INSIDE THE VICTORIAN HOME: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England

Judith Flanders, Author . Norton $34.95 (499p) ISBN 978-0-393-05209-1

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)