Posts Tagged ‘At Home With the Georgians’

Gifts from Julie Wakefield

Gentle readers, as many of you know, I have been laid up with a broken foot and have only recently begun to follow a full schedule again. So many friends and readers have wished me well, making me feel like a million dollars. Julie Wakefield from the fabulous blog Austenonly sent me a package from England that simply took my breath away: The DVD of Amanda Vickery’s outstanding BBC series, At Home With the Georgians, based on her book; an apron featuring images of Chawton Cottage and illustrations by Hugh Thompson; two Penguin Classics – Some Country Houses and their Owners by James Lees-Milne and Birds of Selborne by Gilbert White, and bookplates! Thank you, Julie. I love, love, love this package, which came from the heart.

Click on these links to read Julie’s posts about At Home With the Georgians and Hugh Thompson’s illustrations:

Find the gifts online:

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Update: New Photos! Inquiring readers: Tony Grant (London Calling), who lives in England, has graciously reviewed the third (and final) episode of Amanda Vickery’s At Home With the Georgians: Safe as Houses, and pulled images for us to view.

In the first episode, A Man’s Place, we were introduced, by the delectable, Amanda Vickery, to the Georgian concept of owning your own house, no longer an elite aspiration but now a desire and need of the,”middling,” classes too. Then in the second episode , A Woman’s Touch, we were shown how decorating the interiors of these homes began a revolution in society. It introduced us to the concept of taste, affordability through mass production, advertising and in essence the beginning of the modern world. Now, in this the third and final episode Amanda Vickery introduces us to the concept of safety, security and personal space and through our homes, the invention of the family and individuality. The ideas we have today of what modern man and woman are, of how we see ourselves and what our personal needs are, the Georgians began.

Amanda Vickery surveys London at night

The opening shots of this programme show Amanda in shadowy profile on the rooftops of nigh time London contemplating the scene as indeed Batman does over Gotham City in those nightmarish films. Both contemplate the evils that lurk, the crimes that could happen, and the monsters that might perpetrate these horrors. We often think of Batman and Gotham City as a sort of Gothic nightmare but as this programme unfolds we might consider that Batman surveys the same fears and possibilities of crime the Georgians did in their cities, towns, villages and homes. This is what Amanda is introducing us to, the Georgian preoccupation with crime, especially against the householder.

Amanda Vickery outside the fortified Georgian house

The Georgians had their homes with beautiful interiors but “the Georgian idle was hedged with nightmares.” Dangers were without and within the home. Privacy and security were their greatest challenge. Walk past any Georgian terraced house and it is easy to notice the similarities between the exterior of a Georgian house and a castle. There are wrought iron palisades with sharp-pointed spearheads along the front of most Georgian houses.

Georgian House defenses, The Royal Crescent

Between the fence and the house exterior wall there is often a deep drop down to a basement floor where the servants live and work. This is like a moat, a further protection. There are often steps up to a massive front door, often studded with iron nail heads but always very sturdy. This is like a castle gate or portcullis. On the door often there are heavy brass knockers resembling a lion or Greek Goddess. This is perhaps the Greek gods of antiquity providing protection or a sign of aggressive protection by the lion. The door furniture inside the Georgian front door is very impressive. Amanda enjoys having a go with numerous bolts, top and bottom, massive locks that need hefty looking keys and that take some strength to wield and bars that have to be eased into place, slotting into iron slots.

Georgian door knockers, to keep evil at bay, perhaps

In Georgian times there were no insurance policies to cover crime and theft. There was not much of a police force. A town or district might have a night watchman who patrolled for part of the night along a few given roads. There was no official curfew although most people were locked up and in bed by 11 o’clock. Stories of horrors were rife in the cities. Journalists, as nowadays, loved a good story and would stoke the fuels of fear and neuroses.

