With many thanks to Patrick Leary and others who contributed to a thread on autobiography, initiated by Amy Milne-Smith, on the Victoria 19th-Century British Culture & Society list at Indiana University, Bloomington — especially Julie Codell, Sheldon Goldfarb, Ellen Jordan, Priti Joshi, Mark Samuels Lasner, Rebecca Nesvet, and Malcolm Shifrin. Annotations and, wherever possible, links to online sources have been added. Some of the more recently published editions are available to borrow on an hourly basis from the Internet Archive, on free registration.


Bennett, Alfred Rosling. London and Londoners in the Eighteen-Fifties and Sixties. London: Fisher Unwin, 1924. Or available as Victorian London Ebooks, Book 2. Kindle Edition. — Bennett was an engineer, and this combined memoir and history takes in a huge panorama of vanished London sights, customs, and events. — Patrick Leary

Betham-Edwards, Matilda. Reminiscences. London: G. Redway, 1898. — See especially Ch. XVII, "The World of Letters, Art and Science" ("I now enjoyed the historic conversaziones at George Eliot's, the hardly less historic breakfasts of the late Lord Houghton, Madame Bodichon's cosmopolitan gatherings, and how many more rare, delightful and most fruitful experience!") but many other interesting passages, e.g. on Quaker life, her time in France.

Burne-Jones, Georgiana. Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones. Vols. I and II. London: Macmillan, 1904. — Includes his own "letters of reminiscence" e.g. about the teacher who influenced him most: "With the flattest sentence in the world he would take us to ocean waters and the marshes of Babylon and hills of Caucasus and wilds of Tartary and the constellations and abysses of space. Yes, no one ever taught me anything but he only" (30).

Butler, Josephine. Josephine E. Butler. An Autobiographical Memoir. Bristol: Arrowsmith, 1909. See a very brief introduction to Butler.

Butler, William. The Land of the Veda. New York: Hunt & Eaton, 1895. — An account of a missionary in India at the time of the Sepoy Rebellion. Butler is much exercised by the plight of Indian women.

Carlyle, Thomas. Sartor Resartus. Boston: J. Munroe, 1837. — "...the issues that concern Carlyle in Sartor Resartus have defined the 'critical axes,' as Avrom Fleishman calls them, along which autobiographical writing and generic criticism have run for the past two centuries: truth and fiction, memory and meaning, individual expression and literary convention." — Linda Peterson, a Victorian Web book, Ch. 2.

Cobbe, Frances Power. Life of Frances Power Cobbe. By Herself. 2 Vols. London: Swan Sonnenshein, 1904. — See our pages on Cobbe.

Coleridge, Sara. Memoir and Letters of Sara Coleridge. Edited by her daughter. London: Henry S. King & Company, 1873. — "...telling genuinely and naturally the life, the daily thoughts and hopes and occupations, of a noble woman of a high order of mind, and as mirroring a pure heart. Her letter-writing is thoroughly unaffected. There is never straining for effect. Abstruse subjects are treated without the least apparent consciousness of learning, and without any studied fine writing." — Athenaeum.

Douglas, Lord Alfred. Autobiography. London: Martin Secker, 1929. [A copy can be borrowed from the Internet Archive]. — "I believe the most constant cross I have had to bear is precisely that of having been born, and having had to go on all my life being, a lord without money."

Elson, George. The Last of the Climbing Boys. An Autobiography. London : John Long, 1900. Victorian London Ebooks, Book 14: "It is that rare thing: a memoir written by one of the lowest members of the lower classes, namely a Victorian chimney sweep." — Blurb

Gandhi, M.K. An Autobiography, or The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Rpt of the 7th ed. Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1948. — See especially Ch, XIII ("In London at Last") to Ch. XXV.

Horsley, J.C. Recollections of a Royal Academician, 1903. — includes a visit to a "Female Orphan Asylum" in Ch. 1, Mendelsshon's visit, Brunel in amateur dramatics etc.

Holman Hunt, William. Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, 1905. — Contents of Ch I , for example, starts, "Preface — Story of my family — Infant instincts for art — I make a paint brush— Warehouse in Aldermanbury — My home life — Visit to the City...."

Hughes, Molly. A London Child of the 1870s, A London Girl of the 1880s, A London Home in the 1890s. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977, 1978, 1979. Classic late-Victorian autobiographies, also condensed into A Victorian Family. London, Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd, 1990. [A copy can be borrowed from the Internet Archive]. — Classic account of childhood and family life in the later Victorian period.

Hunt, Leigh. Autobiography. Vol. 1 and Vol. II. Ed. Robert Ingpen. London: Westminster, 1903. — "[P]erhaps the best known of his works, and the one that is likely to survive the longest." — Editor's preface

Kemble, Fanny. Record of a Girlhood. 3 Vols. London: Richard Bentley, 1878. One volume ed, New York: Holt, 1883. — Kemble's fiercely independent personality shines through on every page, and she is a keen observer whose own celebrity put her in contact with a great many interesting people. Her account of the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester railway in 1830, to choose just one example, is classic. — Patrick Leary

Lowndes, Marie Belloc. I, too, have Lived in Arcadia: A Record of Love and of Childhood. London: Macmillan, 1941. [A copy can be borrowe from the Internet Archive]. "The parents of Hilaire Belloc and Marie Belloc Lowndes are vitally re-created figures." — New York Times Book Review

Malabari, Behramji M. The Indian Eye on English Life, or Rambles of a Pilgrim Reformer. Westminster: Constable, 1893. — More of a travelogue than an autobiography, but with a very personal slant; often amusing ("it is not often that you are fortunate enough to salute the bright orb of day in London").

