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

ISBN: 0393327639
ISBN 13: 9780393327632
By: Judith Flanders

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About this book

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.

Reader's Thoughts

johnny dangerously

I can't recommend this book highly enough! It serves as a truly excellent introduction into Victorian life, all while relying on the milieu of Victorian literature, and the Victorian domestic sphere. What the book should really be called is 'Domesticity in the Victorian Age', but I suspect that wouldn't've sold as well. From following the unstintingly fascinating life of Arthur Munby, to delving into the secrets of Dickens, the book always feels honest yet polished, and extremely informative. The book doesn't get caught in meaningless prose and scene-setting; it tells the reader everything it can as quickly as it can while still being intelligent, well-paced, and incredibly, deliciously witty. Honestly, Flanders' dry wit is a standout feature of every chapter, and the book wouldn't be the same without it.Ultimately I recommend this book to anyone looking to dip their toe into the waters of Victorian history. This is the book for them, so long as they're more interested in the lives of women and the poor, rather than the decadent petticoats and crystal goblets of period dramas.


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."


Non credo di essere una vera appassionata dell'epoca vittoriana (anzi, come sempre ho le idee molto confuse sulla storia) però è un'epoca normalmente associata a grandi scrittori quali Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, le sorelle Brontë, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell e Anthony Trollope, solo per citarne alcuni che conosco, più o meno bene.Questo saggio ci accompagna attraverso ogni stanza della casa vittoriana e, parallelamente, attraverso ogni stadio della vita umana spiegandoci - anche grazie a numerosi aneddoti, estratti da romanzi, diari e lettere e utilizzando disegni e foto - come la donna vittoriana la viveva (più la donna che l'uomo, chiaramente, dato che la sfera privata era quella a cui la donna apparteneva).


Il periodo vittoriano affascina, molto. I grandi romanzi inglesi, Dickens in testa, parlano della vita di uomini in ghette e cilindro, dame in gonne fruscianti, caminetti accesi e carrozze nere, strade brulicanti di ragazzini pronti a rubarti il portafoglio, una nebbia fitta e salotti tappezzati di fiori. Donne per bene dedite al focolare domestico, altre decadute buttate ad arrangiarsi in strada, bimbi abbandonati al loro destino e uomini che discorrono di questioni importanti nella sala fumatori - è tutto molto interessante! La vita quotidiana di questi individui è l'argomento di conversazione del libro della Flanders, che vagando di stanza in stanza, indaga tutti gli aspetti dell'esistenza ai tempi della mastodontica Vittoria - se ne ottiene un quadro un po' meno romantico e sognante, segnato dalla fatica, il terrore per la malattia (vista l'assurdità e l'inefficacia dei rimedi), una snervante ma necessaria aderenza all'etichetta e tantissima nebbia, talmente tanta da non riuscire a capire dove si sta andando. Si parla di tutto, dall'abbigliamento intimo all'introduzione delle tazze del gabinetto, l'alimentazione, la corretta sequenza di convenevoli per corteggiare la piacente dama e così via, il tutto però limitato alla classe borghese, per la vita povera solo qualche cenno. Davvero interessante, illuminante e anche divertente, con stralci di romanzi, lettere private e altri scritti dell'epoca, immagini, dipinti e fotografie. Se lo avessi letto ai tempi della tesi mi sarebbe stato veramente di grande aiuto. Pazienza.

Tero Kuittinen

This is going to sound very unlikely - but this is one of those history books that gives you the frisson of really good science fiction. Victorians were bizarre creatures, but not necessarily for the reasons you would assume. The life just 140 years ago was truly strange, both for the wealthy and the poor. This period is kind of like the gateway to modernity. The lives of Victorians were in some ways very similar to ours; in others, they were brutally barbaric.A fast, exciting read. Too bad most people never give history books a shot and thus never realize how riveting they can be.


This is a good comprehensive look at domestic affairs in Victorian England, organized by topic. The writing is lively and engaging, and the organization makes it easy for cross-referencing or a quick look at a piece of information. It does a good job at keeping a class-wide gaze, moving from what the poorest to the richest could expect from life. One of the things I like best about it is the overview of the domestic staff and how common they were; an invaluable resource for anyone interested in domestic Victoriana, or anyone planning to write a novel in that era.

