Behind Closed Doors


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At Home in Georgian England

Amanda Vickery

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In this brilliant new work, Amanda Vickery unlocks the homes of Georgian England to examine the lives of the people who lived there. Writing with her customary wit and verve, she introduces us to men and women from all walks of life: gentlewoman Anne Dormer in her stately Oxfordshire mansion, bachelor clerk and future novelist Anthony Trollope in his dreary London lodgings, genteel spinsters keeping up appearances in two rooms with yellow wallpaper, servants with only a locking box to call their own.

Vickery makes ingenious use of upholsterer’s ledgers, burglary trials, and other unusual sources to reveal the roles of house and home in economic survival, social success, and political representation during the long eighteenth century. Through the spread of formal visiting, the proliferation of affordable ornamental furnishings, the commercial celebration of feminine artistry at home, and the currency of the language of taste, even modest homes turned into arenas of social campaign and exhibition.

Amanda Vickery is professor of history, Royal Holloway University of London, and the author of The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England, which won the Whitfield, Wolfson, and Longman History Today prizes.

“If until now the Georgian home has been like a monochrome engraving, Vickery has made it three dimensional and vibrantly colored.  Behind Closed Doors demonstrates that rigorous academic work can also be nosy, gossipy, and utterly engaging.”

—Andrea Wulf, New York Times Book Review

"Professor Vickery is a thorough and disciplined academic who has trawled through many often obscure archives and tapped unusual or long neglected reservoirs of information. But not for a moment is she overwhelmed by the mighty volume of her research. She weaves it all into a compelling narrative packed with anecdote, strange characters and all manner of weird and wonderful details about Georgian home life."—Dan Cruickshank, Country Life

"Vickery is that rare thing an academic historian who writes like a novelist... an enthralling slice of domestic history."—Jane Shilling, Daily Mail

"Vickery's great skill lies in combining a sharp forensic eye with the ability to spot and tell stories, moving between different scales so smoothly that you can't see the joins. And then there is the wit of the thing. Few academic historians manage to be so funny without compromising the seriousness of their work. She did it 10 years ago in The Gentleman's Daughter and she has done it again here. It was worth the wait."—Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian

"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

"[Vickery] describes Enlightenment domesticity and the growth of elegant taste with wonderful aplomb and infectious enthusiasm ... [Behind Closed Doors] is especially gorgeous in unusual and telling illustrations.”—Christina Hardyment, History Today

"Amanda Vickery has uncovered wonderful stories and characters, and written a book that is amusing as it is scholarly. You can hear her voice on every page."—John Mullan

"How many academic books make readers laugh out loud? My guess is that I won’t be alone in having that experience of Behind Closed Doors ... [Behind Closed Doors] reveals in a fundamentally novel way how the language of taste actually functioned for those outside of the well-known literary and philosophical elite in this period. Indeed, as someone who imagined they knew the scholarship on interiors, I learned something on almost every page; and it’s also not a small thing to say that unlike almost all the other published books on interiors available, I got the strongest possible sense that Vickery had lived in an interior, and understood how interiors work on a day to day level." - Dr. Jason Edwards, University of York

"Vickery is rare as an author who can speculate as to how certain events might actually have felt to those involved, whilst keeping the discussion firmly rooted in the sources and not seeming overfanciful. This is a beautifully written book. It includes important research and thorough engagement with current debates, whilst managing to tell a whole series of cracking good stories."—Dr. Kate Retford, Birkbeck College, University of London

"Comparison between Vickery and Jane Austen is irresistible. In a sense, this is history on the scale of the famous square of ivory on which Austen claimed the ideal novel should be created: graceful, delicate, sparkling with sprezzatura. As with Austen's novels, though, Vickery's research into the landscapes of Georgian domestic politics reveals a great deal more than embroidery going on in the drawing-room. This book is almost too pleasurable, in that Vickery's style and delicious nosiness conceal some seriously weighty scholarship. Using more than 60 archives, Vickery develops her theories through the perceptions of her protagonists, themselves so vivid and memorable that observations such as 'The battle of wainscot versus marble, or stucco versus rampant wallpaper was a motif of a wider cultural debate in which gender was a weapon' sneak slyly under the dado."—Lisa Hilton, The Independent

