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Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England Paperback – November 18, 2005
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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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. Her recounting of the "treatment" of a breast cancer victim reminds that death was as frequent a visitor to the Victorian household as the most ardent social climber, often shepherded by quack doctors and degrees of pain and despair thankfully foreign to us.
I have been unable to gather much information on Ms. Flanders except that she has previously published "A Circle of Sisters" (which I am ordering forthwith) and that 2005 will see the release of her new book, "The Discovery of Neverland", which I will purchase in due course. One can only hope that she is beavering away on her next project because if this work is typical of her talent, she will quickly become a "must read" and an abiding reminder that the reading of history can be something more than a labor of love.