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A London Child of the 1870s

by Molly Hughes
Persephone book no:

60 61 62

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155516

'We were just an ordinary, suburban, Victorian family, undistinguished ourselves and unacquainted with distinguished people.' Thus Molly Hughes writes in one of the great classics of autobiography, A London Child of the 1870s (1934) in which she describes her everyday life in a semi-detached house in Islington as the youngest of a large, characterful family. On first reading, writes Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker, A London Child seemed 'the most perfect and moving record of ordinary life in English' and when he re-read it twenty years later 'Molly's book seems to me more painful now than it did when I first read it, but still finer as writing. Here is an ordinary life rendered truly, and joyfully, with a voice at once so self-abnegating yet so gay and funny and precise that we are reminded, in the end, of the one truth worth remembering, that there are no ordinary lives.' As Adam Gopnik says, it is Molly's pictures of everyday life that most stick in the mind: travelling by bus to the West End, making toffee in the afternoon, walking to St Paul's on Christmas Day...


The endpaper is taken from 'Daisy', a wallpaper designed by William Morris in 1864, manufactured by Jeffrey & Co of Islington, London

Picture Caption

1 Canonbury Park North, Islington, drawn by Ann Usborne

Read What Readers Say

Books for Years

’A London Child of the 1870s’ is a bittersweet book in which readers are treated to a glimpse of real, day-to-day life in Victorian London from the perspective of a young girl. Molly was the youngest child in her family, and the only girl, with four elder brothers. The construct of it is that the author, as an adult, is reflecting back on her early childhood – a time in her life which was punctured by a catastrophic event revealed in the final pages. Until then, however, ‘A London Child of the 1870s’ is quite joyful and exuberant. Would I recommend it? Yes, I would. It not only gives a heartfelt and touching portrayal of daily life for a Victorian child, but shows that the stereotype of that life is not necessarily the reality. It also provides a perspective from which a modern reader can analyse the societal changes that have taken place and impacted on our lives in all sorts of ways. As with all books that have been republished by Persephone, it is beautifully written and quite poignant throughout – a touching and memorable book for sure.

Categories: Biography Childhood Education Family London Teenagers (books for) Victoriana

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