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Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England Hardcover – May, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This room-by-room guide brims with delightful description and discussion of the Victorians and their domestic environments. Flanders (A Circle of Sisters, which was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award) evokes the period's intimate preoccupations by drawing on a variety of sources: extracts from Dickens, Gissing, Jane Carlyle, Gaskell, Trollope and Beatrix Potter, among many other authors; line drawings, period paintings and advertisements; and snippets by the numerous magazine advice writers of the era, including the influential household experts Mrs. Panton and Mrs. Beeton. Flanders makes particularly clever use of commentaries by alienated overseas visitors to Britain, highlighting national customs of the period. She weaves these materials into an absorbing cradle-to-grave story of life in the urban upper-middle-class household. Although working-class life is overlooked, the work of the servants who tended the bourgeois home is rendered in vivid, often harrowing detail and with great attention to class boundaries and tensions. Particularly informative are the journal entries of domestic servant Hannah Cullwick, encouraged to record her days' work by naughty gentleman Arthur Munby (who later became her clandestine husband). Flanders is unflinching on the realities of dirt, childbirth, women's bodies and serious illness. Her intelligent, and unromanticized scrutiny of Victorian domestic custom, etiquette and style will greatly enhance readers' understanding of the period's social history, its literature, and visual and decorative arts. Aware of the power of family life to determine attitudes toward gender, childhood, education and health, Flanders is sensitive to the otherness of the period, translating its strangeness without resorting to anachronism. 24 pages of color illus. and b&w illus. throughout.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* London journalist-author (A Circle of Sisters, 2001, among others) Flanders provides a book so fascinating that it yields at least one surprise--and often many more than that--on each page. Ignore the title; it is no more a static treatise on different Victorian rooms than Sir Terence Conran's books comprise an ordinary approach to home decor. Instead, we find a real sense of Victoriana, its "occupants'" lives, struggles, habits, and styles, portrayed through the eyes of contemporary novelists (Dickens, Trollope, and other less-recognized names) and nonfiction writings. Consider, for example, the evolution of the woman as "the ministering angel to domestic bliss." In the parlor, she was transformed into a bride, ready for all the exigencies of marriage, beginning with a trousseau that might have cost 20 pounds. The morning room, exclusively female, was dedicated to the business of organizing and running a household. And the nursery symbolized a child-centered universe, with mothers responsible for teaching and nurturing their young offspring, and fathers for supporting the family. More than a window into the past. Barbara Jacobs
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st American Ed edition (May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393052095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393052091
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Judith Flanders was born in London, England, in 1959. She moved to Montreal, Canada, when she was two, and spent her childhood there, apart from a year in Israel in 1972, where she signally failed to master Hebrew.

After university, Judith returned to London and began working as an editor for various publishing houses. After this 17-year misstep, she began to write and in 2001 her first book, A Circle of Sisters, the biography of four Victorian sisters, was published to great acclaim, and nominated for the Guardian First Book Award. In 2004, Inside the Victorian Home received widespread praise, and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards History Book of the Year. In 2006, Consuming Passions was published. Her book, The Invention of Murder, was shortlisted for the 2011 CWA Non-Fiction Dagger. Her most recent book The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London was published in 2012.

Judith also contributes articles, features and reviews for a number of newspapers and magazines. Her home on he web can be found at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Judith Flanders has written a book that is not only well conceived, well written, enlightening and informative, it is also a window to focusing the definition of the much maligned adjective 'Victorian'. Flanders writes with a fluid, novelesque style that cements her references and investigations into a fascinatingly powerful indictment of what many of us have believed to be a Golden Age. Using the unique format of going room by room through a middle class (and please note, this is not a book about the wealthy or the poverty stricken homes) English Victorian house, describing (and well illustrating!) the emphasis on appearances in the 'public sections' of the homes ( reception halls, parlors, dining rooms, libraries, living rooms) and the disparate Spartan appearances of the 'private rooms' such as the kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, maids' quarters, Flanders is indeed describing the social mores of that era. Everything is caught up in appearances: a woman's place is in the home preparing for the return from work of the husband, keeping the children at bay, overseeing the 'help' and paying lip service and public display to the superficialities of charity work. Men's live are public; women's lives are private. One of the many interesting aspects Flanders investigates is the crudity of coping with the filth of the homes - from the gaslight lamps, the soot from Industrialization, the lack of knowledge about bacterial contamination in food handling, the disgust of the mud and manure encrusted streets and shoes, etc. If ever there were explanations for the dichotomies that inhabit the literature, art, music, politics, gender problems of the late 19th century, they are here well documented by a first-rate writer. No matter your reasons for wanting to investigate the Victorian Era, this wise and very entertainingly informative book is an excellent resource. An excellent book on many levels and well worth your reading time!
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61 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Thomas M. Sullivan on August 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
History lovers are a hardy lot. They repeatedly accept the challenge of reading 500-page, often dry, and frequently dreary, accounts of people and events so obscure that most "normal" folks wouldn't venture a guess at the reason for the exercise. But even we tome-travelers have to admit that once in a while it sure is refreshing to come across a bit of "social" history that, conceding nothing in either scholarship or excellence of presentation, examines that most fascinating-at least to me-of all subjects: the daily lives of people in another time.

Having read Daniel Pool's "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew", a facially similar account of daily life in Victorian England, I doubt that I would have purchased this prosaically titled work had it not been for its glowing reader reviews. And if anything, the reviews understate this book's delights.

Adopting the clever device of moving from room to room in a "typical" Victorian home, Ms. Flanders uses each setting as a topical springboard to examine every conceivable facet of daily life in more telling detail than Pool's treatment and with a plain but wryly humorous writing style that should be the envy of any author on any subject! Seguing effortlessly from room to room and subject to subject, she paints a portrait of a period so close to ours in time but so far removed in struggle that one can't refrain from pausing every chapter or so to ponder how easy we have it compared with our forebears. Her description of servants' Sisyphean efforts to maintain a home's cleanliness in the age of coal and unpaved streets is alone reason to have you running to hug your Hoover and worship your Whirlpool.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By S. Becker on April 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
While there are many accounts of life for the upper classes in Victorian England, and on the working classes too, Judith Flanders has chosen to focus on daily life for the Victorian middle class, which exploded in England during the 19th century. With greater buying power and social influence than ever before, they created a lifestyle that still echos in ours today. And they were responsible for that English institution: the Victorian terrace house.
"Inside the Victorian Home" takes us through every room in such a house, and describes not only what happened there, but why. For example, the chapter entitled "The Scullery" outlines the multiple steps involved in doing one load of washing. We also learn how hard it was to keep a house clean in a time when coal dust coated everything, the difference between what boys and girls were expected to learn in the school room, and how the Victorians treated illnesses at home. Many of these are taken from diaries and letters, real life accounts.
But behind all of this domestic detail, the book tells us WHY all of this was so important to the Victorians. It underlines the moral climate of the time: "A man's home is his castle", and "Cleanliness is next to godliness" - sayings which became the virtues every family strove to display by the way they lived their domestic life. We are told how most of this responsibility fell to women. As mistress of the house, a Victorian wife proved the moral standing of her family not only by the way she behaved, but also by how clean her house was, how she regulated the servants and children, and how she handled the household accounts. All these were just as much expressions of respectability as marital fidelity or going to church.
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