‘In history… the study if homes and home life has undergone a revolution in the past few decades.  One of the leading figures in that revolution is Amanda Vickery.  Who can resist a book that describes one diarist as a confirmed grumbletonian.  One would have to be a confirmed grumbletonian indeed not to find enlightenment – and pleasure – on every page of this book.’ — Judith Flanders, The Sunday Telegraph

‘[Vickery] opens resolutely shut doors and peeps into the private lives of servants, aristocrats and the “polite and middling sorts” – merchants, clergy members, doctors and lawyers…Ms. Vickery’s greatest achievement is to upend the notion that the home was divided into separate spheres in which men were responsible for brick and stone while women ruled over domestic life. Instead, she brilliantly shows that these boundaries were fluid and mutable…Few writers have such a talent for transforming the driest historical source into a gripping narrative.’ — Andrea Wulf, International Herald Tribune

‘What Vickery illuminates, often brilliantly, always entertainingly and through a myriad of examples from many different people, are the ways in which family and gender relations were played out in Georgian England.’ — Stella Tillyard. Times Literary Supplement

‘Amanda Vickery’s beautifully textured exploration of domestic life.’ — Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman

‘Relying on documents such as account books, journals, letters, inventories and wills, Vickery paints pictures for her readers…Vickery discusses not only the appearance in everyday life in Georgian England but also the nature of the relationships within it…Behind Closed Doors is a fascinating contribution to our understanding of the Georgian period.’ — Jocelyn Anderson, The Georgian

“[Behind Closed Doors] stands out … [It] not only revels in the details of domestic life, it offers a very funny way of looking at otherwise familiar historical characters. Whoever would have guessed that the Duke of Cumberland, the Butcher of Culloden, had such an eye for a well-turned vase?” — Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Telegraph

“An evocative account of life in Georgian England … How much we owe historians who trawl through the illegible and scattered archives for us to assemble these alternative accounts of history.” — Margaret Drabble, The Guardian

“A perfect balance between academic and popular history … In a sense, this is history on the scale of the famous square of ivory on which [Jane] Austen claimed the ideal novel should be created: graceful, delicate, sparkling with sprezzatura … This book is almost too pleasurable.” — Lisa Hilton, Independent on Sunday

“A deeply moving investigation into the domestic lives of our 18th-century ancestors. A scholar of the highest order, Vickery has scoured over 60 archives and … has unearthed wonderful sources … In supple, elegant prose she repeatedly shows that domestic routines and choices were intertwined with political and public participation … A book full of fascinating discoveries – and radically important conclusions.” — Kate Williams, History Today

‘A nuanced and often shocking portrait of the Georgian home … Vickery builds up [her] conclusions carefully from the evidence and writes wit verve and wit. Her book is strengthened by its confinement to respectable society, where her arguments about solitude and substance ring true.’ Sarah Bakewell, The Independent

“Men and women were both under the illusion that they were in charge of the Georgian home. Amanda Vickery makes a delightful study of these roles and homes and draws from a huge period sources as she delves into the lives both of the rich and of the everyday Georgian. This book takes an unstarchy look at domestic life in Georgian England and is full of delicious detail.” — House and Garden


“Amanda Vickery’s stunning new book on domestic life in 18th-century England trumps the traditionalists by showing what can be achieved when a historian boldly goes into new terrains, harnessing the technological advancements that the internet has made possible with an impressive array of original archival evidence (including over 60 collections in various archives and local record offices) and a kaleidoscopic range of material sources: from textiles, furniture, and the visual arts, to wallpaper, and the built environment. . . . Vickery’s prose is a model of its kind: as elegant and as bracing as a brisk rub-down in a gilt bath with carbolic soap. Some of the considerable achievements of this important book are Vickery’s sheer mastery of the sources, the originality of her materials and methodology, and the provocations contained in her seductive prose.” — Helen Berry, Reviews in History


