The best-selling social history of Victorian domestic life, told through the letters, diaries, journals and novels of 19th century men and women.
The Victorian age is both recent and unimaginably distant. In the most prosperous and technologically advanced nation in the world, people carried slops up and down stairs; buried meat in fresh earth to prevent mould forming; wrung sheets out in boiling water with their bare hands. This drudgery was routinely performed by the parents of people still living, but the knowledge of it has passed as if it had never been. Running water, stoves, flush lavatories – even lavatory paper – arrived slowly throughout the century; and most were luxuries available only to the prosperous.
Flanders’ new book is itself laid out like a house, following the story of daily life from room to room: from childbirth in the master bedroom, through the scullery and kitchen – cleaning, dining, entertaining – on upwards, ending with the sickroom and death. Under Judith Flanders’ expert guidance the Victorian house opens up in front of the reader to become a full exploration of Victorian life.
Through a collage of diaries, letters, advice books, magazines and paintings, Flanders shows how social history is built up out of tiny domestic details. Through these we can understand the desires, motivations and thoughts of the age.
Many people today live in Victorian terraces, and so the houses themselves are familiar. But the lives are not. The Victorian House will change this.
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Judith Flanders takes a novel approach to rediscovering the lives of our 19th century forebears in her The Victorian House. She pays them a visit. Perhaps mindful of the success of the Channel 4 series, The 1900 House and The 1940s House, Flanders steps back a few decades earlier to embark on a room-by-room guide to a typical mid-Victorian family home. We start in the bedroom and work our way downstairs through the principal parts of a middle-class home. Particular attention is paid to the operations side of the household--the bathroom, the kitchen and the scullery--where the Victorian preoccupation with cleanliness and food is well-described. Flanders is also good at drawing out the decorative functions of the Victorian home, bringing out the separate male and female domains of the drawing room and the parlour.
A wealth of detail--from advice books such as Mrs Beeton's cookbooks, novels, contemporary magazines and autobiographies--is crammed into each room. This is more than an inventory of interior design. Flanders uses the house as a base from which Victorian attitudes towards servants, marriage, illness, death and religion can be explored. There remains a small quibble: this book should really be titled "The Middle-class House of Victorian London". We are not taken to any provincial homes. And a question mark remains over how representative Flanders' rather grand Victorian house is, heaving as it does with servants, hot water and ornate furnishings. As she herself notes, few Victorian families could afford more than one servant at the very most, many married couples still lived with their older relatives and hardly anyone owned their own home. --Miles TaylorReview:
Praise for A Circle of Sisters
‘A Circle of Sisters is a revelation. The MacDonald sisters, each interesting in herself but also an astonishing foursome, blow away all the tired platitudes about ‘Victorian women’. Judith Flanders recreates their extraordinary lives with sympathy and insight.’ Roy Porter
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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2003. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 7131887
Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2003. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110007131887