Picard, Liza 1927-
Picard, Liza 1927-
Writer, historian, and attorney. Called to the bar, England, c. 1948. British Inland Revenue, retired lawyer.
Restoration London: From Poverty to Pets, from Medicine to Magic, from Slang to Sex, from Wallpaper to Women's Rights, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Dr. Johnson's London: Life in London, 1740-1770, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 2000, published as Dr. Johnson's London: Coffee-houses and Climbing Boys, Medicine, Toothpaste and Gin, Poverty and Press-gangs, Freakshows and Female Education, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Elizabeth's London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Victorian London: The Life of a City, 1840-1870, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Liza Picard is a retired lawyer who lives in England. Born in 1927, Picard became an attorney at age twenty-one. For many years, she worked for Britain's Inland Revenue, the English equivalent of America's Internal Revenue Service. An enthusiastic amateur historian, Picard has written a series of books that describe in detail the everyday life and social history of four significant periods in the history of London, from the Restoration to the Victorian era.
John Cunningham, writing in the London Guardian, described Picard as "a bit of a stately matron, but without any pretentiousness. She has turned being a late starter and an unashamedly plodding researcher into virtues." Though some readers may be horrified at the thought, "Picard insists that, when it comes to interpreting material, women make the best social historians" in large part because of a greater involvement in social and domestic details.
The first of Picard's books is Restoration London: From Poverty to Pets, from Medicine to Magic, from Slang to Sex, from Wallpaper to Women's Rights. In the book, Picard "attempts to provide not a history but a description of how people lived in London in the decade (1660-1670) following the restoration of the Stuarts," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Picard carefully mines primary-source documents and contemporary materials to assemble her account, including the well-known diary of Samuel Pepys and other records from the time. She describes in detail such elements as gardens, parks, and other public spaces; the nature of housework in Restoration times; how mundane chores such as laundry and shopping were accomplished; the primitive but earnest state of Restoration medicine and dentistry; the achievements of seventeenth-century science and technology; and more. She recounts detailed anecdotes of people who lived, worked, and survived in Restoration London, and notes that living conditions and life expectancy had increased significantly since medieval times. Restoration life was controlled by detailed and elaborate codes of behavior, she notes, which served to have a civilizing influence over the population. Picard also turns in material on the topics in the book's subtitle, covering language, interpersonal relationships, interior decorating, and the state of women's rights.
Her next work, Dr. Johnson's London: Coffee-houses and Climbing Boys, Medicine, Toothpaste and Gin, Poverty and Press-gangs, Freakshows and Female Education, looks at the conditions in London during the 1700s, when noted critic, lexicographer, biographer, and essayist Samuel Johnson was a contemporary resident. Picard offers "entrancing miniature glimpses" of the city and its varied inhabitants, commented Nigel Tappin in a Library Journal review. Picard describes what life was like in a city where unregulated industrialism and unfettered capitalism were starting to take hold. For the poor in London of the time, conditions were grim, offering inadequate and sometimes contaminated food, below-subsistence wages, crowded and unsanitary living conditions, unmitigated disease, and lack of some of the basics, including proper clothing and shelter. Conditions for the middle classes were appreciably better, and Picard expends some space describing their lives, working conditions, living arrangements, amusements, and more. The rich, as always, were far removed from the difficult conditions of the average citizen, and Picard dedicates only a short chapter to their eighteenth-century social history. "This pleasingly plotless book offers fascinating snapshots of the appealing and the repellant in a particular time and place," mused a Publishers Weekly critic. The book "gets at the everyday historical particulars of London life at a fascinating time," noted Tappin. Though her book is not a scholarly historical analysis, Picard "does an admirable job of giving a taste of what life was like in Europe's largest city during the mid-18th century," observed Robert Burnham in the School Library Journal.
Picard shifts her focus several years forward to the reign of Queen Elizabeth in Elizabeth's London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London. Picard once again examines the conditions faced by everyday Londoners during this time period through reports and descriptions based on letters, books, and other contemporary accounts of urban life. Like her "other accounts, this one features the arresting detail, the perfect anecdote, the apt quotation," observed a Kirkus Reviews critic. Among her topics are Elizabethan architecture, food, family life, education, employment, crime, law, and social welfare. She also discusses several aspects of Elizabethan society that were unique to the time period, such as the fact that a license was required to beg or to eat meat. She relates that the London lottery at the time carried a phenomenal (for the time) prize of 5,000 pounds sterling. She also describes the mounting problem of recreational drug use, and the appalling conditions in Bethlehem Hospital, which gave rise to the modern term "bedlam." She describes the housing boom that resulted from King Henry VIII's seizure of papal real estate. Picard also offers a detailed portrait of Queen Elizabeth herself, clothed in vibrant, regal clothing; wearing heavy chalky-white makeup to hide her smallpox scars; and commanding a phenomenal public image and personal wealth. A Publishers Weekly critic remarked that "this vibrant social history makes the city of five centuries ago seem as alive as today's, if not more." With this book, "Picard again demonstrates her enormous knowledge of, and passion for, London's past," commented reviewer Les Pickford in Geographical. New Statesman reviewer Jan Morris enthusiastically remarked that "reading this book is like taking a ride on a marvelously exhilarating time-machine, alive with color, surprise and sheer merriment."