Locking up at night

Amanda explains how this need to protect the home, which was seen as sacrosanct, by society and the law, was taken very seriously. A man’s home was his castle. The judiciary was keen to create laws to protect the householder. In Georgian times the number of crimes that could carry the death penalty increased from 50 to 200. It became known as The Bloody Code. Breaking and entry into a man’s home whether anything was taken or not, carried the death penalty. Mere theft on the street might not.

On a dark night, the light from the nightwatchman's lantern is so ineffective that he fails to see the burglars behind him. Image-detail of a Rowlandson caricature.

No fortress is totally impregnable. There were always weaknesses The roofs or as they were known, “the leads,” were a way into houses. Roof tiles can be removed and sky lights were weak.

Skylight, a possible thieves entrance

Some dire and extreme measures were taken to protect homes. Servants might sleep across doorways with a blunderbuss beside them. The interior doors to each room were locked. At nighttime a Georgian house became like a prison with the inmates locked into their cells. The owners of large estates might set mantraps within their grounds. This was a vicious spring-loaded contraption with a set of iron-serrated jaws that could sever a man’s leg and at least smash the shinbone. These were chained to stakes anchored in the ground so the poor unfortunate caught by one of these was trapped like a hunted animal.

For the so-called Age of Enlightenment, the Georgians were rather prone to neuroses and imaginings of all sorts. They believed in poltergeists, ghosts and all sorts of nocturnal occult beasts. Their homes had to be protected from these sorts of intruders. The chimney was open to the sky so this was a way for evil spirits to invade their homes and it had to be protected. A tender scene in the programme shows Amanda discussing with an expert in the field of the occult some of the personal objects the Georgians would hide in what they thought were vulnerable places where these spirits of the night might get in. Recesses up chimneys and cavities within walls and under the stairs were filled with items, often over generations. The occupants thought they would deter things of the occult. A little child’s shoe might for instance attract a poltergeist and distract it from attacking the child itself. So these things were seen as spoilers or like lightning conductors that misdirected an evil force.

Amanda Vickery showed many documents from her iPad

The way a Georgian household was formed also had its dangers. The patriarch of the house, the owner, perceived dangers from the very people in side his house. Who could he trust? Mr Fenner of Salisbury Court in Spitalfields had a family of nine. These were not a wife and seven children, he had a wife, but he had three lodgers, three servants and one apprentice. This was classed as his family. It was very hierarchical. Mr Fenner was the lord or King of the household, his wife was second in charge and then everybody else had their place, with the apprentice at the bottom of the pile. A house was a microcosm of Georgian society. Amanda tells us that we know about the Fenners only because there was a fire in Salisbury Court. It was taken to court and the apprentice and the Fenner’s cat were the suspects. The cat may have been seen as the embodiment of a witch.

A garrett. Image @Tony Grant

Houses were designed to enforce this hierarchy or sort of apartheid. The poor servants lived in the basement and in the garret at the top of the house. Large houses incorporated separate staircases; separate living rooms, essentially separate houses within the whole structure of a mansion or large house. New laws helped enshrine the separation and bolster the security of the owner. There was a law against the theft by a servant and theft by a lodger.

A secretaire

Servants were not only considered to give lip service but eye service too. A householder could not guarantee the thoughts and schemes of the people under him. All sorts of inventions were created to keep things secret and personal so prying eyes and fingers could not steal and find out things they should not. Right into the very heart of the Georgian household, secrecy and personal security was a concern and could never be guaranteed but it was strived for, vigorously.

Examining the compartments of a secretaire

One piece of furniture Amanda shows us is a secretaire, a French invention. It is a writing desk with secret compartments to keep notes and letters safe. It has draws and sections accessible by servant to fill the ink well or replace the quill but the written thoughts of the owner are in compartments not accessible to any old so and so.

Examining ladies pockets

Even clothing was designed to keep personal items safe. Women had large pockets attached to a belt fastened around their waist underneath two or three layers of outer garments. A slit in their outer dress allowed them to slip their hands into these copious and deep pockets within their clothing.

