CBA Content

Use This Victorian Trick to Know Your Readers Better

Thomas and Jane Carlyle’s home in London was the place to be during the Victorian Era. Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Lord Tennyson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are a few of the literary giants who visited the writers’ home, engaging in worldly debates and friendly chats by the fire.

The Carlyles moved to Chelsea in 1834 and lived in the same house for the rest of their lives, for a total of 47 years. During that time, prominent editors, novelists, poets and critics visited the couple but more notably, they left an impression on Thomas and Jane.

Guests would write about their evenings in the parlor, spent conversing with Thomas or listening to Jane play the piano. The best part? Anyone can visit their home today and relive these stimulating soirées.

Throughout the well-preserved house – on the sofa, in the study, atop the mantlepiece – there are printouts full of details about who visited the Carlyles and what kind of impression the couple made on them. The vivid descriptions of Thomas and by Thomas were my favorite because they made you feel like you were sitting right next to them, almost inside their minds hearing their thoughts.


“We have passed an evening with Carlyle. He is one of the most interesting men I could imagine, one of the great sights in England to my mind. I am a Carlyle adorer!” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

From a content marketing perspective, these characterizations are invaluable to what we call “audience research.” They tell us who these people were, how they talked and what they thought.

Harriet Martineau

“She is very intelligent looking, really of pleasant countenance; was full of talk, though unhappily deaf almost as a post, so that you have to speak to her through an ear-trumpet.” – Thomas Carlyle on Harriet Martineau

Even from this short account of Harriet’s visit, we know she presents herself in a fashionable manner and loves to engage in conversation. She might not be able to hear well, but that doesn’t seem to affect her rapport with Thomas.

Another recorded memory, from none other than Oscar Wilde, gives us direct insight into how people felt about the Scottish writer and philosopher:

Oscar Wilde

“How great he was! He made history a song for the first time in our language.” – Oscar Wilde

These written impressions are incredibly helpful in understanding not only Carlyle’s profound influence on the literary world but also the language his admirers and friends used and the sentiments they shared.

If we look at this in terms of knowing your audience and creating content tailored to their wants and needs, you already have a clear picture of what these Victorian intellects:

  • Think
  • Do
  • Feel
  • Crave
  • Desire

While being able to empathize with your audience is only a part of producing content that your readers care about, it is perhaps the most important. Why? Because if you can identify with their feelings and attitudes, you can relate to them on a personal level and help solve a problem that matters.

As Copyblogger so eloquently explained: “It’s about entering the conversation that is already going in a person’s heart.”

How do you use your blog, newsletter, podcast (any type of content) to have more meaningful conversations? By collecting illuminating quotes like the above. Maybe not from 19th-century journals but from online polls and surveys, industry-wide conferences, social forums and meetups.

Once you begin immersing yourself in their world, a clear picture of how they talk, think and express themselves will emerge. Hold this picture in your mind when you create your next piece of content and see how much closer and more loyal your relationship to your readers becomes.

With that, I leave you a beautifully-written tribute to someone who admired Thomas Carlyle immensely – Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens

“[E]very new meeting ripened it into more and more clear discernment of his rare and great worth as a brother man; a most cordial, sincere, clear-sighted, quietly decisive, just and loving man: till at length he had grown to such a recognition with me as I have rarely had for any man in my time.” – Thomas Carlyle on Charles Dickens

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