Next week is world book week to promote reading especially in kids. These days we pick up our e reader and download the latest books or go to the book shop and get our hands on a proper book. We have books everywhere from the libraries to the shelves at home. We read everything from a good murder mystery to a political thriller to a good paranormal book. But what were our ancestors reading?
In 1950 one of the best selling books was Animal Farm by Orson Wells (I prefer Orson’s farm the cartoon series). The book is basically a look at what was happening in 1940’s Europe told through the eyes of animals portraying the main political figures. For the younger reader the frankly excellent The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis was published. This is the story of 4 evacuated children who enter another world through a wardrobe and the side of good under the command of Aslan the Lion take on the evil side of the Witch.
If we go further back to 1900 the grownups could pick up a copy of The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud and for the kids it was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum. I’ll admit I’ve never read either but they were all the rage at the time. Maybe my Great Grandparents or Great, Great Grandparents picked up a copy.
In 1890 you could read the latest Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (he wasn’t knighted until 1902) or for the kids there was English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs. This was a collection of fairy tales including some well-known ones such as Jack and the Beanstalk and less known ones such as The Fish and the Ring. If you’re interested you can read the book here: https://archive.org/details/englishfairytale00jaco
Let’s go back to 1880 where our ancestors may have settled down to read the latest Mark Twain A Tramp Abroad or for the little ones Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio.
Now in 1870 one of the most famous nursery rhymes was written in the Owl and the Pussycat. For the older reader they could read the latest by the French writer Jules Verne. They could descend under the waves on board the Nautilus and attempt to find the sea monster through Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea.
The 1860’s saw Wilkie Collins publish the novel the Woman in White which was a good old who done it. If this wasn’t our ancestor’s bag then maybe they would have reached for the new novel by George Eliot The Mill on the Floss which follows the lives of 2 siblings as they grow up.
1850 would have seen people reading for David Copperfield (the book not a person) by Charles Dickens and in 1840 Edgar Allan Poe published his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque which was a collection of short stories.
1830 saw the publishing of the novel The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck by Mary Shelley which considered that Perkin Warbeck was actually Richard of York the second son of King Edward IV. For the children why not the Chronicles of a School Room by Anna Maria Hall.
Back in 1820 the novel of the year was Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott which is set in medieval Scotland in the 12th century. 1810 could have seen your ancestor’s reading the latest by Percy Bysshe Shelley entitled Zastrozzi which is a romance set in Germany.
Now some of these books are still loved today by some even if they just know the books by film and TV adaptations but they do still live on and can be read by us today.
I suppose what we should remember in all this is that we have access to books and we can all read them when we want. This wasn’t a luxury our ancestors may have had. They may not have been able to read and books would have been too expensive for them to buy. The central library in Sheffield didn’t open until 1934 so before then you would have to buy your books. So this world book day why not settle down with a book you’ve being bursting to read and lose yourself in the pages. Now will it be Freddy the Frog, Don’t Forget the Bacon or Eric Carle’s seminal work The Very Hungry Caterpillar!
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my Family History Ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!