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Household Gods: The British and their Possessions Hardcover – December 15, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; y First edition edition (December 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300112130
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300112139
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 7.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,050,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“[A] witty and beguiling history of a hundred years of British domestic interiors.”—Ligaya Mishan, New York Times Book Review
(Ligaya Mishan New York Times Book Review 2007-01-19)

About the Author

Deborah Cohen is associate professor of history at Brown University. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

More About the Author

Raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Deborah Cohen was educated at Harvard (BA) and Berkeley (Ph.D.). She is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Humanities and Professor of History at Northwestern University. Her speciality is modern European history, with a focus on Britain.

Cohen's new book is Family Secrets, published in the UK by Viking Penguin and in the US by Oxford. She's also the author of Household Gods: The British and their Possessions (Yale, 2006) and The War Come Home: Disabled Veterans in Britain and Germany (California, 2001).

Website: www.deborahacohen.com

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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See all 7 customer reviews
The writing is crisp and very insightful regarding social norms during the Victorian, Edwardian eras.
Virginia Grayson
The text is engaging enough to hold the casual reader of history, and yet well researched and documented enough to be useful to the dedicated historian.
David Johnson
Items as simple as a chair can be seen as something so much more to the owner than simply a place to sit you bum.
Janie Coffey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By MarkK VINE VOICE on September 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Deborah Cohen's book is a fascinating study on a number of levels. From its starting point as a history of the domestic interior of middle class homes from the Victorian era into the early twentieth century, it serves as a lens for examining the history of the period on a number of different levels. What emerges is an entertaining account of the democratization of taste that accompanied the growth of consumerism in the nineteenth century, one that reflected and presaged broader changes taking place in British society.

Cohen starts with a quote from a modern-day reverend bemoaning Britain's current obsession with home improvement stores which she sets up as an ironic counterpoint to the past, as in many ways the modern obsession with home decoration can be traced to the Evangelical movement of the nineteenth century. Prior to then, taste was the domain of the upper classes, inherent and exclusive to them. As the middle class prospered, however, its Evangelical members wrestled with the impact of the growing consumerism upon their souls. Their ingenious solution was not to reject materialism but to embrace it by stressing the moral impact goods made, and to channel consumption towards embodying godly virtues.

Though the impact of Evangelism faded as the century wore on, the passion for decoration only grew. The middle class increasingly sought to define themselves by their household possessions, taking advantage of both their increasing wealth and the diminishing cost of household goods.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David Johnson on July 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"A man's home is his castle" and no more so than in England, asserts Cohen in this excellent survey of consumerism in Great Britain from 1830 - 1930. Her survey touches on the ideas that began in the Georgian period, matured during the Victorian era and reached the fullness of their fruition during the inter-war period in the United Kingdom. The text is engaging enough to hold the casual reader of history, and yet well researched and documented enough to be useful to the dedicated historian. If you have ever yearned to walk down the street of Victorian London and see what was in the shops, this book is your window on that world.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Richard H. Cady on July 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a antiquarian book and manuscript dealer for almost forty years I am always interested in why and how collectors collect. This book is a delight. Well researched, very readable, and the selection of illustration is wonderful. I bought another copy to send as a gift.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Janie Coffey on May 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In "Household Gods" Deborah Cohen takes us on a tour of the hearts and homes of 100 years of middle-class England. The tour is not linear, but rather winds and weaves through the streets and changing trends and perspectives of the middling class from the 1830s-1930s. Cohen, through a rich and deep study of both primary and secondary sources, shows the reader how home decor and consumerism were (and are) not just following design fads, but often windows into the political and religious values and movements at given places in time. Items as simple as a chair can be seen as something so much more to the owner than simply a place to sit you bum. It could be a reflection of your religious values, it could be an expression of your deepest self (individual personality) or your darkest fear, it could be an expression (to yourself or others) of your place (or desired place) in society.

Goods and material items both helped express the man and "make the man", as disposable income grew and restrictions on class mobility shrank; household items and outfitting a home became both a way to express a person's religious, personal and social views and stance as well as a rung to actually help climb the social ladder. The view of personal expression through consumer goods wove a trail trough religious expression, unique personal identity to risk aversion and safety. Household goods reflected at a micro level the changing of the views and place in society of the middle class at a macro level.

Of particular fun was Cohen's chapter on the establishment of valuing and collecting antiques.
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