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.

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.


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.


Unfortunately, I was not able to finish Inside the Victorian Home before I had to return it to the library but I enjoyed the part I was able to read. The book is best described as a social history of the 19th century but it uses the home as the lens for the discussion. Each chapter is devoted to a room found in the Victorian house. Flanders not only describes the function of the room and the typical furniture and decoration but she also describes the Victorian culture and attitudes.I like that Flanders did not gloss over the not so glamorous aspects of 19th century life. In "The Scullery" chapter, Flanders describes the daily tasks of a general maid. While reading that chapter, I kept thinking that is a job I never want to have. If a household only had one maid, she was very busy and barely had time for herself since she was responsible for all of the cooking and cleaning of the household. Maids in larger households were usually better off since maid had a specific task. I am also grateful for modern washing machines....For the rest of my review: http://nookstowersandturrets.blogspot...


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.

Gail Carriger

I wanted to love this book. I wanted it to be useful and a wonderful reference for writing about the Victorian era. Don't get me wrong, it is certainly full of extremely useful information but that information is impossible to access it is so badly organized. Most of the time I just find it unbelievably frustrating.For one thing, there is no glossary so the reader is left to intuit the difference, for example, between a parlor and a drawing room. The index, while present, is not at all extensive. You might read, for example, that something called a "copper" exists in the scullery but should you wish for a sentence somewhere in the book explaining what a copper is the index will not help you (despite the fact that there happens to be a sketch of said copper later on in the book). This means that if you wish to know something, or find something, you must skim through the entire book in the hopes that it pops out at you.In addition, the author jumps around temporally so the reader is never certain what part of the Victorian era the information address as the author only occasionally includes dates. In the end I am left assuming several things. This is not meant as a reference book. It is more the adaptation of a PhD thesis on the house as a reflection of Victorian domestic life. Why else, for example, does the "Parlor" chapter address childbirth, and the "Drawing Room" chapter address marriage? As opposed to, oh I don't know, a description of the contents, arrangements, and objects in a typical drawing room or parlor of 1860. Or the difference between the two? It's all very well and interesting to learn about weddings and childbirth, but perhaps the chapters should have been titled accordingly. It would make for a very different sort of book.

Suzanne Fox

Flanders' work is uniformly excellent: impeccably researched, rich in detail, and lucidly written. This book is no exception, making it a superb resource on Victorian domestic life and customs for anyone writing about the era, as well as for those who are just fans of Victorians or Victoriana. Its difference from other such books (like "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew," a book I own, use and enjoy) is its thoroughness....Flanders really gets down to the nitty-gritty details, offering excellent discussions of mundane and overlooked issues as well as the more obvious ones. It's well written and enjoyable to read, but I've found that I've actually used it most as a reference book, something I can go back to for detailed information on particular issues or questions that arise in my own writing about the period. That's the reason I recommend it so highly for other writers; more general readers may find the level and quantity of detail overwhelming unless they are true lovers of this topic or period.


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.


The title is shorthand for “The domestic life of Victorian middle-class women.” The main thrust of this book, I think, is to emphasise that our image of the standard middle-class Victorian domestic set-up is often erroneously high-faluting. Advertising campaigns and housekeeping advice books conspired to suggest that the women buying and using soap and cookery books had the type of establishments where there were servants to do everything – while the fact that there was a market for this combination of product and ploy indicated that the mistress of the house was obliged to get involved. And a governess, for instance, was not de rigeur; many women would simply have been taught by their mothers. The biggest reason why all this sort of thing doesn’t really register in our idea of these people’s lives is because there was an obligation for women to be silent on much of what their womanly domestic duties actually consisted of. For all that men were so very keen on women wanting to carry them out, and finding that willingness sexually attractive, Flanders portrays men as being actually quite viscerally repelled by exposure to housekeeping inaction, finding the petty necessity of its details sordid and unseemly. There’s also the fact that knowledge of what goes into maintaining a house and family elicits acknowledgment that it is work, extra specially so in this period, and that women were therefore active and skilful.There’s a lot of emphasis on the Augean Stables nature of Victorian housekeeping, with chimneys and smuts and lavatories with cess pits and gas lamps that ruined their surroundings and varying amounts of running water and the terrible business of laundry, and sewing sheets side to middle. So much of the baggage of housekeeping in days gone by has been forgotten. Also there’s the hopeless business of trying to keep people alive and some very strange ideas about the kind of nourishment babies could live on. And the terrible nuisance of crinolines in omnibuses and a wealth of other random details. Flanders is quite keen on emphasising the unattractiveness of the Victorians; they are more likeable in novels in which it becomes clear that people didn’t always, or even usually, behave just as they ought than in their nonfiction confident prescriptions and demands. They seem very rigid here, full of very precise rules for every social interaction, which were different depending on your exact social circle. This book isn’t particularly well-organised, and the question of what makes it into the book and what doesn’t seems very random sometimes, but if you’d like to know more about the nitty-gritty of how these people actually lived you should find something to interest you.


What a terrific find! I was tempted to give it four stars for the tangents, but the thorough research really deserves all five; the bibliography has given me several ideas for further reading.


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."


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).


This is a delightful and readable history of domestic life in Victorian England. I especially recommend it to readers of Victorian fiction - thanks to this book, I'll never read a fictional meal scene, or a sick-room scene, the same way again. Actually, one of the most delightful things about this book is the way the author relies on descriptions in Victorian fiction to help her flesh out this portrait of the Victorian home, which makes this almost as fun to read as the fiction she quotes from.I also recommend it to people who occupy Victorian homes. I learned so much about the scullery that was once attached to the back of my house!This picture of middle-class Victorian life is not the least bit nostalgic, which in general, I loved. This is not a book that glorifies "old-time" methods of housecleaning. At all. Oh no. But if anything, I think Ms. Flanders verges on being too critical of women's occupations. For example, she calls Victorian needlework and embroidery "useless" occupations in scathing tones. Well! I happen to enjoy useless occupations, myself! More to the point, I would have loved to see a discussion of the ways that women's decorative works provided an outlet of expression in an otherwise very constrained life.In the end, it's rare to come across a historical account of private life that qualifies as a "page turner," and this is one. Lots of fun.


This book taught me that Oh My GOD, I was SO born in the right century. I picked this book up in the gift shop of the Fricke Museum in NYC last summer and couldn't put it down. It is fascinating how women back in the day coped with all that house-cleaning. No wonder so many of them claimed to be "delicate." I would, too, if washing a load of laundry took two back-breaking days! Heck, I AM too delicate for that kind of work. But more than just informing the reader of the daily chores, this book goes into detail about furnishings, and how they reflected one's social status; illness and how it was dealt with; how children were raised; death and dying, etc. really well-researched and wonderful. You can read the book from beginning to end, or randomly pick a chapter and go from there. Fascinating.


Taken from letters and literature of the time, this book breaks down the daily vagaries of existence in Victorian England primarily for the upwardly mobile middle class and their support networks. Flanders uses a sort of unusual approach in de-constructing this life in a tidy sort of fashion, going through the average Victorian home room by room and discussing the expectations of the time and and the implications of what your personal style, level of cleanliness, and attitude towards your servants and family in each place might say to your neighbors and friends.A somewhat dry, but for all that still fascinating look into the rigid social structures that defined the men and women of this time. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking to do any sort of historical (or even semi historical) recreation or role play based in the era.

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