Horn, Pamela. Ladies of the Manor: Wives and Daughters in Country-House Society, 1830-1918.

Stroud, UK: Alan Sutton, 1991.

While Mark Girouard is the best and best-known authority on the phenomenon and institution of the English country house, Horn is undoubtedly the leading expert on the people who lived there. She’s also one of the very best authors when it comes to domestic history of the Victorian era, from the scullery maids in the basement kitchen to the children in the attic nursery.

This book considers the place of the well-born (though not necessarily titled) lady and her place in proper society, how she was prepared for it, how she dealt with it, and what she secretly thought about it. They were a combination, by and large, of demanding authority figure and condescending chatelaine. The middle and upper classes of 19th-century Britain made rather a cult of domesticity, rebelling against the Regency period and modeling themselves after their vision of Queen Victoria, and they were big on manuals and lectures to make sure everyone understood what was expected. Horn takes a topical approach, with chapters on girls growing up, coming out in society and finding a mate, settling in as a wife and becoming a mother, playing the role of Lady Bountiful, engaging in leisure and entertaining, and — as a result of the Great War and the general shake-up from top to bottom that it produced in society — entering the professions and even politics. She focuses at times on a small number of well-known ladies who kept diaries or left memoirs, but her coverage is really pretty broad. Moreover, everything is footnoted, so this is an excellent place to begin in both Women’s Studies or general social history of the period.

Published in: on 21 November 2011 at 7:10 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Actually, there’s a really interesting new study in the English Country House and it’s relation to the rising middle class. Its by Stephen Hague but I can’t remember the title.

    House Fit for a Gentleman or something.

    It doesn’t focus so much on the role of women, but I thought you might find it interesting.

  2. Yes, he’s a specialist in “material history,” presently at Oxford. I believe he has some experience with museums, as well. I’ve seen a couple of his journal articles. I suspect this new book — which I couldn’t find at Amazon or the LoC yet — is based on his dissertation. I’ll definitely put it on my “watch for” list. Thanks for the heads-up!

  3. I gave you a mislead there! The book is still in process. I’ll let you know if I find out the publisher.

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