About: I just realized that this is the second book with the title ‘1900’ that I have profiled this year. They both set out to chronicle the massive changes that brought the Victorian Era gasping and screaming into the modern world. While the goal is essentially the same, the methodology is jarringly different. The clear victor in the battle, if a battle it be, is the sublime Rebecca West. She, of course, had the same advantage as the writers compiled in the later volume-that of living through the time and world that she wrote about (although she waited eight decades to do so). As an eight year old, she may not have understood things on an intellectual level but she had a child’s intuitive emotions; she experienced the excitement and unease that comes with the changing of the centuries. Her edge is the result of two things: of living long enough to have perspective and, as the sole writer of her book, a cohesion of intent and style. The 90-year-old Rebecca covers a wide swath of historical territory-arts, literature, science, psychology, music and politics-while maintaining clear-eyed yet evocative prose. The photographs spread throughout are stunning and add considerably to the book’s appeal.
Motivation: Repeat after me, “Rebecca West.” The turn of the twentieth century is also one of my favourite periods for literature, fashion, activism, plays and music.
Times Read: 1
Random Excerpt/Page 129: “My father guessed that the designer had probably been a man no longer young, impressed in his childhood by the sort of lectures which were given in mid-Victorian days at working men’s clubs such as the Mechanics’ Institutes. It was possible. The chiton and the amphora and the tag from Epictetus exemplified a curious tendency manifested by many of the new proletariat, which felt herself ill done and wanted a larger share of the best. They craved to be accepted in all the institutions which served the upper classes, though they did not think much of the upper classes.”