What was the life of an eighteenth-century British genteel woman like? This lively book, based on letters, diaries, and account books of over one hundred middle class women, transforms our understanding of the position of women in Georgian England. These women were not confined in their homes but enjoyed expanding horizons and an array of emerging public arenas, the author shows.
This meticulously researched social history should be welcomed by specialists in British and European women's history. Vickery (British women's history, Univ. of London) challenges the standard argument that once the industrial revolution took production out of the home, women's lives were marginalized in the domestic sphere. Using the letters, diaries, and account books of more than 100 women from the "genteel" classes, she theorizes that women's activities actually expanded as they involved themselves in new areas of community life. Indeed, she concludes that the struggles of the Victorian suffragettes may have stemmed not from a sense of oppression but from a desire to expand the gains of their Georgian predecessors. Unfortunately, Vickery's insistence on proving her provocative thesis overwhelms the richness of the descriptive material she presents: there is good information here on household management, servants, material culture, shopping and consumption, and female attitudes on courtship, pregnancy, motherhood, and child rearing. Recommended for academic libraries.--Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., Livingston, NJ