with a famous episode centering on Waterloo. Dress is highlighted in the pre ball scenes. Regency Fashion

Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope was a prolific 19th century novelist. The Barset novels are about the rather self-contained world of the clergy in and around a cathedral town.' The Pallisers', concerns the fashionable world. He also wrote 'The Eustace Diamonds'. 

See La Belle Époque 1890-1914 Fashion

H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells wrote Kipps, Polly, Love and Mr. Lewisham. All are readable accounts of the struggles of poor and rather inarticulate heroes with mention of drapery featuring. See Shopping in the Past 

Biographies And Autobiographies

Biographies and autobiographies, particularly the letter, are valuable.  Richard Church's Over the Bridge is a rich account of the struggles of a lower middle class family in London from about 1890-1910.

Acknowledgement and special thanks to D. Willis who prepared some original student activity notes on this topic.

By its very nature this information is constantly changing. 


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About looks at women's costume and fashion history and analyses the mood of an era.  Changes in technology, leisure, work, cultural and moral values. Homelife and politics also contribute to lifestyle trends, which in turn influence the clothes we wear.  These are the changes that make any era of society special in relation to the study of the costume of a period.Fashion History can take no responsibility for any information on the site which may cause you error, loss or costs incurred from use of the information and links either directly or indirectly.  This site is owned, designed, written and developed by author: Pauline Thomas and Guy Thomas. This site is designed to be viewed in 1024 X 768 or higher.

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