Victorian Britain set out to make the ancient world its own. This is the story of how it failed.
Classical Victorians, published in 2013 by Cambridge University Press, is the story of the headmaster who bludgeoned his wife to death, then calmly sat down to his Latin. It is the story of the embittered classical prodigy who turned to gin and opium – and the virtuoso forger who fooled the greatest scholars of the age.
Packed with forgotten characters and texts, with the roar of the burlesque-stage and the mud of the battlefield, this book offers a rich insight into nineteenth-century culture and society. It explores just how difficult it is to stake a claim on the past.
Reviewed by Prof. Richard Jenkyns, Oxford University, Common Knowledge (2015) 21 (1): 112.
The book is also highly entertaining, with much vivid narrative, mostly about eccentric, marginal, or forgotten figures, like the clergyman who murdered his wife and then tried to kill himself, leaving a note in Latin. Both the suicide attempt and the grammar of the note were failures. […] Richardson shows great skill in weaving together curious anecdote and the larger picture. This is a serious and original contribution to our understanding of the Victorian age, fine in nuance, rich in detail; it is also beautifully written, with wit and verve, and a combination of skepticism and—although this is a book on the pursuit of antiquity—high romanticism.
Reviewed by Prof John Pfordresher, Georgetown University, Notes and Queries (2014) 61 (2): 314-315.
Richardson is a lively writer of witty prose and his chapters are dominated by thumbnail biographies of curious exemplars—the scholars, scoundrels, and generals of his sub-title. But readers should not be misled by the sometimes comical and sometimes tragic lives of his protagonists, because while they function as cautionary examples and while their stories begin and end his chapters, this is a book of formidable research and extensive knowledge, a knowledge worn lightly but self-evident from page after page of dense footnotes referring to an extraordinary range of often obscure nineteenth-century sources as well as a large number of recent studies in the field, and to his own industrious research […]. A vigorously argued, mind-opening volume, all in all, and with a bibliography and footnotes offering rich opportunities for generations of future scholars.
Reviewed by Dr Pierre Jamet, Université de Franche-Comté, Dialogues d’histoire ancienne (2014):
Il faut donc lire cet excellent livre d’Edmund Richardson autant pour sa précision et sa profondeur de vue (puisqu’il y va d’une théorie de l’histoire, voire d’une conception philosophique du temps et de la mémoire), que pour sa légèreté, son humour, ses mille anecdotes et personnages, ses chemins de traverse qui ne mènent parfois nulle part mais dont on est toujours enchanté, revigoré même. Il faut le lire aussi parce que le partage entre orthodoxie et hétérodoxie, en histoire comme ailleurs, n’est pas encore clairement défini et que, d’un monde sclérosé qui avait besoin d’air frais hétérodoxe nous en sommes passé à un monde où aucun discours ne prévaut que celui qui a la force ou les moyens de prévaloir. La synthèse entre ces deux pôles fait donc toujours défaut et ce livre nous invite à tenter de l’inventer.
Reviewed by Dr Sean Brady, Birkbeck, University of London, Journal of Hellenic Studies (2014) 134:
Scholars in this field not only reveal the significance of reception of the classical past in intellectual thought and the arts, but also have revitalized the analysis of Britain’s society, politics and empire. Richardson’s meticulous book is a significant contribution to these debates. This is not a study of high culture or of the reception of ideas among prominent elites. Instead, it is an engaging and illuminating analysis of the reception of classical culture among educated men, but of no particular importance in their time.
Reviewed by Prof Richard Hingley, Durham University, Journal of Roman Studies (2014) 104: 300-301:
As soon as I began to read, I was swiftly drawn into R.’s narrative and responded enthusiastically to the lives and activities of his characters and themes. I shall dwell on three particular issues among the wealth of fascinating material. First, the book provides a very well informed and thoughtful contribution to the growing body of work on classical reception. R.’s contemplation of figures on the margin of the history of study clearly articulates an interest in the complexities of how people have drawn upon the classical past. […] R.’s stimulating and highly readable book is a delight to read. It is also an excellent volume for the first title in what promises to form a significant new series.