House holders, created strict rules for their servants and lodgers. No part of a house belonged to an employee or lodger. Apartheid had to be maintained and a strict ladder of authority had to be maintained. Amanda in her inimitable way finds the exceptions when this hierarchical structure could have been broken and all could have been destroyed. One, Benjamin Smith, a Leicestershire solicitor and a widower had a sexual relationship with a servant he called Newbat (her surname).  He wrote about this in detail  in his diaries. “He was lonely and had a cold bed,” Amanda described. He couldn’t help himself. This liaison threatened to destroy his whole world. Newbat began to control him with her sexual wiles. Eventually Benjamin found a new wife and Newbat was given her marching orders.

Benjamin Smith and Newbat

Oh dear me, the weaknesses of men!!!!!

This brings us to the most poignant and I think the most important part of this third episode. Amanda discusses what individuality and personal freedom really mean and how it developed in Georgian times. We all might, if we are lucky, consider that personal space, time to ourselves, privacy, when we need it, as very important even essential to us as individuals. It was not certain that you would have this sort of freedom if you were a Georgian.

The Georgians believed that you should have somewhere private. The King James Bible decreed that individuals should have a room set aside for personal private prayer twice a day. Large houses had small rooms built into them called closets. These rooms at first were specifically for prayer but very quickly they became used for private moments of all sorts. A place to keep personal objects, paintings, or even pornography. It could be place where a woman or man might have clandestine affairs.

Anne Dormer entrapped in her marriage

Amanda , as always, has uncovered the sad painful examples through her thorough reading and research into Georgian diaries. Anne Dormer and Robert Dormer lived in a beautiful Jacobean Mansion. They were in the top two percent of the wealthy of the country. Robert was intensely jealous. He stalked his wife’s every movement. When she walked in the grounds of the estate he would count her steps and watch her from a window. If she paused to look at anything he would question her intensely about it. She had no privacy. Her home was worse than a prison. The experience took its toll on her health. She could only be free when her husband died.

Servants shared rooms

Amanda discusses the apt question, “What about the serving classes who owned no property, had no closets, shared bedrooms, and had no personal space or time? What of them?” Servants all owned what was called a locking box. Within this they kept their personal items, the items, which gave them an identity. Their house, their room, their home was reduced to a small box. Amanda poignantly relates how some of these boxes were wallpapered inside. That tells you volumes. We are shown some of Hogarth’s pictures portraying the life of Moll Flanders. In the final scene when Moll is dying you can see in the picture that another maid or prostitute has broken into Moll’s locking box. At the end of her life even her most intimate personal possessions are now no longer private, no longer hers. She has lost everything.

Hogarth, A Harlot's Progress, Plate 5. Image @Tate Britain

So what happens if the wealthy, the householder, falls from grace and loses everything. In many towns, wealthy, Christian minded, merchants, would build what were called alms houses. These were small, quite comfortable houses, which provided some security and enabled families to stay together and offered some aspects of comfort and privacy. With this charitable act not all was lost. However towards the end of the 18th century a new form of provision was created for those who had fallen on hard times. This was the workhouse. A pitiless, regimented institution that stripped people of all privacy and independence. Almost anything was preferable to the workhouse.

A workhouse

The buildings of many Victorian workhouses remain today in towns and cities throughout England. They are put to other uses now. They were solidly built and once converted and modernised actually make great office space or trendy apartments. I wouldn’t like to live in one because of the memories and the history.

Geffrey Alms Houses (museum), Shoreditch

There are times in this series that I could cry for these very real people who Amanda reveals to us through their diaries. Amanda Vickery more than once pauses, a lump in her throat, as she finds it difficult to continue because of the rawness of some of the lives she has uncovered.

