The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed by Judith Flanders - review by Jessica Mann

Jessica Mann

Upstairs, Downstairs

The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed


HarperCollins 512pp £20 order from our bookshop

'I DON'T WANT to know who was who's mistress and why so-and-so devastated such a province ... What I want to know is, in the Middle Ages, Did They Do Anything for Housemaid's Knee? What did they put in their hot baths after jousting.. . ?' This apparently comical plea from H G Wells's Tono-Bungay is quoted to support Judith Flanders's belief that 'some of the most telling things about any age, any people are the details that show how we live allat home, where we live, what we do all day when we're not doing whatever it is that history is recording.' In this book she describes these details whilst providing an enchanting panorama of middle-class life in a Victorian town house.

A guided tour from room to room starts in the bedroom. Flanders endearingly notes, 'it has been suggested that I am more interested in S-bend than I am in sex. For the purposes of social history this is so'. So instead of Victorian attitudes to sex, she describes the mercfilly obsolete rituals of childbed and deathbed, or the bedroom's frequent transformation into a sickroom - many women spent their lives either nursing an invalid or (perhaps in sell-defence)

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