33. Through the Georgian keyhole

Amanda Vickery on the impression of Georgian life given by National Trust properties today:
Amanda Vickery: Behind Closed Doors

“They’re absolutely empty of life. They’re neat and tidy and they don’t smell and there’s no noise of the household. All of those things are absolutely central to what it was like to live in even quite grand eighteenth-century houses.

“Women’s letters are full of complaints about how awful it is, how freezing, the stiff-backed ceremony, people coming in, a lack of privacy…”

This week’s podcast, sponsored by Blackwell Online, features an in-depth interview with Amanda Vickery, whose Behind Closed Doors has just been published by Yale University Press.

In the interview we talk about what home meant to the Georgians, both physically and psychologically. Amanda is fascinating on what a detail of domestic interiors as apparently insignificant as wallpaper can tell you about the taste, status and outlook of a household.

Amanda VickeryFor those with money, it was a period which saw the dawning of the age of  the commercialization of home and simultaneously the feminization of it. While for those of lesser means, such as the Georgians’ army of domestic servants, “home” could be a precarious affair – a temporary bed and a wooden box containing a few treasured possessions in your master’s house.

Amanda’s book is richly illustrated in both senses – there are many pictures of domestic interiors and furnishings, but she also tells many stories of what home meant to individuals, which brings the history alive.

“We see the Georgians at home as we have never seen them before in this ground-breaking book. Vickery can make a young wife’s arrangement of china into an event of thrilling social and psychological tension. Behind Closed Doors is both scholarly and terrifically good fun. Worth staying at home for.”

Frances Wilson, Sunday Times, 11 October 2009

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