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Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of…

Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian… (original 2003; edition 2005)

by Judith Flanders

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8371410,767 (4.12)52
Title:Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England
Authors:Judith Flanders
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2005), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 416 pages
Collections:Your library

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Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders (2003)


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This book was excellent.

This is not a book for people who are already knowledgeable on the topic of domestic daily life during the Victorian age in England. Flanders does, however, manage to combine an informative overview with a considerable degree of entertainment value - especially if you read the footnotes, were most of the humour is.

This is a particularly useful book for anyone hoping to write about the period, since Flanders does not get bogged down in detail, but she does manage to get the 'feel' of the period very well indeed. One thing that particularly struck me is the sheer filthiness of the cities (particularly London, as the largest city) - Flanders does not just say "it was filthy" but demonstrates by discussing little adjustments people had to make, like not putting out a white tablecloth until a short time before the meal, or it would go grey. This level of atmospheric pollution is something that we just don't have to deal with in the UK any more, so it's hard to imagine without the examples Flanders gives.

Another interesting area is the illustration of how limited many middle-class women's lives were - again, something that we find it difficult to appreciate from our twenty-first century standpoint. We might intellectually know that the Victorian period was probably the one in English history where women's rights and status in society reached their lowest ebb, but Flanders provides illustrative facts, including that since women were supposed to spend their lives catering to their families (particularly the men), pretty much the only way for a woman to get some time to herself was to be ill - which provided a cast-iron excuse for retiring to one's bedroom and closing the door. It provides an interesting alternative viewpoint on the fragile Victorian lady - women's health was generally poorer than men's because of their poorer diet and lack of fresh air and exercise, but being a professional invalid definitely had its attractions for any woman who wanted to escape the endless round of service to others.

This is a book I shall probably refer to again, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the domestic life of the period. ( )
  T_K_Elliott | Mar 12, 2017 |
Travel abroad and you might sample one or two travel guides before you go - "Lonely Planet", or one the "Rough Guide" series, perhaps.

But what's your source for information when you travel in time? Where do you go first for information about, say, Edwardian London, Imperial Russia or Pre-Revolutionary Mexico?

Well, you could try any number of reference-points suggested by your favourite, fireside search-engine, or you could rely on personal recommendation.

And here's my recommendation for you: if you're planning to read or research anything set in Victorian England, then read "The Victorian House" by Judith Flanders first.

Don't imagine that this is in any way a book about architecture. It's not. It's a treasure-trove of well-researched information about the morals, customs and habits of the people of the Victorian era, divided for convenience by use of the rooming-name convention of the houses of the day: bedroom, nursery, kitchen, scullery, drawing room, parlour, dining room, morning room, bathroom & lavatory and sickroom. For good measure, a chapter on "the street" is also included.

There is such a lot here to inform and entertain that it is difficult to pick out only one or two examples. My own favourites were the change in the way meals were served from "a la francaise" to "a la russe" and why the serving of "courses" was first introduced and has persisted to this day, and why the extreme restrictions placed on women's and men's fashions were supported, by both women and men, for so long.

This is a comprehensive and enlightening book, including appendices on mourning clothes for women, a quick guide to books and authors of the Victorian period, a guide to currency, extensive chapter notes, a select bibliography and, last but not least, a good index.

Judith Flanders' book is in the best tradition of travel writing. It is your guide to that most intriguing foreign country of all : the past. ( )
  SunnyJim | Feb 26, 2017 |
A masterful survey of the details of day to day life in Victorian England, with particular focus on London and the middle class. The author draws on medical texts, advertisements, diaries, letters, and even fiction to describe the quotidian drudgery, dirt, and mentality of that time and place. The past really does seem to be a different country--the assumptions (that wearing something because you liked it was strange and antisocial, that children needed bland food and few vegetables, that liking or even knowing one another before engagement was not expected or desired, that the classes were intrinsically physically and mentally different) are so alien that despite years of reading Victorian novels I still found myself goggling at the page. But at the same time, it's fascinating to divine the origins of many oddities of the modern era to their origins in Victorian England.

Flanders organizes this history through the different rooms of the home. After first describing the furniture and decorations of the parlor, for instance, she then goes on to talk about women's social role, and from thence to wedding trends. It flows naturally and easily, told in lucid language and sprinkled with contemporary quotes. Flanders exhibits a dry wit and an enjoyment of absurdity that makes her history and sociology all the easier to read. She ends with this:

"It is too easy for us to think of the Victorian era--or any part of the past--as 'romantic.' For some it was an endless succession of cold, dirt, and dark, of black bombazine and narrow stairs. For others, though, it was fuchsine and peacock blue, as well as celadon skies.
To emphasize either viewpoint at the expense of the other is to give only a partial picture. We may be able to do no more than peer through the windows of the past--but at least we can choose to do so through windows that have the curtains open and the rooms inside brightly lit." ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Solid background to Victorian noels, including much steampunk, as well as the actual ones written then.

In many ways- sometimes scarily- we share values with our Victorian ancestors. In other ways- it's a very foreign country for us.

The structure of this book is excellent for those of us who wonder more generally, what was it like? I can see it's less helpful; for people doing specific research.

Still, as a reader, I think it worked very well. The set-up is browsing through the rooms in a middle-class Victorian house, and what was done in them and why. This gives a coherent structure to the book- especially since it also moves from birth to death- and relates the architecture to the mores to the lives people lead. I found this fascinating.

Also- the past IS a foreign country. There are ways we're in sync' there are ways they are bafflingly foreign to us. I like knowing that! (A failure to appreciate such is why some moderns dis on "Pride and Prejudice", because they say they would never! And in my opinion, it's one of the great stories. Still, one needs context.)

This book is all about the context. And the structure makes it a really engaging read.

Highly recommended, especially for people who like historical fiction whether actual or alternate (like steampunk). ( )
  cissa | Feb 13, 2014 |
Recommended by Susanna, looks incredible.
  AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
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For my mother, Kappy Flanders
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In 1909 H. G. Wells wrote, in a passage from his novel Tono-Bungay, of Edward Ponderevo, a purveyor of patent medicines and terror of eminent historians. (Introduction)
In the segregation that permeated the Victorian house, the reception rooms were always considered the main rooms—they presented the public face of the family, defining it, clarifying its status. (Chapter I, The Bedroom)
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Published in the US in 2004 as: Inside the Victorian home : a portrait of domestic life in Victorian England.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393327639, Paperback)

"[Flanders] knows what we want to know and is thoroughly engaging, undidactic company."--Katherine A. Powers, Boston Sunday Globe

Nineteenth-century Britain was then the world's most prosperous nation, yet Victorians would bury meat in earth and wring sheets out in boiling water with their bare hands. Such drudgery was routine for the parents of people still living, but the knowledge of it has passed as if it had never been. Following the daily life of a middle-class Victorian house from room to room; from childbirth in the master bedroom through the kitchen, scullery, dining room, and parlor, all the way to the sickroom; Judith Flanders draws on diaries, advice books, and other sources to resurrect an age so close in time yet so alien to our own. 100 illustrations, 32 pages of color.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:06 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Laid out like a middle class house, this book follows the story of Victorian daily life from room to room: from childbirth in the master bedroom, through the scullery and kitchen - cleaning, dining, entertaining - on upwards, ending in the sickroom and death.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393052095, 0393327639


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