I wanted to ask all of you if you know of any good references for speaking like a Victorian or proper etiquete language? Someone told me to just read "The Difference Engine" but any other tips would be splendid.
Proper ettiquete is all well and good. If you would like to display more local color and speak like a ruffian, I highly recommend "The Secret Language of Crime: The Rogue's Lexicon." It was compliled by a New York cop in the 1800s, cove.
All the prior recommendations here are well advised. The difficulty in creating Victorian dialogue is often understanding how people would speak differently to a gentleman or lady, rather than addressing a coachman or say a maid in that era. In the advised literature of the period, you can glean this,yet not always understand the meaning to the larger plot. I would second Charles Dickens works in particular to assist in this, also Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories of which for wit and drama, my favorites are Silver Blaze, The Adventure of the Blue Carbunkle, and The Man with the Twisted Lip. Also recommended for writers, (if you can find it), W.S. Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. This explanation of words, concepts, and other details of the Victorian Age is very enlightening to re-create stories of that era.
The Flashman series by George McDonald Fraser also has a rip roaring riotous dialogue of the era, and carries the verve and pip of the empiric Englishman!
As to the best current writers to look to exploring a Victorian era, two of my favorites are Sarah Waters (Tipping the Velvet or Fingersmith are highly recommended) and MIchael Cox (The Meaning of Night, The Glass of Time).
I would add to the above advice that a geographical and cultural understanding is imperative in attaining the correct speech patterns and mannerisms. For instance, I recently read a modern short story set in the 1890s where the main characters travel to the north of England. A cab driver in the northern town is revealed to have a cockney accent that is quite out of place in that location. The famous stereotypical London cabbie has never been a national feature. He has always been a resident of the city and more commonly of the East End. Outside of London during the Victorian period you would be extremely unlikely to find any lower class London accents at all. Despite its tiny size compared to the USA or Australia, the regional accents in England differ immensely over distances as little as a hundred miles. Fifty miles in some cases. It all rather depends on the geographical features and what had seperated regions from each other for millennia.
It is also worth remembering that the written language used by authors such as Dickens is rather formal and often written for the purpose of reading out loud to audiences. It may not reflect how they actually spoke, and characterisation is of course just that so may not reflect accurately the speech of the time despite resonating with audiences then and now.
Mord Em'ly by W. Pett Ridge (written 1901) is available for free at this site:
(use the search facility to find "Mord")
The author phonetically incorporates the speech patterns of street gangs and urchins and I suspect, although I cannot say for sure, that it is an accurate representation. My confidence is based on the fact that for three years I rented rooms on Walworth Road where the story is set. Do please remember that this is a central London dialect though, not one to be found in every bog and by-way of the British Isles.
I really like this website, although it’s not particularly Victorian I don’t believe. It has glossaries of obscure words for all kinds of things. Being obscure, rare or “lost” I can imagine many of these words could be used for a steampunk story or if you become adept at it, every day conversations!
As well as Victorian era literature, do look at earlier novels such as 'Fanny Hill' by John Cleveland, Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein', 'Vanity Fair' and others by William Makepeace Thackery, Byron, William Wilmot, even the works of Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters. They maybe before the Victorian era especially Wilmot from the 17th century and Cleveland from the 18th century but the style of writing is still there in the reign of Queen Victoria. Regarding the other scribblers, they were working around Victoria's succession to the throne. Also transcripts of French literature such as the works of the Marquis de Sade and Voltaire and those of Casanova's writing. The Victorian folks did read older stuff and were inspired by it in their literature and art too.
I wouldnt count too much on 'The Difference Engine' as its a contemporary piece of literature and is obviously written by an individual with modern day senses. It is only logical to read the literature of the age to have that grasp of how they used language. But I do recommend the earlier stuff too
An excellent suggestion my dear lady... might I also suggest that I found Oliver Twist to be a fascinating exploration of the language of the time but I do believe that the penultimate would have to be Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Your humble servant,