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The Victorian House:
Judith Flanders takes a novel approach to rediscovering the lives of our 19th century forebears in her The Victorian House. She pays them a visit. Perhaps mindful of the success of the Channel 4 series, The 1900 House and The 1940s House, Flanders steps back a few decades earlier to embark on a room-by-room guide to a typical mid-Victorian family home. We start in the bedroom and work our way downstairs through the principal parts of a middle-class home. Particular attention is paid to the operations side of the household--the bathroom, the kitchen and the scullery--where the Victorian preoccupation with cleanliness and food is well-described. Flanders is also good at drawing out the decorative functions of the Victorian home, bringing out the separate male and female domains of the drawing room and the parlour.
A wealth of detail--from advice books such as Mrs Beeton's cookbooks, novels, contemporary magazines and autobiographies--is crammed into each room. This is more than an inventory of interior design. Flanders uses the house as a base from which Victorian attitudes towards servants, marriage, illness, death and religion can be explored. There remains a small quibble: this book should really be titled "The Middle-class House of Victorian London". We are not taken to any provincial homes. And a question mark remains over how representative Flanders' rather grand Victorian house is, heaving as it does with servants, hot water and ornate furnishings. As she herself notes, few Victorian families could afford more than one servant at the very most, many married couples still lived with their older relatives and hardly anyone owned their own home. --Miles Taylor [via]