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Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History Paperback


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Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History + The English Country House: From the Archives of Country Life
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (January 26, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300058705
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300058703
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 7.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #623,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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63 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Erica on May 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
Mark Girouard, an architectural historian, has traced the roles of form and function in England's Great Houses in this densely illustrated, sensitively written book. Floor-plans, innumerable photographs and drawings (many of homes now destroyed), and portraits pepper the text, which is readability itself.
The book follows a chronological path from the Mediaval Household to the present day. The text isn't dry at all. Delicious details abound: Bess of Hardwick pacing her Great Chamber of Hardwick Hall, waiting for the royal visit that never came in the instantly-dated house she'd built for this very purpose, ... The origin of the phrase "backstairs intrigues" (both political and sexual).... the slow but persistant birth of the aristocratic ideal of "privacy"--and how it affected dining halls....the rise of the great dilettante libraries (and the rooms to house them).....and the advent of the freakish innovation of indoor plumbing (and a picture of the Duke of Wellington's elaborate WC) are just a few tidbits.
Mr. Girouard doesn't neglect the "downstairs" portion of a Great House, because he's interested in the whole institution as a functioning unit. Some of the most intriguing photos are of beloved servants' portraits, and the almost Shaker-like beauty of a working kitchen or laundry. Included, also, is a printed "Summary of Livery Men's Duties, Etc., Etc.", of Hatfield House, and darned if it doesn't sound like instructions for empoyees at an indifferent New York hotel!
This book is a delicious retrospective, and will make any red-blooded Anglophile who longs for one of these faded leviathans very happy indeed. Now, if you need me further, I will be in the Orangery.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Karyn Martin on February 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
Don't be put off at first by the black and white photos. This book has some color photos, and I was at first hesitant to purchase this book because it seemed to be mostly black and white photography.
However, once I began to read this book, all thoughts about photos went out of my head! This book is informative, intelligent and thorough. The author has studied his subject very well, and writes in a clear and easy to follow manner. I really do find the floorplans to be an invaluable tool towards understanding the buildings the author is describing.
I am currently using this book as a research tool for my novel, but I did buy this book just for the love of the subject and I was not disappointed.
I would recommend this book again and again to anyone with a love of history and architecture.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Drew W. Sullivan on January 13, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is brilliant. It reminded me of a paleontology book where the author looks at the shells of ancient marine fossils and reconstructs their lives from the shape of the shells.

From the structure of the English Country House Girouard recreates the lives of those who lived in them. Not just the Lord and Lady but all those who lived and worked there. How many people were in this room during dinner? How did the food get to the dining area (usually a long trek. This minimized the chance the kitchen would burn the place down but mimimized the chance dinner hadn't congealed). How many people (ladies in waiting, servants, servants of servants) were sleeping in the room together in 1500, 1700 or 1890? The idea that one would actually have any privacy is a very recent concept.

A fascinating reconstruction of what life was like not just for the head of the household, but for all who lived on the estate.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 12, 2010
Format: Paperback
Anyone who has read Jane Austen or Thackeray, or followed the adventures of Hercule Poirot, or has watched "Gosford Park," has had some exposure to the cliché of the English country house and its denizens. There were large estates in medieval times, of course, but the country estate to which the wealthy (which usually meant the titled) could escape from the city, is largely an outgrowth of Henry VIII stripping the Church of its rural properties and turning them over to those families who had supported him and to whom he owed a favor. The large houses, whether converted monasteries or purpose-built, grew in number during the Georgian era and especially in the 19th century, but the heavy taxation of the 20th century reduced their number greatly. The notion of the country house, with jowly gentlemen in dinner jackets playing billiards and bored ladies doing needlepoint on the veranda, now seems almost quaint, but there's a great deal of social history there -- much of it preserved by the large and intricate administrative systems required to run such an establishment. Girouard was both an architectural historian and a noted figure on the BBC and he does an excellent job of leading the reader through the evolution of the buildings themselves, as well as describing the lives of the family upstairs and the much larger number of staff downstairs and in the gardens and stables. The volume is heavily illustrated (mostly in black-and-white, unfortunately) with paintings, portraits, architectural plans, and photographs, and the narrative never becomes too specialized or technical. An excellent piece of work.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Crowley on February 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
I was more interested in the beautiful pictures this book offered when I purchased it, but after reading a few pages I became completely engrossed in the ins and outs of english country house. The book begins with the medieval house and whisks the readers through centuries of changes that altered not only the country house, but those who occupied them.

Life in the English Country House offers a history of the great hall, the backstairs, the great chamber, the parlor, and many others. The book also offers a history of the people who once lived in these grand homes. You will find a history of the steward, the footman, the butler, and the gradual segregation of the country house servant.

There are also many fascinating stories that the author shares with the readers. One of my favorites was surrounding The King of of Spain's visit to the Duke of Somerset's Petworth in 1703. The King was welcome, but not by the Duke, but by Queen Anne's husband, Prince George, who showed him around the estate as if the country house was his own. The author writes that "the principal function of the duke seems to have been to pay the bills." I also enjoyed the story of Queen Elizabeth's visit to Edward Seymour's Elvethan, who the author writes nearly went bankrupt after his extravagant but politically necessary hospitality.

Life in the English Country House is not only a fascinating read, but it contains beautiful illustrations of some of England's most breathtaking country houses. Most of the pictures are in black and white, but there are quite a few in color. Whether you are doing research for a novel or just curious about english country house, this will book will educate you on the complicated history behind these beautiful historic buildings.
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