Geffrey Alms Houses, Shoreditch

Over these three episodes Amanda Vickery takes us through a journey showing how the creation of the modern household was invented. The concept of family was different in Georgian times but we can see how it developed and how we have got to where we are now from this Georgian starting point. The concept of personal freedom and personal space was in it’s infancy, struggling for acceptance. Amanda has described to us in this series the start of the modern world. The programmes are good at showing how marriage and relationships between men and women were changing and developing. I think it is worthwhile watching. I hope Amanda creates more programmes of this sort. They are thought-provoking. They make us ask questions about our world and ourselves.

Amanda Vickery and the actors who helped the Georgian Era come alive

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In the second episode of At Home With the Georgians: A Woman’s Touch, Amanda Vickery mentioned metamorphic furniture and (remarkably) turned a desk into a bed. A visitor to Tony Grant’s excellent post left this question: What is metamorphic furniture?

Modern example of metamorphic furniture: hall table/card table

Tony answered the question admirably. This mechanical furniture, wide-spread in Georgian times, had a dual use. A small folding staircase could be transformed into chair or desk, such as a writing table, library table, or card table. These pieces of furniture were great space savers, as I can attest. Only last week I transformed my faux-Georgian hall table into a card table for my guests. I never guessed until Tony’s post that I owned an example of mechanical furniture. Sweet!

The only change I would make in the video (besides the annoying lilt in my voice) is to make sure that the next time I film an example of my furniture, it is thoroughly dusted and cleaned! Extra points if you can spot my pooch in one of the scenes. His hang dog expression tells me that he was out of sorts, having been told to stay put.

This Victorian piano at the Brooklyn Museum pulls out into a bed. Fascinating. The video is available to view until March 2011.

READ MORE: If your interest in the topic is piqued, Clive Taylor (who also left a comment on the previous post) has written a dissertation on the topic (click here to read The Regency Period Metamorphic Chair) and sells metamorphic library chairs/stairs in his shop, Parbold Antiques.

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Copyright @Jane Austen’s World. Written by Tony Grant, London Calling

Inquiring reader, I reviewed the first episode of At Home With the Georgians, A Man’s Place. This week, Tony reviews the second episode, A Woman’s Touch, adding his unique humor and male perspective.

We have just had the second part of Amanda Vickery’s ,”At Home With Georgians,” aired on our screens. Vic wrote an excellent review of the first programme which dealt with the growing craze and indeed need the Georgians developed to own their own homes. Owning a house became a requirement to attract a good partner in marriage. Amanda Vickery’s seductive, sometimes amusing, tongue in cheek, highly intelligent way, entertained us to a very enjoyable , incisive analysis of this craze.

Amanda Vickery, At Home With the Georgians, A Woman's Touch

You must take into account Amanda Vickery’s origins when viewing this series to understand the full subtlety of her presentation. She is a Lancashire lass brought up in the northern mill town of Preston. Just listen to that smooth Lancashire accent. Girls and indeed boys are educated in the hard knocks of life up there and a hard; millstone grit type of humour that can get you through anything is all part of the upbringing. Witness that sassy smile ,sideways look, the very northern words she uses, the continual gentle flick of her fringe from in front of her eyes. Oh yes, she has learned all the tricks. A very powerful woman indeed.

Amanda and her big desk.

In the first episode a wealthy merchants desk makes an appearance. Remember that scene? Amanda sits behind it and drapes herself across it, looks straight at us and intones, “Look at me, look at my desk,” as she caresses it’s polished smooth surface lovingly. Pure, naughty northern humour. By the way, the desk makes another appearance in this second episode. Amanda would be great as an entertainer in a northern working mens club. They would love her. I roared with laughter. But, what is so very very beguiling about Amanda and her presentation and what is most attractive is her deep intellectual analysis underlying her humour. We get all the layers of meaning that oozed unconsciously from this period. Amanda has uncovered the lot.