Sharon Baber

If you've read anything by Victorians (Charles Dickens, George Eliot), about Victorians (Charles Darwin, the Queen herself) or by modern authors who set their novels in the Victorian period (Anne Perry) this book will answer many questions. What was "bombazine" and "crepe" and why were "widow's weeds" made of them? How long did a widow have to stay in mourning, anyway? Did the Victorians have flush toilets? What did an omnibus or a hansom cab look like? Why were so many Victorian women weak semi-invalids? Who was the "rag and bone man" and what did he do? How does one make calves-foot jelly? This is social history at its best, and Flanders is an excellent, interesting writer who obviously knows her stuff and has a sense of humor to boot. An example: While writing of the Great Exhibition of 1851 where flush "lavatories" were first made available to the general public, she quotes from a contemporary source, "The Urinals for gentlemen were not charged for; 54 of the latter were provided. It would have been convenient if more accommodation had been provided in the Ladies Waiting-rooms.." Flanders adds a footnote, "Some things never change."

Shawn Thrasher

This one far exceeded my hopes, wonderfully - I could barely put it down. I never realized Victorian times were so filthy, grimy, dark, and generally unpleasant. Victorian era movies and television shows tend to leave out the carpets of cockroaches that invaded homes each night, the constant battle against soot and smell, the adulterated food, the absolutely unending battle with laundry. So well written and obviously well researched; I loved the inclusion fiction from the time as source material.


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).


Ever wonder how the Victorians actually lived? This book uses the house plan as a method to show how life was lived in each room. Fascinating so far, and I've only gotten about 25 pages in!***************************************I cannot overemphasize what an enjoyable book this was to read. The author has taken books that were written by the great writers of the Victorian era (Charles Dickens, Beatrix Potter, Charles Darwin, John Ruskin), diaries and letters that they wrote, advertisements from local newspapers, and even "self-help books" of the time to give the reader a more accurate view of life in the days of Victorian England. The book is organized around each room in the house of an average middle-class Victorian family.The dining room -- Did you know why an entre is called an "entre"? Because the dish was already on the table when you entered (entre) the dining room to eat. Did you know why side dishes are called "side dishes"? Because they were placed on dishes at the sides or corners of the table when the table was laid out.The morning room -- Did you know that the average weight of the clothes worn by a Victorian woman was 37 lbs? They did not go out in the rain if they could avoid it, because when their clothes got wet, they weighed even more! Remember, an umbrella would not really protect your skirt, and waterproof clothing had not been developed. A list of clothing worn by a woman included:1. thick, long legged, long sleeved woolen combinations2. over them, white cotton combinations, with plenty of buttons and frills3. very serious, bony, grey stays, with suspenders4. black woollen stockings5. white cotton drawers, with buttons and frills6. white cotton "petticoat-bodice" with embroidery, buttons, and frills7. rather short, white flannel, petticoat8. long alpaca petticoat, with a flounce around the bottom9. pink flannel blouse10. high, starched, white collar, fastened on with studs11. navy blue tie12. blue skirt, touching the ground, and fastened tightly to the blouse with a safety-pin behind13. leather belt, very tight14. high button bootsThe kitchen and the scullery -- oh my. The smells, the unsanitary conditions, the BUGS! It fairly made my skin crawl to read this portion. Beatrix Potter wrote in her diary that when she visited her grandmother, her two servants slept in the kitchen, as was normal at the time. Both servants spent the night on the kitchen table because of the waves upon waves of roaches on the floor! The description of one all around maid working in the scullery washing the dishes from previous meals will stick in my mind forever. One one side, a haunch of beef hanging ready to be cut and used for cooking another meal. On the other side, an open urinal (chamberpot) waiting to be emptied.The bedroom -- again, oh my. The bugs, vermin, and back breaking work necessary to keep this room clean. Mattresses were of course made of totally organic material and bugs / vermin / bed bugs feasted upon the stuffing within those mattresses. Beatrix Potter wrote about a trip where she stayed in a local hotel. There were bedbugs in the mattress on the bed, so she slept on top of the bed completely clothed and only after she had dusted the entire bed with an anti-bed bug powder remedy. She mentioned how difficult it was to sleep with this anti-bug powder all in her hair. The sheer amount of back-breaking work that was carried out every day merely to clean, wash, cook, and dress is staggering. I have never been one to moon over the good old days, and I certainly won't now either! Thank the Lord for indoor plumbing, kleenex, washing machines, and our weekly trash pickup by the city!!!


