Book Review: Adventures of an American Girl in Victorian London

History is always fascinated me. I love to look into other worlds and other times to see how people dealt with the day to day. Recently, Bernadette and I have started to watch Downton Abbey, a show about Victorian England and the different classes of people. So far, I have enjoyed watching how the aristocratic and servant classes work together in their society. It is interesting to see their struggles as well as the cooperation and support they provide each other. This series prompted me to learn more. I was fortunate to come across the book written by Elizabeth L Banks called Adventures of an American Girl in Victorian London*.

In her book, Adventures of an American Girl in Victorian London, Banks tells her tales of working in a number of domestic service jobs. Banks is a reporter who went to London to investigate or to compare Victorian England with the United States. She wrote about her adventures in 1894.

In this 145 page book, Banks took on the role of an embedded journalist. She advertised for and was hired for a handful of domestic service jobs to include house maid, a parlor maid, and laundress. She also explored the working conditions as a crossing sweeper and flower girl.

In each mini-adventure, Banks described the job advertisement process, the interview process, and the working conditions. She was keenly interested in working with other domestic servants so she could interview them while she was working. She was also interested in the job itself. To appear credible, she did research on domestic service. At the end of each chapter, she offers recommendations for improving the job based on what she learned and researched.

I found the book to be quite enjoyable. It gave me a glimpse into this turn of the century world of how employers operated and treated servants. Banks reported the concerns from each side.

In one section of the book, Banks had a discussion with an English gentleman. They talked about the privileged society and the American attitude of the “dollar.” Banks was convinced that the US dollar could buy privilege in Victorian England. She set out to prove her theory. She advertised for a chaperone, who could introduce her to high members of society. It seems the US dollar in 1894 could buy a lot of privilege.

One job that I thought was tremendously fascinating was a crossing sweeper. I had never heard of a crossing sweeper before, but after she described the job it made total sense. A crossing sweeper would take a broom and sweep away the dirt and create a path crossing a street. People would walk across these clean paths to keep their pant cuffs or petticoats clean. They would pay the person who created the path for doing so. These crossing sweepers would have their own way of sweeping that created designs and patterns. This added touch would sometimes earn them extra gratuity. It was an interesting part of history that I was not aware of.

If life in Victorian England interests you, I would say that this book is is definitely one that you should read. Adventures of an American Girl in Victorian London was an interesting look into the daily lives of servants and employers in Victorian England. There are many more details I would love to share, but you will appreciate them more when you hear them in Elizabeth Banks’ voice.


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