cover image Jane Welsh Carlyle and Her Victorian World

Jane Welsh Carlyle and Her Victorian World

Kathy Chamberlain. Overlook, $37.50 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4683-1420-5

Jane Carlyle's main claim to fame is her marriage to Thomas Carlyle, a philosopher and historian who became one of the towering figures of the Victorian era. Carlyle herself never published in her lifetime, but Chamberlain, emeritus professor at City University of New York, argues that her vivid writings--letters, an essay, sporadic journals, all published posthumously--give her claim to independent renown. Chamberlain focuses on a short period, 1843–1849, that Carlyle wrote about in detail. The book covers famous people that she knew, including Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Giuseppe Mazzini. It also discusses Jane's servants and contemporary reform movements to help low-income people, ensuring a multidimensional view of Victorian society. Chamberlain's narrative nonfiction technique, richly descriptive, often places the reader in a scene. Like Carlyle's letters, the book flits from topic to topic and reads like an entertaining novel, including a love triangle as Thomas becomes increasingly, albeit platonically, enraptured with Lady Harriet Baring. This humane, well-documented book provides a solid and readable lay introduction to a fascinating literary figure and her world. (Apr.)