In Victorian London: The Life of a City, 1840-1870, Picard explores the social history of mid-nineteenth-century London, presided over by Queen Victoria and marked by significant advances in city infrastructure. Picard "provides in each chapter a richly textured account of Londoners' material surroundings, layering descriptions and anecdotes taken from primary sources with the author's narrative," commented Gretchen R. Galbraith in the Historian. Characteristic of Victorian London was the strong smells that permeated the city, caused by the dumping of raw sewage into the Thames. Picard describes how this malodorous and unsanitary problem was solved by the city's chief engineer, Joseph Bazalgette, who redesigned and reconfigured the city's sewers into an effective configuration that still works today. Bazalgette's work with the sewers eventually led to the reclamation of thirty-seven usable acres of prime land from the Thames. Elsewhere in the book, Picard explores practical matters of daily living in London, including transportation, religion, class, gender, entertainment, daily necessities, home life, and more. Picard "provides a rich, startling insight into the lives of the mid-Victorians," noted Tristram Hunt, writing in the New Statesman. Library Journal contributor Brad Hooper concluded that Picard's book will "enlighten and amuse."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 1, 2004, George Cohen, review of Elizabeth's London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London, p. 1344; February 15, 2006, Brad Hooper, review of Victorian London: The Life of a City, 1840-1870, p. 33.
Bookseller, February 28, 2003, review of Elizabeth's London, p. 5.
British Heritage, July, 2006, review of Victorian London, p. 64.
Choice, September, 2006, E.J. Jenkins, review of Victorian London, p. 185.
Contemporary Review, October, 2001, review of Dr. Johnson's London, p. 250; summer, 2006, review of Victorian London, p. 259.
Economist, October 1, 2005, "Rags and Bones; London," review of Victorian London, p. 80.
Geographical, August, 2003, Les Pickford, review of Elizabeth's London, p. 64.
Guardian (London, England), August 4, 2001, John Cunningham, "A Life in Writing: Literary London, Warts and All," profile of Liza Picard.
Historian, fall, 2007, Gretchen R. Galbraith, review of Victorian London, p. 596.
History: Review of New Books, fall, 2004, Clifton W. Potter, Jr., review of Elizabeth's London, p. 22; summer, 2006, Edmund D. Potter, review of Victorian London, p. 121.
History Today, November, 2000, review of Dr. Johnson's London, p. 52.
Independent (London, England), September 30, 2005, Michael Leapman, review of Victorian London.
Journal of British Studies, October, 2006, Kathrin Levitan, review of Victorian London, p. 925.
Journal of Church and State, winter, 2006, Robert J. Frankle, review of Elizabeth's London, p. 220.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2004, review of Elizabeth's London, p. 317.
Library Journal, June 1, 2001, Nigel Tappin, review of Dr. Johnson's London, p. 187; February 15, 2006, Robert Moore, review of Victorian London, p. 132.
New Criterion, March, 2006, Alexandra Mullen, review of Victorian London, p. 76.
New Statesman, May 19, 2003, Jan Morris, "Flesh and Filth," review of Elizabeth's London, p. 52; August 15, 2005, Tristram Hunt, "Capital Visions: For Thomas De Quincey It Was a ‘Labyrinth’; William Cobbett Called It ‘the Great Wen.’ Throughout History, Londoners Have Debated the Meaning of Their City. Tristram Hunt Gets to Grips with Its Seamier Side," review of Victorian London, p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, April 13, 1998, review of Restoration London: From Poverty to Pets, from Medicine to Magic, from Slang to Sex, from Wallpaper to Women's Rights, p. 61; May 14, 2001, review of Dr. Johnson's London, p. 61; March 29, 2004, review of Elizabeth's London, p. 45; January 30, 2006, review of Victorian London, p. 51.
School Library Journal, January, 2002, Robert Burnham, review of Dr. Johnson's London, p. 172.
Spectator, November 22, 1997, review of Restoration London, p. 42; August 5, 2000, Lucy Moore, review of Dr. Johnson's London, p. 34; August 13, 2005, Philip Hensher, "Capital Gains and Losses," review of Victorian London, p. 30.
Times (London, England), August 14, 2005, Simon Jenkins, review of Victorian London.
Times Literary Supplement, December 12, 1997, Helen Simpson, review of Restoration London, p. 28; January 5, 2001, Peter Earle, review of Dr. Johnson's London, p. 26; June 20, 2003, Alex Burghart, review of Elizabeth's London, p. 34; January 6, 2006, Judith Flanders, "Hats off for the Duke," review of Victorian London, p. 5.
World and I, December, 2001, Michael Thorpe, "A Great and Monstrous City: A Zestful Exploration, Both Humane and Humorous, of Life in Samuel Johnson's London," review of Dr. Johnson's London.
Book World Web log,http://bookworld.typepad.com/ (November 20, 2006), review of Dr. Johnson's London.
Jane Austen Society of Australia Web site,http://www.jasa.net.au/ (January 28, 2008), Dennis Nutt, review of Dr. Johnson's London.