A Man's Place


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Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England

John Tosh

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Domesticity is generally treated as an aspect of women’s history. In this fascinating study of the nineteenth-century middle class, John Tosh shows how profoundly men’s lives were conditioned by the Victorian ideal and how they negotiated its many contradictions.

Tosh begins by looking at the experience of boyhood, married life, sex, and fatherhood in the early decades of the nineteenth century—illustrated by case studies representing a variety of backgrounds—and then contrasts this with the lives of the late Victorian generation. He finds that the first group of men placed a new value on the home as a reaction to the disorienting experience of urbanization and as a response to the teachings of Evangelical Christianity. Domesticity still proved problematic in practice, however, because most men were likely to be absent from home for most of the day, and the role of father began to acquire its modern indeterminacy. By the 1870s, men were becoming less enchanted with the pleasures of home. Once the rights of wives were extended by law and society, marriage seemed less attractive, and the bachelor world of clubland flourished as never before.

The Victorians declared that to be fully human and fully masculine, men must be active participants in domestic life. In exposing the contradictions in this ideal, they defined the climate for gender politics in the next century.

John Tosh is professor of history at the University of North London and the author of The Pursuit of History, among other books.

“Absorbing. . . . A distinguished contribution to the history of the Victorian family. . . . Scholars and students in a host of disciplines will find A Man’s Place an engrossing and indispensable work.”—Victorian Studies

"Tosh convincingly defends his thesis that the [Victorian] era, instead of just being 'the climax of masculine domesticity’ was actually more complex."—Library Journal

"In this fascinating book John Tosh shows that to understand men’s lives we need to explore their place in the private domestic world as much as their public and political activities. His work goes beyond previous studies of masculinity, which have tended to focus on all-male environments such as the public school. This is gender history, looking at men in relationship to women, and informed by feminist scholarship on inequalities of power within the family."—Clare Midley, History Today

“Tosh is a welcome pioneer in his research on masculinity in modern Britain. His elegant exploration of the role of middle-class Englishmen in Victorian domesticity is provocative and . . . persuasive.”—Choice

“A book such as this is long overdue and takes its place as an essential companion to the earlier efforts of (for example) Lenore Davidoff and Catherine Hall on the domestic life of 19th-century women.”—Virginia Quarterly Review

“This is an important book not only for its focus on men’s place in the home in Victorian England but because it represents a notable turn in gender identity and historical scholarship. . . . Tosh’s book is important, too, because the Victorian response to the tensions resulting from home on one hand and work or club on the other bear a striking similarity to those arising today when we balance domesticity with Super Bowl or golf. The propositions offered by Tosh are thoughtful and his arguments are logically made. His excellent case studies, nicely integrated into the text, enhance the readability of the work; the writing style is lucid. The author’s conclusions are supported by thirty pages of notes and about half again as much bibliography.”—Albert J. Schmidt, Journal of Social History

“Now, in this path-breaking, well-written and entertaining book he shows that while early- and mid-Victorian middle-class men struggled with the contradictions and conflicts of redefining their roles, there was in fact a clear perception that men not only had every right to participate in domesticity, but that their masculinity depended on it.”—Jessica A. Gerard, Albion

ISBN: 9780300077797
Publication Date: March 11, 1999
272 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
16 b/w illus.