I’ve been dying to talk about Behind Closed Doors because it’s a perfect Nerdy History Girl book, loaded with all kinds of fascinating details about life in bygone days. In this case, the days belong to what author Amanda Vickery calls “The Long Eighteenth Century”— from about 1688-1832 (the Glorious Revolution to the Great Reform Act). While this includes early to mid-nineteenth century, an era I’m more familiar with, she’s surprised me again and again, and offered the kinds of historical tidbits (aka fresh history gossip) Susan and I delight in.
One shocker was the attitude toward marriage. We Regency writers learned early to refer to marriage as “parson’s mousetrap,” and to assume that a man happily sowed his wild oats until a clever girl came along and stole his heart.
But here’s what Vickery has to say: “the intensity of men’s longing for marriage and domesticity is the overriding impression their diaries convey, a desire not just for sex and services, but also for a continuing of female companionship and a centred domestic life. Domesticity for bachelors was fragmented and effortful, while their manhood remained in suspense…A common male fantasy was a home with a woman in it, generating interior warmth and sociability, the cradle of personal happiness and a platform for social success. Far removed from twenty-first-century fears that settling down extinguishes virility, establishing a household was believed to give it full reign. In marital domesticity, bachelors expected to puff out their chests, lift up their heads and hit their stride.”
Still, for every picture of domestic harmony (and she offers many examples) we can find the opposite, as Gillray famously illustrated. In Jane Collier’s 1753 satire, The Art of Ingeniously Tormenting, she “advised husbands bent on torturing ‘a very careful prudent wife…who by her good economy confines all the expenses under her inspection fairly within her appointment’ to stint her funds: ‘part with your money to her, like so many drops of your blood’, lecturing her ‘on extravagance for every necessary that is bought into the house’, meanwhile ‘sparing no expense for your own hounds, horses or claret.’”
These are only two tidbits. Susan and I will have more to say about this delicious book in weeks to come. Meanwhile, here’s a proper review.
And here, in accord with some FTC rule or other (which probably doesn’t apply to us, since we're not reviewers, but never mind), you need to know that, unlike the majority of books referred to in this blog, which Susan and I buy with our own hard-earned cash, this one came gratis.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.