Martineau, Harriet. Autobiography, with Memorials by Maria Weston Chapman. 3 vols. Vol. I; Vol. II; Vol. III. London: Smith, Elder, 1877. — see Linda Peterson on this.

Meynell, Alice. Childhood. London: Batsford, 1913. General thoughts about childhood drawing on the author's own memories and experiences with her own children.

Mill, John Stuart. Autobiography. 3rd ed. London: Longmans, Green, 1874. See excerpt from Ch. V ("Crisis in my Mental History. One Stage Onward").

Newman, John Henry. Apologia Pro Vita Sua. London: Longman, Green 1864. — "... a classic example of the spiritual autobiography — indeed, the culminating English example." — Linda Peterson (see span class="book">Victorian Autobiography, Ch. 4).

Oliphant, Margaret. The Autobiography of Margaret Oliphant. New York: Harper, 1857. "...recollections of Oliphant's past are interrupted by emotional traumas of her present..." — Mary M. Husemann (see A Brief Biography).

Panton, Jane Ellen ("Cissie"). Leaves from a Life. London: Eveleigh Nash, 1908. — Very enjoyable reminiscences by Cissie, daughter of the artist William Frith, one of a large Victorian family (twelve children, of whom ten survived beyond infancy).

Pattison, Mark. Memoirs. London: Macmillan, 1885. — Gladstone described Pattison's posthumously published memoir as "among the most tragic and memorable" books of the century. Astringently self-critical, it does capture a kind of cloistered intensity peculiar to academic life, such that the reader feels caught up in the 1851 election for Rector of Lincoln College. Not exactly Newman's Apologia, but engrossing in its own way. — Patrick Leary

Rossetti, William Michael. Some Reminiscences. 2 Vols. Vol. I and Vol. II. New York: Scribner's, 1906. Includes many of the Pre-Raphaelite artistic circle besides the family members, and even a trip to Australia).

Ruskin, John. Praeterita, with an introduction by Kenneth Clark. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949.. — See discussions of the book here.

Scott, George Gilbert. Personal and Professional Recollections — Mostly professional about architectural projects but some personal, e.g. "The following notice of my native village, and of some of its inhabitants, its customs, &c, I give merely as a memento of times in which, though not long gone by, there remained much more of old manners than has survived to the present day".

Seacole, Mary. Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. London: James Blackwood, 1857. "If singleness of heart, true charity, and Christian works; if trials and sufferings, dangers and perils, encountered boldly by a helpless woman on her errand of mercy in the camp and in the battle-field, can excite sympathy or move curiosity, Mary Seacole will have many friends and many readers." — Introducutory Preface, William Russell

Smiles, Samuel. Autobiography. Ed. Thomas Mackay. London: John Murray, 1905. — "Dr Smiles' achievement is that by common consent he is recognised as the authorised and pious chronicler of the men who founded the industrial greatness of England." — Thomas Mackay

Spencer, Herbert. An Autobiography. Vol. I; Vol. 2. London: Williams and Norgate, 1904. — "It has seemed to me that a natural history of myself would be a useful accompaniment to the books which it has been the chief occupation of my life to write. In the following chapters I have attempted to give such a natural history. That I have fully succeeded is not to be supposed ; but perhaps I have succeeded partially. At any rate, one significant truth has been made clear — that in the genesis of a system of thought the emotional nature is a large factor: perhaps as large a factor as the intellectual nature. — Opening of Spencer's Preface.

Thompson, Flora. Lark Rise to Candleford. London: Oxford University Press, 1945. [Trilogy can be borrowed from the Internet Archive]. — well-known chronicle of life in the countryside.

Tonna, Elizabeth. Personal Recollections. London: Seeley and Burnside, 1841. — "...part personal memoir, part travelogue and part near fiction.... a fascinating glimpse into the life of an extraordinary woman — a woman with a social conscience and a number of causes to champion — living at a time of great social change and progress." — see Teresa Walker's critique.

Trollope, Anthony. An Autobiography. London:Oxford University Press, rpt. 1928. "The publication in 1883 of this queer bleak text-book of the mechanics and economics of novel-writing, was perhaps the most potent of the several causes that led to the collapse of Anthony Trollope as a literary reputation." — Michael Sadleir, in the opening of his introduction.

Vizetelly, Henry. Glances Back through Seventy Years. London: Kegan Paul, 1893. Vol. I and Vol. 2. Anyone interested in the development of the illustrated press in the nineteenth century will find material in this book that they can find nowhere else. But it's more than that: a waspish, shrewdly observed, vividly described account of literary Bohemians, their eccentricities, schemes, rivalries, successes, and failures, all set against the background of revolutionary changes in the world of publishing. Vizetelly was sick and broke when he wrote this, and he died soon after it was published, but the book breathes with life. — Patrick Leary

Warren, Mrs. How I Managed My House on Two Hundred Pounds a Year. London: Houlston and Wright, 1866. "Wives! if you would retain your husbands’ love with a deeper affection than when in its youthful freshness, cultivate every winning charm of mind and manner — every grace of proper attire, but let your household management be such as shall ensure comfort, pleasure, and recreation, and your own knowledge of simple cookery that which shall not only tempt the appetite, but as much as possible ensure health, by banishing indigestion and all the evils which arise from it." — Preface

Last modified 8 June 2024