Books in Britain really came into their own in the Victorian era.
One measure of literacy is considering the signatures of bride & groom on their wedding certificates. In 1843 one third of grooms and half of brides could sign somewhat crudely, by the 1900s 97% could sign their name.
Education was slowly made available to the masses but it wasn’t until 1870 that Schools were generally available until 1870,but it was The Education Act of 1881 that made education compulsory up to age 10, and it only became free in 1890.
Books were expensive and could cost an average weeks wages so they tended to be published in weekly editions unless your parents were well-off.
The Victorian era produced some of the greatest authors of all time and can be defined as:
“A loose definition of Victorian literature is anything published during the time of Queen Victoria and her reign (1837-1901). Actual Victorians include the British writers who were living IN Britain during her reign, but I know the term has also been placed on writers from America and elsewhere in Europe. Victorian literature also creates a bridge between the Romantic and Dark-Romantic writings of the early 19th century, to the Progressive/Modern eras in America and the Edwardian eras of literature at the turn of the 20th century” http://aliteraryodyssey.blogspot.co.uk
These wonderful writers such as Anne Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lewis Carroll, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Margaret Oliphant, Robert Louis Stevenson, Anthony Trollope, William Makepeace Thackeray and more.
However we must not forget that it wasn’t just novelists who were published there were authors whose works were cooks books and household keepers such as the ever popular Mrs Beeton and some of those recipes are good, I know because I have cooked them.