When I saw Amanda Vickery's new book, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England I gasped dramatically; or maybe even squealed obnoxiously. Either way, I was in public and I was very excited. Vickery's book, The Gentleman's Daughter, was a study of the lives of women in Georgian England and packed with great information on the daily lives of women. Now the eighteenth century historian is venturing into the comforts of the Georgian house to paint a picture of people's relationship with and within the home. The result is enlightening.
Behind Closed Doors opens with a description of the average day of a landlady, which to some, might not sound incredibly exciting, but to me was packed with information I had rarely thought about. And that is kind of how Behind Closed Doors is; you pick it up wondering just how Georgians lived their day-to-day life and you get the details of things you wouldn't normally wonder at, such as the fact that a landlady domineered your living space if you were a renter. The book is just packed with information. Vickery takes you through the ins and outs of living in the time; her feminist background surfaces every once in a while to deliver information specific to women's perspective. Topics include, but are not limited to the actual house, people's relationship with the house, bachelor life, wallpaper obsessions, and so on and so forth.
One of my favourite chapters was titled, Setting Up Home and was all about how women found a freedom in marrying because it allowed them to redecorate and therefore put an ownership in their new home. This was both an important and acknowledged part of a well-bred woman's life. Vickery uses examples from famous spinster, Jane Austen's novels which made me begin to question that it wasn't just the men our Austen heroines fell in love with, but their dwellings, for as Vickery puts, "It was a truth universally acknowledged that a Georgian house with a drawing room, French windows and a lawn must be in want of a mistress." Amen to that; I'd say that still holds true today! After Vickery cites multiple examples from Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park she moves on to real life examples, one of which was a household in the same place I once lived, to my own personal delight. Her amazing research shines through with specific examples of how that particular mistress badgered store-keepers in the neighboring town so as to have the house fitted to her liking. Most chapters take a similar path, combining evidence from personal diaries, documents and contemporary writings to discuss the many aspects of the Georgian home.
I found this book to be a delight. Although the topic of the book may not be in everyone's interest, it should be picked up by those interested in social history, women of the eighteenth century, and historical homes. Those that enjoyed City of Laughter will likely enjoy this read. Vickery's research on individuals read like short stories of a novel, weren't stuffy or boring, and were always conducive to the point she was trying to portray. I think readers of this blog will especially appreciate the sarcastic little remarks she manages to sneak in her descriptions of those she researched. It just goes to show how well she got to know them and isn't it nice when an author-researcher knows their subject? Behind Closed Doors is on shelves now and will compliment anyone's eighteenth century library.