Official Rules for Writing Victorian Historical Novels

This is hilarious and something all Victorian novelists ought to read.

by Sally Zigmond
1. There’s always trouble up factory/mill/mine (always referred to as t’factory, t’mill or t’pit).

2. Britain was a smaller place then. It consisted only of The Industrial North (Yorkshire, Manchester and South Shields) and London (West End, sleazy and rich; East End, sleazy and poor, but full of loveable rogues).

3. Rain falls for 360 days a year. On 4 days, the sun is shrouded in smoke, soot and grime or never seen as everyone toils day and night in the factory/mill/mine. Star-crossed lovers always spend one day out on’t moors in brilliant sunshine, make a baby, then return home in a violent thunderstorm, after which they are forcibly parted or dead.

4. The main characters are: rich and wicked factory/mill/mine owner; rich and wicked factory/mill/mine owner’s son; rich and virtuous factory/mill/mine owner’s son; poor and virtuous factory/mill/mine worker; rich and virtuous factory/mill/mine owner’s daughter; rich and wicked factory/mill/mine owner’s daughter; poor and virtuous daughter of factory/mill/mine worker (delete where not applicable).

5. The necessary love interest occurs when a male from list 4 falls in love with a female from list 4 (write names on cards and throw in the air). This inevitably leads to 3 or 1 or both.

6. One of the men is a Luddite. Another believes in progress. They are probably brothers (either rich or poor, but both virtuous). They are at odds until the penultimate chapter when one saves the other’s life (see 1 and 10).

7. The wife of the factory/mill/mine owner is an invalid. The virtuous factory/mill/mine worker is a widower and his daughter is dying of consumption. Only the virtuous contract consumption. The wicked enjoy robust health.

8. The wicked factory/mill/mine owner always cuts wages or lays workers off to pay his or his son’s gambling debts or his daughter’s dressmaker (see 1). Or the virtuous factory/mill owner may be forced to cut wages or lay off workers to pay his wife’s medical bills. His guilty conscience leads him to drink or death (see 1 and 7).

9. There is always a strike at the factory/mill/mine and the wrong (virtuous) man is always accused of being the ring-leader and is thrown in gaol where he dies or is saved by his enemy (see 1 and 6).

10. All factories/mills/mines have leaking roofs, lethal machinery and dangerous chemicals. They always blow up or burn down in the penultimate chapter (see 1).

Should I be worried? I hope not haha…my novel has nothing to do with mines or factories or mills. Maybe it should. Hm. Anyway, article found at Sarah’s Bookarama: Article originally written for Solander December 2001:

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