The Feel of Home: Emotions in the 19th century British Middle-Class Home
A Lit & Phil lecture via Zoom
Thursday 29 April 6pm
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The COVID pandemic has meant everyone has spent a lot of time at home, and most people have probably developed a particular set of emotions about their home because of that. This is not the first time a specific set of emotions have been associated with the home in British history. Indeed, the word ‘home’ is particularly evocative in the English language, laden with connotations of comfort, safety, belonging, and cheer. Many of the ideas of what ‘home’ means in the twenty-first century can be traced back to the ideals of domestic life developed in the nineteenth century, when a specific vocabulary of emotions was used to describe the home. This lecture will address some of the most common emotions associated with the nineteenth-century middle-class home as they were described in household guides of the period, and then explore how people of the time felt about their homes based on material in private diaries and letters.
Compared to previous object-centred research on the home, the evidence shows that there is a surprisingly larger overlap between the prescriptive emotions in the published material and the lived experiences of Victorian householders, both in terms of the general ideology about the home and for specific spaces, objects, and people within the home. In addition to providing new insights into nineteenth-century life, this research suggests a need to re-evaluate the commodities-focussed approach that many studies of the home have used to date.
David Johnson is a third-year PhD candidate at Newcastle University writing on the history of the British home. His other research interests include the interwar years in Europe and the history of East Germany. David co-chaired Notes From Home, an international virtual conference on the history of home, hosted by Newcastle University this year. His most recent article is titled ‘Affirmation in the “Other”: Middle Class Identity and Nineteenth-Century Poverty Studies’, available online here, and he is also the author of Madman in a Box: The Social History of Doctor Who.
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