Reader Review: Behind Closed Doors
In this fascinating book, Amanda Vickery explores the meaning and role of home in Georgian England. Noting the many meanings and interpretations of the concept, Vickery offers a work of scholarship that refuses any narrow categorisation, instead making an important contribution to the fields of social, cultural, economic, gender and architectural history.
Behind Closed Doors is a pleasure to read. It combines erudite academic scrutiny with wit, capturing the essence of the experiences explored in the case studies. The book is also richly illustrated, with numerous black and white and colour illustrations. Vickery draws on a range of sources, supplementing and humanising inventories and account-books with letters, court records and novels.
Although the ideal household form included a master, mistress, children and servants, a multiplicity of other models also existed. The possession of a home of one’s own was an almost universal goal throughout all tiers of Georgian society; however, at the time, most homes were rented rather than owned. Vickery thus also charts the experiences of those who did not possess their own household. She explores and reassesses our understanding of what public and private meant to the Georgians. Whilst privacy was a common aspiration in Georgian society, the possession of a private space was not equally accessible and depended on one’s role and circumstances.
Vickery considers furthermore what domesticity meant to bachelors. The desire for a married home life was not only common and widespread, but also a necessary transition in the realisation of full manhood. Vickery explores the moment which marked the end of this phase, when the independent household was founded. Setting up a household involved both men and women making decisions as consumers, and the author considers these jointly to determine the balance of consumer influence and to analyse the creation of gendered roles within households.
Similar gendered ideas also influenced the architecture of the household, which served as a demonstration of morality, status and marital accord. Vickery shows how the Georgians viewed the household as a microcosm for the wider political world and studies the domestic struggles against the rules of dependency and submission that most members of society had to accept in one form or another.
The home served to make concrete one’s role and position within society; thus social exclusion was most forcefully expressed by the lack of a home. The home was also an important expression of self to even the otherwise most modest of householders. Through the growing popularity of forms of sociability such as visiting, the home became a new focus for the display of individuality. At the same time, there was also a desire to increasingly differentiate household space, with certain areas being defined as private and intimate. This was the case even if one’s private and individual space was no larger than a single box to which you alone possessed the key.
Behind Closed Doors, Amanda Vickery (Yale University Press)
Christina Hardyment (author of Dream Babies: Childcare advice from John Locke to Gina Ford) also reviewed Behind Closed Doors, when it was first published in hardback, in the October 2009 issue of History Today.
- Middle East
- North America
- South America
- Central America
- Early Modern
- 20th Century
- Economic History
- Environmental History
- Food & Drink
- Historical Memory
- Science & Technology