Kilvert’s World of Wonders: Growing up in mid-Victorian England

By John Toman

A life and times of the early Victorian clerical diarist Francis Kilvert, showing his perspective on the social and intellectual developments of his era.

ISBN: 9780718893019


Kilvert’s World of Wonders focuses upon the life of the endearingly humble clergyman Francis Kilvert, who is best known for the Diary which records his sensitive descriptions of rural life in the nineteenth century.

Until recently Kilvert was considered naïve, lacking in confidence, and parochial in outlook, most at home in the country cottage or the country vicarage. In this volume, however, Toman reveals Kilvert as a sophisticated thinker in touch with metropolitan culture and fascinated by the technological progress of his age. He marvelled at railways, shipyards, and the machinery of the Great Exhibition, and explored the theories of mesmerism and evolution. Toman makes his customary careful reading of the Diary, demonstrated in his previous study Kilvert’s Diary and Landscape (The Lutterworth Press, 2009), but also delves into Kilvert’s family background, education and childhood reading, and into the diaries of his sister Emily, to shed light on previously unacknowledged aspects of Kilvert’s personality.

In this perceptive revaluation of Kilvert’s character and outlook, Toman introduces us to a man who sought to understand the great changes of the mid-nineteenth century, and so come to terms with his modernising world.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 326

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Trade Information LGENPOD

About the Author

John Toman spent thirty years in education as a teacher, lecturer, and schools inspector. For many years, he has read and re-read Kilvert’s Diary and walked ‘Kilvert Country’. During the last twenty years, he has made an intensive study of the Diary and of Kilvert’s background.



Prologue: ‘Some great change must take place’
1. Piety, Progress and Print: Kilvert’s Background
2. Nature’s Classroom
3. Kilvert the Naturalist
4. Steamboats, Viaducts and Railways
5. Kilvert and Science and Technology
6. Natural Law and the Mind
7. Kilvert and Tyndall
8. Miracles and Wonders
9. Kilvert and Teaching
10. Museums and Picture Galleries
11. The Christian Geographer
12. ‘Plunging into Ancient Chaos’: Kilvert and Evolution

Select Bibliography


Endorsements and Reviews

Toman’s study reveals Kilvert to have been a man who ‘had the curiosity and courage to face the age’s difficult questions’. The book’s thorough and scholarly approach will ensure that it remains an indispensable tool to all those who wish to understand him and the forces which shaped him.
Dr Martin Crossley Evans, University of Bristol

Toman completes here a thorough reassessment of the literary, cultural and theological influences on Kilvert, bringing us closer than ever before to his character. Meticulously researched and written in a clear, engaging style, the book foregrounds the diarist’s complex and ambivalent relationship with the rapidly developing climate of the mid-nineteenth century.
Dr Philip Dunham, University of Coventry

Toman will have put all devotees of Francis Kilvert in his debt with this masterly conclusion to this trilogy.
Bernard Palmer, in Church Times, 16 August 2013

Each chapter benefits from detailed references, making this scholarly volume an excellent documentation of Kilvert’s questioning wonder at evolving ideas, encompassing Tyndall, Darwin and evolution, … railways, steamships, etc. This is a book to read if you want to examine the man behind the diary, and to understand the tensions engendered by the dimensions of progress and tradition.
The Gower Society Newsletter, Autumn 2013

This is Kilvert as we have never perceived him. This is the magic interaction of God-inspired Evangelical endeavour, its influence on science and endeavour, discovery, academic thought, the natural world which so interested Kilvert and a driving forward such as this country has not seen before or since.
Michael Sharp, in The Kilvert Society Journal, September 2013

This book is the result of meticulous research … I will be reading any further Kilvert diaries, if they emerge, and returning again to Toman’s analysis.
Pat Bowker, in North West Labour History, Vol 39

Toman’s book is a useful reminder of the whole range of response to the Victorian ‘crisis of faith’.
Cliff Davies, in Wadham College Gazette, 2013

This admirable book completes John Toman’s trilogy on Francis Kilvert … Not only is this volume the essential handbook on Kilvert, but it also encapsulates some of the fundamental issues that dominated intellectual life in the 19th century and remain so important in our own time.
David Whitehead, in Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists Field Club, 2014

Toman’s study is detailed, meticulously researched, and informative …
Year’s Work in English Studies, Vol 94, No 1