Publication Date: November 7, 2016
In Adventures of an American Girl in Victorian London by Elizabeth L. Banks, it’s 1892, an American journalist named Elizabeth Banks launched the ultimate social experiment. She lived side by side with the people of Victorian England working in all manners of jobs from street sweeper to maid for some of the most demanding matrons in London. She also posed as an heiress to get the perspective of the elite. Adventures of an American Girl in London was originally published in 1894. Adventures of an American Girl in London is not a speculation of how things might have happened. It is a collection of real-life experiences translated into actual magazine articles that appeared in the publications of the day.
Elizabeth Bank was a unique woman in her time. She dived into her social experiment with a dedication to truth. She was a trailblazer and a remarkable woman in a time when women struggled for a place in society. Her assignment from her editor was not to forget that she was American and to provide proof of U.S. superiority by investigation. To say that Banks lost sight of her goal is an understatement. She relished the adventure of the experience, as the title implies. Indeed, after writing the series of articles fueled by her undercover exploits, she spent most of the rest of her life in England and died in 1938. She explored the life of working girls (in the context that they worked and not according to the modern day definition) and walked a mile in their shoes.
To be fair, Banks seemed to understand that she would not experience the complete sensation of working as a flower seller and maid because she had an out clause. She referenced the desperation of her fellow women in the working world. Banks acknowledges how uncertain their life could be and the fear of being thrown out without warning or a reference. She acknowledges that there are many people without options and when talking about maids, she conveys the horror of working for the middle class who expect their help to do absolutely everything. Chores in those days were no joke. Shortcuts were few, expectations were high and pay was minimal. Banks worst experiences seemed to come at the expense of the sauna-like laundry. The look through the window panes of the past to how things were done is as horrifying as it is fascinating.
Living like the other half and posing as an heiress had its perks, but Banks highlighted the grasping status-for-pay elite willing to introduce the young woman of supposed American influence for a price. Her fish-out-o- water humor is very natural and frequently unexpected. To say that it was a laugh-out-loud humor is overstating but the occasional unexpected snort would be appropriate.
The articles are written in real, formal English that may throw readers off. Adventures of an American Girl in London is true journalism ad imbued with pride and integrity. Banks is our observer in the historic world and her take is brave, bold and groundbreaking in its time. Look Elizabeth Banks up on Google. She was an astounding woman, active in the suffragette movement and working for British Intelligence in World War I. She lived on Downing Street in the shadow of the Prime Minister and some of the most astounding authors of the time (including one of my personal favorites, H.G. Wells). The further I delved into Adventures of an American Girl in London, the more I admired the guts it took for Elizabeth Banks to break out of her world and to step into a life where anything could happen.
Adventures of an American Girl in London is a wonderful experience for readers looking for the truth of the plight of the common man in Victorian England and a better look at a social structure whose impact none of us will ever truly understand. Adventures of an American Girl in London is the perfect #fridayread. Pick it up today.
Read an excerpt and buy Adventures of an American Girl in Victorian London by Elizabeth L. Banks on