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 centuryillustrated by case studies representing a variety of backgroundsand 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.
Tosh (history, Univ. of North London) uses primary sources to explore the contradictions inherent in 19th-century British masculinity. Many tensions lay beneath the British male's well-known veneration of home, family, and motherhood. Marriage was a prime factor in self-worth, but men were reared at elite public (i.e., private) schools to ignore or even despise women. Husbands were publicly seen as masters and the spiritual leaders of their homes and families, yet once married, men often sequestered themselves in dens and clubs, and whole categories of decisions (like child rearing) were left solely to wives and servants. Tosh traces the evolution of these tensions through the century, as the idealization of domesticity gradually decreased and marital and parental hierarchies evolved. Particularly interesting are the sections on child rearing, in which the father's role often led to estrangement and generational discord. Tosh convincingly defends his thesis that the era, instead of just being "the climax of masculine domesticity," was actually more complex. Not entirely exciting, but the scholarship is solid; for academic collections.--Robert Persing, Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib., Philadelphia Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.