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Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England

Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England

by Judith Flanders

"Almost criminal in its housebreaking, burglarizing, second-story genius."—James Kincaid, University of Southern California
The Victorian age is much closer to us in time than we might believe. Yet at that time, in the most technologically advanced nation in the world, people buried meat in fresh earth to prevent mold forming and wrung sheets out in boiling


"Almost criminal in its housebreaking, burglarizing, second-story genius."—James Kincaid, University of Southern California
The Victorian age is much closer to us in time than we might believe. Yet at that time, in the most technologically advanced nation in the world, people buried meat in fresh earth to prevent mold forming and wrung sheets out in boiling water with their bare hands. Such household drudgery was routinely performed by the grandparents of people still living, but the knowledge of it has passed as if it had never been.
Judith Flanders's book is laid out like a Victorian house, taking you through the story of daily life from room to room. In each space she depicts the home's furnishings and decoration: from childbirth in the master bedroom, through the scullery and kitchen, the separate male and female domains of the drawing room and the parlor, and ending in the sickroom. A rich selection from diaries, letters, advice books, magazines, and paintings fills the rooms with the people and personalities of the age. 100 illustrations, 3 8-page color inserts.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Flanders is such a good writer and so acute a social analyst that her journey from the cradle to the grave is as racy, as compelling, and sometimes as scary as a good Victorian novel. I found particularly enthralling Flanders' sense of threats the Victorian home vainly tried to keep out: dirt, disease, unregulated desire, and above all decline in class status.”

“What makes Flanders's book compelling is not only her keen eye for telling detail, her strong awareness of the importance of family context (already apparent in her first book, A Circle of Sisters) and her insights, but also her skill in handling literary sources that illuminate her subject....By slicing the front facade of the house and guiding the reader through a succession of rooms that convery the often frightening complexity of lives passed in them, Flanders brings the Victorian family into deft and vivid focus.”

Cheryl Mendelson
“This book is filled with details that bring the Victorian London home so vividly alive that you can smell it and feel it. Relying on canny use of diaries, memoirs, novels, and a thousand other revelatory sources, it moves and amuses and astonishes. I found myself insisting on reading extraordinary passages out loud to family and friends. Ms. Flanders is a shrewd, reliable historian with a keen domestic eye, a sharp wit and a clear and appealing style.”
James Kincaid
“Judith Flanders's new book is almost criminal in its housebreaking, burglarizing, second-story genius. This massively entertaining and just as informative book allows us to see the Victorian house as never before, from the inside, room by room. We tour (or sneak) around, missing nothing and thereby find ourselves soaking up not only details about sleeping habits, chamber pots, and cooking, but about the vision of a world ruled by the home that is still so important. With wonderful dexterity and the quiet assurance that only comes with deep and sophisticated scholarship, Flanders invites us into a fully realized world. We'd be idiots to refuse.”
Hilary Mantel
“Open this book anywhere, and you find yourself totally absorbed. It's entertaining yet authoritative, accessible yet fascinatingly detailed and thorough. It picks apart, in the most elegant way, a great deal of our received wisdom about how the Victorians lived. The descriptions of the demands of Victorian housekeeping are exhausting just to read—I had to lie on the chaise for half an hour after taking in the account of how to wash a floor. On the other hand, as a member of a household who receives one post a day, rarely before 2 pm, I long for the 'six to twelve' deliveries enjoyed by our ancestors—almost as good as e-mail. A very wide readership will enjoy this book, and I hope it brings Judith Flanders all the success it merits.”
Alida Becker
… if we now live in a time when tennis elbow is more common than housemaid's knee, are we really that far from the underlying assumptions of domestic life in the Victorian age? This is just one of the questions raised by Judith Flanders's Inside the Victorian Home, a nimble compilation of the sort of social history to be found not just in public archives but also in popular novels and advice manuals, private correspondence and newspaper advertisements, arranged in chapters devoted to particular rooms in the typical mid-to-late-19th-century middle-class English household.
The New York Times
Jonathan Yardley
To her credit Flanders does not bang the feminist drum -- simple statement of the facts is all that is required to underscore the self-evident points -- but it would be difficult indeed for any reader to come away from Inside the Victorian Home with anything except admiration for these doughty women and exasperation at the smug, self-righteous men who saw it as their God-given right to dominate and use them.
The Washington Post
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. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Flanders's earlier works (A Circle of Sisters) include books about prominent Victorian and Edwardian women; here she focuses tightly on housework yet opens the whole of British society to her readers. The British edition's subtitle, "Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed," aptly describes the text. Room by room, Flanders walks us through the typical home of upper-middle-class Britain, explaining its use, its d cor, the habits of occupants, and more. The result is a genteel yet absorbing and thoroughly researched book whose extensive bibliography is a useful resource in itself. Every chapter offers a delightful piece of arcana that explains customs still with us today. We learn of the origins of the word dustman, for instance, or the invention of the white wedding gown. Fearsomely entertaining and yet a wonderful addition to academic literature, this book is sure to become a classic. Highly recommended.-Gail Benjafield, St. Catharines P.L., Ont. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
7.40(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.60(d)

Meet the Author

Judith Flanders is the author of A Circle of Sisters, which was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award. She lives in London.

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