Book review: Victorian Girls: Lord Lyttleton’s Daughters, by Sheila Fletcher

I’ve just finished reading Victorian Girls: Lord Lyttelton’s Daughters, by Sheila Fletcher. It’s a really excellent read, and a very fascinating picture of Victorian family life and sensibilities. Sadly, it also manages to not even remotely address the question that intrigued me enough to pick it up in the first place, namely why on earth would three intelligent women, whose father was actually responsible for the introduction of grammar schools for girls, consider the question of female suffrage ‘laughable’ and sign a petition against it?

This is mentioned in the preface, but never once in the book, and what we see of the girls’ characters does not, at least to me, provide illumination on this score.

I can’t say I feel cheated, though – it’s one of those rare non-fiction books that can be read in about the same amount of time as a novel; I couldn’t put it down. This was helped by the fact that all four daughters (Merriel, Lucy, Lavinia and May) kept diaries and wrote numerous letters to each other and to family friends, so that a very large amount of their personalities come through. Of course, as is always the case, the most fascinating parts are inevitably in the diaries and letters that didn’t survive.

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