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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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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
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The Victorian House by Judith Flanders (2003)

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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, in the best tradition of travel guides. 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 |
I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of this book. I think the device of organizing the information around the various rooms of a house worked pretty well. Much of the information was really fascinating. The chapters about the kitchen and scullery particularly engaged me. I find it very difficult to believe that anyone would actually have done laundry like that. Madness!

However as the book went on I started to get a niggling feeling that the author had a bit of an attitude about some of the people she was quoting. She clearly disliked Mrs Beeton for example. Which is fine, Beeton doesn't seem particularly likeable. But after awhile I really started to feel uncomfortable about the number of sarky little asides. After awhile longer I started to wonder if Flanders wasn't leaning a little too far toward dismissing the evidence of people she didn't much like or identify with. A little too much of "this is clearly nonsense," when as far as I could tell it wasn't any more clearly nonsense than other things that were not given the same treatment.

It wasn't blatant, it wasn't enough to prevent me from as I said, thoroughly enjoying big parts of this book. I do respect the sheer volume of research and hard work involved in gathering together the many details that make this so interesting. Its reasonable even, that spending a lot of time reading Victorian publications and personal papers would leave you with feelings about the people with whom you'd spent so much time.

But still. Maybe it was just a matter of her trying to avoid writing a dry history, and in that she did succeed, this is very lively and readable. But there's a line between lively and catty and she walked pretty close to it at times. Which was bothersome enough that I am not sure I'm going to believe some of what I read here without cross checking it elsewhere. I suppose that's always a good practice. ( )
  bunwat | Mar 30, 2013 |
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For my mother, Kappy Flanders
First words
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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Average: (4.11)
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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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