I bought several slang dictionaries years back to help me get a feel for period dialogue. I often found that the slang references were from books of the period, which lead me to investigate the original sources. Not only did I find more slang in those sources, but often learned general Victorian phrasing as well, which is often markedly different from current speech. Here are 10 sources.
Tom Sawyer—Mark Twain—I’ve used this one for my mid-western farmer-type Victorian characters. It’s very helpful for children as well.
Roughin’ It—Mark Twain—I’ve used this more for the Western characters, cowboys and miners and such. Lots of good slang.
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court—Mark Twain—I’ve used this for my Eastern characters, later in the Victorian period. Mark Twain was really good with using regular speech as opposed to the formal speech in many books of this era. That’s why he’s on the list 3 times.
Little Women—Louisa May Alcott—Eastern characters and those of an educated class, mid Victorian period.
The Virginian—Owen Wister—The problem with this book is that it was published late in the period (1902?). I have used some of the slang, and I do use the dialogue to help me out, but I worry that I’m using early 20th century slang instead of that of the mid-19th. I find myself going back to my slang dictionaries to check.
Gettysburg—The movie—Of course this was written in the 20th century, but the dialogue often has a good period feel. I’ll sometimes have this movie on in the background as I revise my books, in hopes that the “feel” will sink in.
Sharpe Series—Bernard Cornwell—all the movies—I love these movies. They’re about the Napoleonic wars, true, but they do still give the general “feel” for the early 19th century. Although written in modern times, I’m comfortable with the authenticity of the dialogue, after looking up some of the phrasing in the slang dictionaries. I find it most useful when I have English characters (phrases like Bugger off) in my Victorian American novels. Besides, Sean Bean is to die for. http://www.compleatseanbean.com/sharpe.html
The Bostonians—Henry James—I’ve read the book but have yet to use it extensively. I expect to be doing so in the near future, when I edit/revise my WIP, since it’s about a Boston born women’s right’s activist.
Edgar Allen Poe—anything—Although he was American, his writing has, to me, a very British feel to it. I don’t know why. I do use him for flavor, but usually for characters who are apt to be more verbose and starchy.
Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility—Jane Austen—Her books are from the regency era, true. But I had an English Aristocratic heroine in Wicked Woman and I wanted to see if I could find words that would differentiate her from the American characters in the book. I figured the wording in these books were close enough to the time period of Wicked Woman (1811 to 1855—40 years) that I wouldn’t be totally off.
Anyone else have favorite books written in the Victorian period? Especially anything Western. . . .