“Bitten by Witch Fever” by Lucinda Hawksley, published by Thames & Hudson (in association with the National Archives) is an absolutely stunning and fascinating book about the history of arsenic used in fabrics and home decor items like wallpaper in the late 1800s in the UK.
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The pros of the book:
This book contains gorgeous examples of wallpaper that included arsenic, there are some really interesting designs that will be interesting to any lover of design or the Victorian era. The publisher has also divided the wallpaper samples into colour sections, which makes for a really interesting way to look through each section. In addition, the pages are cut at different sizes which makes for a really lovely reading experience, I’ve never seen another book put together like that (and I’m a major book fiend… 😂). The history and stories included in the book are completely fascinating, to the point that I blazed through this book in one evening, I was completely riveted. I also loved the stories weaving in William Morris and his ownership of an arsenic mine and his production methods as he is such an influential designer, even today.
The cons of the book:
There are other books that go much more deeply into the history of wallpaper as a whole if that’s what you’re looking for, but the focus on arsenic-laden papers in Bitten by Witch Fever is so interesting.
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Wonderful review, and I will get the book. Thanks. The fact that there was so much arsenic around helps explain some of the weird behavior in the Victorian era. But the designs were great. I find however that the color choices a bit off, while bright, not terribly ‘sunny’. Morris and his designers were amazing though.
Yeah the colour palettes of the Victorian era were definitely more “smoky,” like muted tones and you didn’t often see really vibrant bright clear colours. They obviously had the capability, as a lot of Indian fabric manufacturers were doing very vibrant dyes, but maybe the muted tones reflected the general muted colours they’d see in the UK (as the weather isn’t known for being fantastic, it’s quite gray and dreary at times). Glad you enjoyed the review, actually getting the book and reading it was such a delight for me. 😊