The Victorian House : Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed, Paperback

The Victorian House : Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed Paperback

4.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


The bestselling social history of Victorian domestic life, told through the letters, diaries, journals and novels of 19th-century men and women.

The Victorian age is both recent and unimaginably distant.

In the most prosperous and technologically advanced nation in the world, people carried slops up and down stairs; buried meat in fresh earth to prevent mould forming; wrung sheets out in boiling water with their bare hands.

This drudgery was routinely performed by the parents of people still living, but the knowledge of it has passed as if it had never been.

Running water, stoves, flush lavatories - even lavatory paper - arrived slowly throughout the century, and most were luxuries available only to the prosperous.

Judith Flanders, author of the widely acclaimed 'A Circle of Sisters', has written an incisive and irresistible portrait of Victorian domestic life.

The book itself is laid out like a house, following the story of daily life from room to room: from childbirth in the master bedroom, through the scullery, kitchen and dining room - cleaning, dining, entertaining - on upwards, ending in the sickroom and death. Through a collage of diaries, letters, advice books, magazines and paintings, Flanders shows how social history is built up out of tiny domestic details.

Through these we can understand the desires, motivations and thoughts of the age.

Many people today live in Victorian terraces, and so the houses themselves are familiar, but the lives are not. 'The Victorian House' will change all that.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 528 pages, 40 b/w illus, (3 x 8pp colour plate sections), Index
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Social & cultural history
  • ISBN: 9780007131891



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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

From both the title of this book and a first glance you might expect it to deal principally with the interior decoration and furnishing of Victorian middle-class houses, since it is divided into chapters with titles such as 'The Bedroom' and 'The Dining Room'. However, whilst these topics are by no means ignored, closer inspection shows that the impression is misleading, because the author uses these rooms as inspiration for extended digressions on whatever aspects of Victorian domesticity have taken her fancy. Thus the subtitle 'Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed' is a better guide to the contents of the book than the main title, and indeed the author's delightfully cavalier approach to the ostensible subject-matter of her chapters results in the one entitled 'The Parlour' having nothing to do with parlours at all, but being instead an extended disquisition on Victorian attitudes towards courtship and marriage.The author quite rightly does not stick absolutely to the dates of Victoria's reign, allowing herself more latitude at the beginning than the end. However, her arrangement of material, absolutely necessary for the purpose in hand, does nevertheless have one drawback. The Victorian era was a long one, and life changed a great deal over the period, but one does not get a great sense of the direction of change because the reader is frequently tossed back and forth between the decades, according to the subject matter in hand. This is not a bad thing, but it does mean that broader themes such as attitudes towards morality and education are not as evident as they might have been in a strictly chronological account, and have to be synthesised by the reader from differently-focussed material. Accordingly, I think that those who revel in detail and in conjuring up mental images of life as it was lived then will gain more from the book than those who seek big pictures and broad sweeps; having said which, I am sure that anyone interested in the Victorians will find much to enjoy.The book is well-researched, and although written in a popular and thoroughly entertaining style is fully referenced, with over one thousand references to sources being tucked away at the back so as not to distract attention from the narrative; there are also separate bibliographies for primary and secondary sources. Lovers of the minutiae of Victorian life will find delights on every page, but the author is careful not to get carried away, and recognises the gulf that often existed between how the middle-classes actually lived and how the mutifarious handbooks and self-improvement manuals urged them to live. Nor does she cover every aspect of life, and in a typically quirky footnote observes that "It has been suggested that I am more interested in S-bends than I am in sex. For the purposes of social history this is so, and I do not plan to discuss sex at all. There is a great deal to say on the little we know about the Victorians' attitude to sex, but I am not the person to do it. For S-bends, however, see p. 293." Not a little of the pleasure to be derived from this book is that of enjoying the author's company.'The Victorian House' is attractively produced, with many colour plates and numerous black-and-white reproductions incorporated in the text. It is well-printed with only a few misprints that I was able to spot, and is excellent value for money. Highly recommended!

Review by

Interesting study, taken room by room of how middle-class Victorians lived, the clothes they wore, what they ate, etc. I found myself reading some fascinating snippets aloud to my daughter. Well worth reading if you're interested in social history.

Review by

This book is invaluable to someone either simply curious about the home in the Victorian era or someone who wishes to write in that era. I fall into both categories. The book will immensely help me in my writing. I love how each room was split up by chapters and that there was even a chapter for 'The Street.'This book very much de-romanticizes the era and provides a real look into the ins and outs of an upper middle-class home during a single day in Victorian times.

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