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The Light of the Home: An Intimate View of the Lives of Women in Victorian America Later Printing Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0394713298
ISBN-10: 039471329X
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Editorial Reviews


"Green's lively text . . . is delightfully illustrated with pictures and artifacts." —Time

"A fascinating, lavishly illustrated, and very disturbing inventory of the means by which 'women's place' has been defined." --Washington Post Book World

"Harvey Green's Light of the Home is a rich portrait of Victorian domesticity and everyday life. Lively, accessible writing and evocative illustrations combine in this volume to convey a sense of nineteenth-century family relationships, women's experiences, and the material culture of the home." --Kathy Peiss, author of Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture (Owl Books, 1999) and Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (Temple, 1987)

"This book offers a beautifully illustrated and compellingly argued case for the centrality of domestic architecture and decoration to the social identities and cultural values of middle-class Americans in the Victorian era. . . . Green's book was among a handful that located material objects within a rich and complex historical context and showed how they helped to constitute, not just ornament, middle-class family life. Despite the book's pioneering status, it stands up brilliantly over time. Indeed, given the renewed attention among historians, literary scholars, and gender studies scholars to domesticity and its myriad functions, Light of the Home will find a ready audience across disciplines. . . . The book will also, I am sure, continue to have a popular audience, especially among people who tour historic houses, support historic preservation, and browse museum gift shops. Bravo to University of Arkansas Press for reviving a classic!" --Nancy Hewitt, co-editor of Companion to American Women's History (Blackwell's, 2002), and author of Southern Discomfort: Women's Activism in Tampa, Florida, 1880s-1920s (Illinois, 2001)

"A beautiful book, and a significant contribution to our understanding of middle-class women in Victorian America." --Warren Susman, author of Culture As History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (Random House, 1985)
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

From the greatest collection of American Voctoriana comes a wonderful evocation of the lives of women 100 years ago. 125 black & white photos.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; Later Printing edition (August 12, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039471329X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394713298
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 7.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,105,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book has some interesting tidbits and some cute details about women's life 100 years ago. Lots of info about how they dressed and personal hygiene and some housework information. It is an easy read. The book is over 200 pages, but the margins are huge. I'm an old house fanatic and a history buff and this book didn't quite hit the spot for me, but it's in my personal library as a good reference work.
However, if you can only buy one or two books about life 100 years ago, I'd recommend "Never done" by Susan Strasser and "Victorian America" by Thomas Schlereth.
These books get to the nitty gritty and have more substance. Again, "Light of the Home" is not a bad book - I bought it, after all and I kept it! It's in my top five favorite books of women's life in history. I'd just put a couple books above it, in my personal preferences.
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Format: Paperback
Green studied the domestic lives of women in Victorian America. Because they left few written records of their daily lives, Green used the memorabilia from the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum in his investigation. This collection of clothing, cooking utensils, bicycles, furniture, and other impedimenta of daily living evidenced the routines of these women.

The nature of this material limited his study to white, urban, middle-class women in the Northeast, who could afford these objects. Green accepts that limitation because he claims these women shaped popular domestic culture.

The book is divided into chapters dealing with specific concerns of ordinary women, such as courtship and marriage, motherhood, housework, interior design, and leisure activities.

The onset of puberty signaled the end of women's freedom as their clothing and hairstyles changed to reflect this more constricted existence. Corsets and hairpins restricted women's movement and represented their limited opportunities in society.

Unmarried women's activities centered around choosing a husband. After flirting, dates, and engagement, couples married. Overnight, women were transformed from blushing virgins to world-wise matrons and were expected to act accordingly.

Society deemed children the essential component to marriage. This strident advocacy contended with the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth in this era. Mothers then created a safe garden in which their children could grow.

Women oversaw the home, which displayed their social position, and furnished them with handicrafts and artwork to create a miniature universe of culture, stability, and learning.

Because society equated cleanliness with moral worth, women spent most of their time cleaning.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book irritated me and it took a few days to figure out why. It's because an author who disrespects his subject is like a director who casts a film with dislikable leads: it's difficult for the audience to bear through to the end. Mr. Green's take on the lot of Victorian women is at all times disparaging and smacks of victimage. Women are cast as weak victims of their times. In truth, individuals living so many years ago did the best they could within the networks of their families and beliefs of their era. We in the present do the same, although we are blind to it. Never a word about that from Mr. Green. Rather than consider Victorian American culture as a whole, Mr. Green limits himself to "WASPs" (he uses the term more than once) and their popular help books and magazines, to pass overt or implicit judgments on how exclusionary and eccentric that stratum of the population was. Goings-on of immigrants pouring into the country are only mentioned to point out how much "WASPs" feared them. Yet recent arrivals from Europe were also convention-bound from the old country and as eccentric as anyone else. In addition, some things that Victorian self-help books were adamant about--women breast feeding rather than using bottles and formulas, for example--are indorsed today as especially healthful for children both physically and emotionally. Victorians were often right for questionable reasons, and when they insisted that breast feed was best they were probably correct. But again, never a word of this from the author. He implies, in my reading, that this insistence on breast-feeding was just another tactic to keep women house-bound. Extend such thinking to other areas and arrive at my overall objection to this book.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
No book as thin as this (185 pages of text, with huge margins and many illustrations) could hope to encompass all the extant information about Victorian womanhood, but Harvey Green makes a good start. Although his time period is confined to the years 1870-1910, it's worth noting that "Victorian" America actually began at the same time Victorian England did, in 1837, and that most cultural assumptions of the former period carried over from the latter. At the same time, Green has purposely focused his light on the Eastern and Middle-Western middle class, quite ignoring the pioneer, the poor, the naughty, and the iconoclastic (of whom there were a goodly few). This much said, his book is full of useful data much of which can be carried over to other segments of female reality of the day. Organized into broad chapter categories including courtship and marriage, motherhood, housework, home decoration, health, leisure, and "religion, death, and mourning," it provides a good basic picture of what 19th-Century women mostly aspired to, as well as the justifications given for society's limitations upon them. There's a good index, though a reading list might have been helpful too.
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