Very interesting, though I thought it bogged down somewhere around the drawing room chapter, and the narrative device of structuring each chapter around one room of the house only sometimes worked--the parlor chapter didn't ever talk about the functions or furniture of a parlor (or explain how it was different from a drawing room, which I was most curious to learn), for instance.I don't think I've read many books written or set during the Victorian Era, but I've read quite a few with characters that had grown up then--Ballet Shoes, for instance--and this gives me a lot more insight into why those characters thought and acted as they did.

Kyle Pratt

A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England, That is the subtitle of this entertaining history of the middle-class Victorian family. There is a chapter on the bedroom, nursery, kitchen, scullery, drawing room, parlor, dining room, morning room, bathroom and lavatory, sickroom and the street in front of the home. The book takes you through each of these areas and details how they were used, decorated and any innovations during the era. In the chapter on the kitchen, attention is given to stoves, hot water heaters and food preparation. In the chapter on the bathroom, details on flush toilet innovations are covered.As a history teacher who studies the Victorian period, I enjoyed this book and learned many new details. It is filled with quotes from period literature, articles, journals and diaries. The author does look at the family through modern eyes, an all too common error, and there are parts of the book that could be interrupted as feminist. But, these are minor. If you want to understand the middle-class Victorian home I know of no better book to read.


I've always said that I don't much care who won the battle, I want to know what they had for breakfast, or what they did on Saturday nights...Nowadays they call that 'Social History' and it's quite popular.This book is written to answer just those kinds of questions. The Victorians were keen on "a place for everything and everything in its place", so this book builds each chapter on a particular room in a 'typical' Victorian home. We get to hear about what these rooms looked like, how they were furnished, and what kinds of things were done by whom in them - which is really a lot more interesting than it seems. The chapter on the kitchen, for example, touches on everything from cooking to servants wages to nutritional theories and food adulteration.So if watching Downton Abbey has you curious as to how people actually lived, try this one.


This book is at once fascinating and dry. Not as worldly as say Bill Brysons' work on the home, but of similar character, the book takes a look at the victorian age through the home. Each chapter covers a particular room(the Kitchen, the Lavatory, The Sick-room, The Street) or space, and covers both the particulars of that space and how it relates to the middle-class victorian way of life.Unlike many such works it also recognizes the way in which the age changed, as it is forced to by it's subject matter. As the victorian believed that each room should serve a single function(even when it didn't) much of the book is taken to this tension, and to the particulars of what 'ough' versus what was. The Book is a great book for those wanting a look into victorian life and tidbits. From the Baked Potato man who would ply his wares in the winter, to the social niceties of travel, to the proper period of mourning when your first-cousins husband dies, the book is scattered with great little 'bits' that really put you into the world of the Victorians. As a cultural history it was a very good read, though as I mentioned, not, I think, for the purely casual reader.


At least one star is lost to the title alone. Why? Because it's misleading. A more apt title might be "Women and the Victorian House" or even "The Victorian Woman." Buried about twelve pages into the introduction is an admission that the presence of men will be glossed over to keep the book to a manageable size, but the book embarks upon too many tangents to make this claim credible. It seems pretty clear that the author set out to talk about Victorian women specifically and incidentally set the book in that place Victorian women spent the large majority of their time, the house.As far as the conceit by which the book is organized- focusing on one room of the house for each chapter, this must be regarded as only a partial success. I saw one of my chief complaints reflected in another review: the chapter on the parlor never (that I noticed) even mentions the parlor at all and is focused entirely on the subject of marriage. The reader is left wondering about the purpose and appearance of the room. Other chapters fare better but still have a tendency to stray from the room at hand. Some rooms are omitted altogether, though. The study is mentioned once or twice in passing but does not get a chapter of its own- presumably because this is the domain of the man.So the book loses two stars chiefly because in terms of subject matter and comprehensivity, it is neither what I wanted nor what it purports to be at first glance.That said, I don't regret reading the book. For the topics Flanders chooses to cover, it is very well researched and frequently interesting. Flanders strings together a large variety of primary sources and often allows them to speak for themselves to show us just how dramatically different their worldviews were from anything we believe today. The book is still probably not something I would have picked up if I wasn't doing research of my own, but Flanders' tone occasionally veers into a certain playfulness, and I do certainly have a better understanding of the Victorian House even if there remain rather significant men-shaped gaps in my knowledge.

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