Touring an open house

This episode begins with Amanda touring what seems to be an ordinary every day persons home, with other visitors. This is not as strange as it seems. Here in London we have a weekend in the summer every year which is called London Open House weekend. People can apply to open their homes for the public to visit. Anything from Hampton Court to a local semi in my road can be listed on their website. This year I went to Sir John Soanes House, an 18th century architects house in Holburn and the next day to a small house in Wimbledon owned by an architect who has taken Soanes ideas and incorporated them into his own 1950’s box shaped home. The comparison of ideas in both was very striking. Amanda makes the point that visiting people’s homes is not new. It started in the 18th century and is just as strong and vibrant a custom today. When we visit people’s homes, be they friends or strangers, we overtly or subconsciously gather ideas for our own homes. For the Georgians, and this is the point of this episode, getting ideas for their own interiors was a passion. DIY, home improvement, home magazines and adverts are not new. They began in 18th century England.

Georgian furnishings were a matter of taste

Amanda introduces us as indeed the 18th century gentleman and his wife were introduced, to the concept of taste, which originated in France but was very quickly taken up by the English. Taste is a minefield, get it wrong and you will be ridiculed. Get it right and you will be a success. Amanda asks us and we must search our own souls, “Do you have good taste? Do I?”

Furniture catalogue

The aristocrats and the wealthy opened their houses for the public to come and see. They were the arbiters of what was good and bad. The,”middling classes,” also wanted artefacts of good taste in their homes. So entrepreneurs and craftsmen like Matthew Bolton produced cheaper versions in Sheffield plate, of the things the rich had. A whole new market opened up with the middle classes owning their own homes. Factories like Wedgwood churned out the stuff and it was greedily bought up.

Show room of Wedgwood and Byerley, Great Newport St and St. Martin's Lane, London

Artifacts and furniture were big business and created a need for salesmen and advertising. The modern world was being invented.

If you had your own home and you have decorated it and filled it full of what you think are beautiful objects, it’s no good keeping it to yourself. It needs to be seen. So visiting for afternoon tea was invented. The Georgians took to this craze big time. Amanda tells us about an entry in one diary, where one lady visits four or five friends in one day. Amanda’s inimitable Lancashire phrase for this is, “She hardly had time to park her bum.”

Metamorphic furniture had several functions and saved space

Metamorphic furniture made its’ appearance at this time. A great opportunity for a bit of toilet humour shall we say from our Amanda. She shows an incredible commode that you or I would be proud to eat our angel cakes off.

Amanda converts a desk into a bed

Some did get it wrong and big time. Amanda refers to two diaries in particular. One diary written by a Mrs Hewett relates how, just after marrying, she became ill and had to recuperate at home with her mother. James Hewett had bought a magnificent new house. He was very ambitious. However it was not decorated and because James was in a hurry he decided to go ahead and decorate it himself. It nearly destroyed their marriage before it got going. Another aristocratic family had it all but they didn’t socialise. The husband hated women and he couldn’t see the point in having visitors. This did destroy the marriage. Amanda is very good at balancing her view with the sad and painful experiences of some.

Social seclusion destroyed Lady Stanley's marriage

One of the points of this programme is that with interior decoration the home became the realm of the woman of the house. It was their palette, their creative space. Women decided on the decoration in the 18th century. It made homes comfortable, gentle, seductive places. Not the male testosterone fuelled (quoting Amanda here) interiors of the previous Stuart period.

Georgian woman decorating her home

Visiting and socializing was a vital element too. If this was got wrong too there could be dire consequences.

Amanda Vickery's iPad

Finally please note how Amanda caresses expertly her iPad. It’s a lesson in using new technology seductively. After this three-part series I hope we are going to see a lot more of Amanda Vickery PhD, Professor of Holloway College London. I think she is fantastic. I would marry her. (I hope my wife didn’t hear that.)

The third installment of this series, Safe as Houses, was shown last Thursday. Look for Tony’s review of this episode soon.

