“The Victorian House” by Judith Flanders – an engaging piece of social history

In The Victorian House by Judith Flanders the author has written an excellent social history about the domestic life of ordinary Victorians and based it around the rooms in the house. This is a very clever way in which to write this book and makes it very, very accessible for the reader of popular history. She links each room with one stage in life (the nursery for birth, the drawing room for the woman as household manager, the dining room for the hostess and the sickroom for death for example). This is a clever conceit and doesn’t always quite gel as well as the author may have liked but it enhanced the book considerably for me by breaking down the aspects of life lived in a domestic sphere into manageable chunks.

This book features the domestic side of Victorian life and thus it deals a lot with the role of the woman as the household manager and hostess whilst the man of the family earned the money and dealt with life outside the home. The author describes the mass of middle class families more than the aristocracy or the very poor and breaks down some of the myths about Victorian living, especially with reference to the role of servants. She shows how life was lived and then illustrates this with the furnishings and equipment which would have been necessary. My mother-in-law also read this book which she very much enjoyed and recognised many of the techniques and equipment as still in use in her childhood in the 1930s in a small mining town.

There are lots of fascinating nuggets here, revealed in an easy to read style broken up with plenty of illustrations (I had the paperback version of the book which has some colour plates in three sections and line drawings included in the text). There are plenty of quotations from contemporary letters and diaries to illustrate the author’s points. Very enjoyable and informative for the general reader.