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Death in the Dining Room and Other Tales of Victorian Culture (American Civilization) Paperback – February 10, 1995

ISBN-13: 978-1566393331 ISBN-10: 1566393337 Edition: First Edition

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Death in the Dining Room and Other Tales of Victorian Culture (American Civilization) + American Artifacts: Essays in Material Culture + In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life
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Product Details

  • Series: American Civilization
  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Temple University Press; First Edition edition (February 10, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566393337
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566393331
  • Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 8.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #758,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Ken Ames has always 'heard a different drummer.' Death in the Diningroom explores his unique ideas of how our home furnishings give visitors a message about our status and concerns. Why don't we own a hall tree? Why are dead birds carved on the sideboard? And why are some Victorian chairs so uncomfortable? These and other strange thoughts pop up as you read his latest, well-illustrated book."
Ralph and Terry Kovel, authors of Kovels' Antiques and Collectables Price List


"[E]ffectively explores and articulates 'the varied tasks and roles' performed by ordinary goods in the everyday life of Victorian America, as well as the complex, contradicted elements of culture they often reveal."
American Quarterly



"An eminently engaging and entertaining work by one of the pre-eminent interpreters of Victorian culture."
Antique Review

From the Publisher

A richly illustrated and provocative discussion of Victorian culture through an exploration of common household goods

Outstanding Academic Title, Choice

Henry-Russell Hitchcock Award, Victorian Society of America


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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Rosemary Thornton VINE VOICE on May 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is an interesting book and an indepth history of household furnishings and the reason they were important to folks at the turn of this century.

Chapter One is "First Impressions" which deals at length with entry foyer furniture and how it was used. Hall racks, card stands and hall chairs are all discussed in this chapter.

Chapter Two is "Death in the dining room" - which gets it's name from the slain game often depicted on victorian dining room furniture - such as side boards and buffets.

Chapter Three is "Words to Live by" - Samplers, wall hangings and other embroidered or metal stamped messages.

Chapter Four is "When the Music Stops" which covers the societal importance of pump organs and how music was very important to a Victorian woman.

Chapter Five is "Posture and Power" - a chapter about living room (parlor) furniture.

There are a zillion interesting little factoids about life at the turn of this century. And it does give you a good feel for etiquette and expectations and the rules back then.

And it answered questions for me - like "Why was parlor furniture so uncomfortable and rigid?" Because Victorians placed great emphasis on the importance of self-control as an invaluable discipline. Comfortable furniture suggested mental laziness. (My paraphrase)

So it does give some insights into why things were the way they were. Lots of history there.

But when I picked it up, I thought it was a book on old houses, not old furniture.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
As teenagers, a friend and I used to play a "game": We'd walk into different environments (e.g., restaurant, upscale men's store, hippie headshop, etc.) and pretend that we were standing inside someone's brain. Then we'd make cracks about the personality, motivations, priorities, etc. of the "person," based on our material surroundings. That's really what Kenneth Ames does here -- using each room in a Victorian house.
A few years ago, when we moved into our own 1875 rowhouse, I began buying (indiscrimately) books on Victoriana. This one I picked up in shabby condition at a yard sale -- and for awhile, treated it accordingly. But in the time since, it has become one of the favored anchors of my collection. I find myself quoting it at odd moments for the simple reasons that (1) it offers lots of curious observations (e.g., that Victorian women "rocked" in rockers, while men "tilted" in chairs) that (2) can sometimes be seen as antecedents to behaviors today.
The author variously presents himself as both thoughtful essayist, and avid cataloguer (as when listing all the embroidered expressions--like "Home Sweet Home," "Peace, Be Still"--of Victorian needlework). Economically written--with an eye for the telling detail--and reasonably illustrated with photographs of the period.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 27, 2010
Format: Paperback
As I've noted in other reviews, I have a long and deep interest in material culture -- the physical artifacts produced by the way we live, which often are the only surviving evidence of our everyday history. In college nearly fifty years ago, as a trainee historian but also for its cheap entertainment value, I got in the habit of attending estate sales (even though I couldn't afford to buy anything), just to prowl around the leftovers of some family's earlier generations: Pocket watches and fobs, oddball kitchen implements and mysterious silverware, uncomfortable parlor furniture. I found it all fascinating, and often puzzling. ("What did they do with that?") Ames is a noted essayist on such things and is known for his original perspective on domestic archaeology from the 19th century, not only examining and describing but explaining (for instance) why the American rocking chair developed the way it did, and why tilting one's chair back is fraught with psychological meaning, and the special status of the parlor organ. For that matter, why was it important for the upwardly mobile family moving into a new house to have a back hall as well as a front hall? What was the point of self-consciously embellishing the printed mottoes on the wall (and the titles on the covers of books) to the point almost of unreadability? Design can be subversive, serving other purposes than merely abstract aesthetics, whether it's the furthering of evangelical religious dogma or underlining relative status within the middle-class family. The book's title, by the way, comes from the chapter on the depiction of nature and "plenty" on dining room sideboards, which in the mid-19th century nearly crossed the line into architecture in their sheer size and complexity of carving. This is a great book for thoughtful browsing and for gazing at the period illustrations on every page. There's also an excellent annotated notes and bibliography section.
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By Dianne on February 26, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is not light reading as it tells you in more detail than most want to know the symbolic significance relative to cultural values of several standard pieces of Victorian furnishings. It was interesing but longer than it needed to be to get the information across in my opinion.
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