“This book takes an unstarchy look at domestic life in Georgian England and is full of delicious detail.” — House and Garden


“Some of the considerable achievements of this important book are Vickery’s sheer mastery of the sources, the originality of her materials and methodology, and the provocations contained in her seductive prose.” — Helen Berry, Reviews in History

Behind Closed Doors was highly commended by the judges of the Hessell-Tiltman prize for history and described as "outstanding in every way."

'This is social history as it should be written…Yale has allowed a wealth of illustrations - over 100 - which adds to the book's enjoyment.' — E.B, Contemporary Review

'In Behind Closed Doors her sparkling, richly detailed investigation of what she calls 'the hazy background' to the Georgian household … Vickery finds a great deal of information about everyday life, much of it previously hidden." — Gillian Darley, London Review of Books

"Driven by colorful diaries of the time, as well as illuminating letters and other contemporary material such as household accounts, Vickery's scholarly but amusing narrative brings the high and lows of Georgian housekeeping to brilliant life.--Mitchell Owens, Elle Decor

"To say something that is at once original to the expert and exciting to the common reader, the historian must combine a heightened mastery of the material with a clarity of prose. No wonder such works are rare; Amanda Vickery's wonderful book should therefore be celebrated."--The New Republic

'Amanda Vickery breathes new life into 18th century society.' — KO, Sunday Telegraph

'This history of house interiors in Georgian England is a sparkling and erudite work from one of our best historians.' — Daily Telegraph

“Vickery's Behind Closed Doors once again displays the expert scholarship, interpretive nuance, and deft writing that makes her work a pleasure to read.” —Jason Kelly, Economic History Review

"Vickery crosses disciplinary divisions and pursues her subject through an array of sources, from diaries and letters and ledgers, to novels, pattern books and advertising. . . . Absorbingly narrated."—Eighteenth-Century Fiction

"Amanda Vickery's study charts Georgian's ceaseless attempts, successful and not, to form homes and homelike spaces for themselves and then furnish them with objects that expressed their personalities, their status, and their times."—Margaret R. Hunt, American Historical Review

“An impressive book. Vickery should take a bow for her masterful use of visual and material culture as objects of historical inquiry.”—The Journal of British Studies

"On every page, she includes a reference to a novel or play, a religious tract, legal statute or similar. By the conclusion the reader is more knowledgeable about the Georgian world as well as having glimpsed the private life of the Georgian home, but Vickery presents her material with such a light touch that the reader is thoroughly entertained along the way. It is quite simply a ‘good read’."—Margaret Ponsonby, Journal of Design History Vol. 23, No. 1

"In this brilliant work, Amanda Vickery unlocks the homes of Georgian England....Writing with her customary wit and nerve, she introduces us to men and women from all walks of life."—Yorkshire Evening Post

"Vickery’s stunning new book, Behind Closed Doors: At Home In Georgian England, is a serious innovative, in-depth study of Georgian Society."—Ruth Gorb, Islington Tribune

“This detailed slice of Georgian domestic history, is as fascinating as a novel.”—The Good Book Guide

“This richly illustrated and detailed account of the domestic world of the long eighteenth century examines the home as the central location for theories of society, politeness, economics, authority, and gender.”—Year’s Work in English Studies

Shortlisted for the 2009 Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History: Behind Closed Doors was highly commended by the judges of the Hessell-Tiltman prize and described as "outstanding in every way."
ISBN: 9780300154535
Publication Date: November 17, 2009
368 pages, 6 1/4 x 9 1/4
80 b/w + 25 color illus.
The Gentleman's Daughter

Women's Lives in Georgian England

Amanda Vickery

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