Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England – Amanda Vickery

Seeing as I happen to be addicted to domestic and social history, I was happy when this title arrived at the library. I am more of a Victorian person than Georgian, but seeing as they are quite close together (history-wise), I picked this up to learn more details about life in England. I am really interested in this type of history and am looking forward to going to Bedford (UK) in October to see some of these items and actually appreciate them.

This was a fascinating look at domestic life for (mostly) English women from various walks of life, ranging from servants to struggling spinsters to the more wealthy wife in her stately home. This volume is much more than just a detailed description of every-day life; it also goes into such weighty issues such as the concept of privacy (and how that evolved over time and affected architecture and furniture design…) and the varying gender roles that changed over time. This is quite an academic work in many ways – Vickery is a history professor at Queen Mary, University of London – but this is not a heavy tedious treatise. With a good sense of humor, Vickery covers topics ranging from the study of who in the family bought what when (domestic accounting) to how they spent their time in the evenings.

The range of primary and secondary sources that were used is quite astounding, ranging from grocery receipts to reports from the Old Bailey, personal diaries to letters and newspapers. Along with this is a lengthy bibliography at the back which was a pleasure to peruse and add more titles to the list. It also reminded me (vaguely) of Bill Bryson’s book about the history of his house.

The book itself was also a pleasure to handle with glossy pages, sharp reproductions of the photographs, and a nice font. (And you know how I like a nice font…!)  Congrats to the publishers for making that so.

Although not an expert on Georgian times, I really enjoyed this look “behind the scenes” on the different social levels at this period of history. Vickery has done an excellent job of compiling vast amounts of disparate information and weaving it together into a coherent whole and making it readable as well.

I will be searching out her other work (“The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England”) and crossing my fingers that PBS will bring the three-part BBC2 TV series called “At Home with the Georgians” to Texas.

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