Safe as Houses is the third episode of At Home With the Georgians

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At Home With the Georgians: A Man’s Place, the BBC2 special, is hosted by Professor Amanda Vickery, who shares her expertise and unique knowledge gleaned from diaries written during that fascinating era. In the series about Georgian houses, shown in three installments in Great Britain, Dr. Vickery provides a fascinating insider’s view of what home and hearth meant to the individuals she showcases.

Host and scholar, Dr. Amanda Vickery in carriage

An 18th century gentleman, it seemed, yearned as much for domesticity as the Georgian woman. During this period the middle class began to earn enough money to purchase houses and furnish them in a style that reflected the owner’s tastes, character and moral values. Until a man could afford to head a household, his place in society as a full citizen was not fulfilled.

Dr. George Gibbs's letters to Miss Vickery

Take George Gibbs, a West Country doctor, for instance, who worked hard to woo his sweetheart, Miss Vickery. His future domicile and its furnishings were topics of much conversation in his letters to her. He looked for a house all over Exeter that would satisfy her as much as himself – “one with a good parlor with sashed windows and painted blue and with two chambers, tolerably good, and one hung with paper.”

Dudley Ryder fantasizes about a home and family in his humble one-room bachelor pad

Twenty-three year old Dudley Ryder, law student and son of a tradesman, yearned in his diaries for a wife to soothe his lonely nights and take care of him. He lived in squalid lodgings while studying law, eating his meals in chop houses and living a lonely bachelor existence.

In a contemporary cartoon, a bachelor cadges a meal from an irritated married friend

His dreams would not be realized for another twenty years when he married the daughter of a rich West Indian merchant.

Dudley Ryder as a respectable married man

Dudley not only came into his own later in life, but managed to acquire a quite handsome estate.

The Master Key to the Rich Ladies Treasures listed eligible ladies according to region and type

For these men, eligible brides were at a premium. A book, “Master Key to the Rich Ladies Treasures”, listed all the eligible women (and their incomes) in the land.

A lady's fortune and other assets could be consulted

Today, we think of the marriage mart in that long ago age as a “meat market” in which the bride went to the best prospect. Yet Georgian women longed as much for domesticity as the man yearned for a wife to complete his ambitions in becoming head of a household with a family.

John Courtney's house had curb appeal, unlike its master

Some men had more difficulty than others in acquiring a proper mate. John Courtney, who lived in a handsome house in the market town of Beverley in Yorkshire with his mama, was rejected eight times during his search for a wife. In this instance, Dr. Vickery makes the point that there was more to wooing a future wife than the prospect of living in a fine house – the man himself needed to have some finesse in the ritual of courtship and show some self-awareness.

The cost and maintenance of a carriage and horses was the equivalent of a helicopter today

Once the couple was married, the man could spend the family money as he wished. Much of a man’s financial outlay was on himself and his interests, such as horses, carriages, and leather (symbols of speed and virility) and on the sort of equipment that would be the equivalent of today’s laptops and flat screen tvs.

18th c. male items for sale today

Not surprisingly, the personalities of Georgian women varied. Not all were meek and mild. Miss Mary Martin from Essex was a rather complicated (and very bossy) individual. She was capable and demanding, yet womanly.

Miss Mary Martin oversees renovations

Engaged for seven years to her cousin, Colonel Isaac Rebow, she took care of his interests when he was away on garrison duty, jokingly writing to him, “I will only add that my breeches hang extremely well.” She was a powerful fiancee, able to oversee the hiring and firing of servants, look after storing Isaac’s wigs, and see after his provisioning. After they were married, she made sure that her husband was as happy in bed as out of it.

Charlotte Lucas was quietly content with her decision

At this juncture, Dr. Vickery points out that Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice, chose the security and status of a married woman, knowing she would be married to a buffoon. Through marriage she gained status and respectability. But what happened to a woman who never married? Unfortunately, as Jane Austen sagely wrote, “ There are not so many men of fortune in the world as there are pretty girls who deserve them.” In the 18th century, Dr. Vickery states, one out of three artistocratic girls were never married, for there were not enough estates to go around.

