Cover image for Public lives : women, family, and society in Victorian Britain
Public lives : women, family, and society in Victorian Britain
Gordon, Eleanor.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
294 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
Added Author:
Electronic Access:
Table of contents
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ1600.G53 G67 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



This lively book challenges many stereotypes about Victorian women and their families and offers intriguing new insights into middle-class life in Britain from 1840 through the early years of the twentieth century. Eleanor Gordon and Gwyneth Nair examine women's relationships, their marriages, the ways they earned and spent their money, and their social, spiritual, and civic lives. What emerges from this fascinating research is a revised--and far richer--view of middle-class women's experiences in the Victorian era than has been understood before.

The authors argue that widely accepted characterizations of the Victorian family as a private enclave in which women's roles related only to service and dependency are narrow and inaccurate. In fact, as arbiters of taste, managers of display, and consumers of culture, women assumed a variety of complex roles and were central to the creation of middle-class identity and culture.

Author Notes

Eleanor Gordon is senior lecturer in the department of economic and social history at the University of Glasgow. Gwyneth Nair is a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Paisley.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Gordon (Univ. of Glasgow) and Nair (Univ. of Paisley) are two of many scholars, such as Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, who are revising the accepted view of Victorian Britain. Concentrating on the era after 1850 to convey the diversity of middle-class women's lives, roles, and identities, they analyze two middle-class housing estates in Glasgow but never lose sight of parallel developments elsewhere. The authors accept the "two spheres" paradigm, but indicate how much diversity and freedom women had to make their own choices, shape their own experiences, and create their own histories, all without chaperones. Women were free to have public as well as private lives. Single women made their own paradigm, as did widows. These women were not the straight-laced, repressed people pictured by 20th-century scholars, but met head-on the challenges of a vibrant age. With this study and others in progress that are changing views of the rich and varied lives of middle-class women, revisionism is slowly creeping into the text books. The research here is impressive, and the book will remain a standard for some time. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. W. J. Hoffman Jr. emeritus, Hiram College