'Everything whispers of wealth and luxury': observation, emulation and display in the well-to-do late-Victorian Home

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In histories of the Victorian era, the domestic interior has played a crucial, if marginal, role. Constituting a private counterpart to a public world of commerce, technology and trade, the domestic sphere has been interpreted as a largely static barometer by which the dynamic activities of the public sphere might be measured. Central to our interpretation of this has been the way that the public/private dualism was inscribed through the conventions of gender and class. How and where these conventions were inscribed included elements that were variously textual, spatial and performative. It is with the intersection of these elements that this chapter, in common with other contributions to this volume, is primarily concerned. It considers manuscript evidence drawn from the diary of Emily Hall and the letters of Maud Messel, in a bid to explore the extent to which late Victorian domestic space was both a gendered and a fluid social construction. Through close reading of these women’s writings it is possible to ascertain the centrality of domestic space to their personal and social identities, and as such the role of personal identity in the process of homemaking. Whilst this chapter does not suggest that these women writers did not have male counterparts, it does propose that because the home, whether accurately or not, was so publicly conceived of as a feminine construction that it is through a female discourse that the social nature of this construction may be revealed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen and the Making of Built Space in England 1870-1950
EditorsElizabeth Darling, Lesley Whitworth
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherAshgate Publishing Limited
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781315233826
ISBN (Print)9780754651857, 9781138379060
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2007

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