Even a buffoon of a husband did not detract from Charlotte's pride of home

And, indeed, Jane Austen in Mansfield Park wrote vividly about Fanny Price’s mother, who married down the social ladder. She took on her husband’s status, that of a lowly lieutenant, and lived a life of misery, poverty and want. Her tablecloths were surely dirty, whereas in the Georgian age a clean one was considered a sign of virtue.

Gertrude Savile, unhappy spinster

Dr. Vickery talks in detail of a lonely spinster, Gertrude Savile, who lives on sufferance in Rufford Abbey, her brother’s grand house in Nottinghamshire. Timid, shy, and pox marked, she hated her gilded caged life and struggled to find some social and emotional meaning in an existence that forced her to beg for “every pin and needle” and “every pair of gloves”.  Even the servants treated her with contempt and thus she chose to remain within her rooms, with her cat her only comfort. In her diary she poured out her anger and sadness, using words like “miserable”, “unhappy”, “extremely miserable”, and “very unhappy”.

Gertrude Savile's agitated scribbles and crossings

Poor, poor Gertrude would never know the joys of managing her own household and overseeing her own brood. Her scribbled screams of rage and crossings leapt out from the pages of her journals.

George Hilton was full of self-loathing for his inability to control his base habits

Lifelong bachelors also felt the bitter pangs of loneliness. George Hilton, a dissolute 27-year-old squire, never married. He spent his time carousing in taverns, drinking to so much excess that he “fell paralytically drunk 220 times in eight years”. Even the men he drank with had no desire to introduce George to their eligible female relations.  Graceless George had a house filled with pewter and devoid of womanly touches. His only female companions were prostitutes, which in a Christian society meant that he lived in sin. George died alone and was buried in an unmarked grave on the fells.

A serene view of Chawton Cottage

Romance and marriage for the Georgians was as complicated in a different way from courtship today. Women had fewer choices to make their way in the world, as poor Gertrude Savile situation as a spinster without prospects demonstrated, but many Georgian men yearned for domestic bliss as much as their women. Dr. Vickery ended the episode in Chawton Cottage, reminding us that another spinster, Jane Austen, chose to live a creative and productive life. Gertrude, who wallowed in her misery and anger, likely did not have the family support or innate talent that Jane had, and thus she was doomed to sit in her rooms alone.

Jane Austen's writing table, Chawton Cottage

I enjoyed this first installment by Dr. Vickery thoroughly. Her approach to what could have been a very dry topic was refreshingly unscholarly and accessible to even the most historically challenged (yet her script is backed up by impeccable sources.) While actors portrayed the diarists in various settings, we are shown the portraits of the actual individuals (when possible), and are shown their homes or a close facsimile.

Amanda Vickery reads Dudley Ryder's diaries

I did wonder, however, how on earth Dr. Vickery was allowed to handle valuable manuscripts with her bare hands. (Does not the oil on our fingertips eventually eat into the parchment? Are scholars exempt from having to wear gloves as they handle rare diaries that are stored in archival boxes?)

Portrait of Dr. George Gibbs

And I was a bit taken aback at her reaction to Dr. Gibbs’s portrait. Yes, he was a jowly man and did not resemble her fantasized movie star hero, but his lack of handsome looks in no way detracted (in my mind) from his tender feelings and consideration towards his wife and children. See this clip on YouTube. Still, this special made history come alive in a way that made me feel that I had met several people from a former time, and gave me a more complete understanding of their yearning for domestic bliss.

Next episode: A Woman's Touch, 9 Dec

BBC 2 will air the second installment, A Woman’s Touch, on Thursday evening at 9 PM. Viewers in countries round the world can only sit back and patiently wait for this excellent series to head their way.

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