New Men? The Bourgeois Cult of Home

John Tosh examines the intriguing tensions between masculinity and domesticity in 19th-century Britain.

In 1831 John Ruskin's father, a wine merchant, wrote home from a business visit to Carlisle, 'Oh! how dull and dreary is the best society I fall into compared with the circle of my own Fire Side with my Love sitting opposite irradiating all around her, and my most extraordinary boy ...' His sentiments were echoed with an incoherent intensity by Joshua Pritchard, a Methodist excise officer, in a letter to his wife a few years later: 'I have comfortable lodgings but yet Home, sweet Home, & Home is sweet & sweet is Home ...'

The Victorian cult of the home tends to evoke largely female associations. Indeed the popular image of Victorian domesticity is so focused on women and children that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that their needs were its governing rationale. Recent historical scholarship has been largely concerned with whether domesticity should be interpreted as empowering or repressive of women. This emphasis certainly corresponds with many of the ways in which home was represented at the time. The new domestic advice literature on child-care, household management and the direction of servants was addressed exclusively to women.

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