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A Man's Place

A Man's Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England

John Tosh
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    A Man's Place
    Book Description:

    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 century-illustrated by case studies representing a variety of backgrounds-and 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14368-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. xi-xii)
    John Tosh
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    John Tosh
  6. Introduction: Masculinity and Domesticity
    (pp. 1-8)

    Men make their living and their reputation in the world; women tend the hearth and raise the children. That division of labour has seldom been absolute, and today more than ever is regarded as a shackle from the past rather than a rational basis for society. But the underlying assumption about the proper – or ‘natural’ – roles of men and women has been profoundly influential in most cultures and in most periods of history. That being the case, what does masculinity have to do with domesticity?

    The Victorians answered this question in a novel and affirmative way. Never before...

  7. Part One: Preconditions

    • chapter one The Middle-Class Household
      (pp. 11-26)

      On 31 March 1851 John Heaton proudly noted in his diary that the census enumerator had called that day and ‘our baby’s name was added to the list of the population’. Apart from two-month old Helen, the other occupants of 2 East Parade, Leeds, were John Heaton himself, his wife Fanny, two female servants and a stable-boy. For a man who had not married until he was 32, it was a moment to savour. This was the house to which he had brought home his new wife barely a year before, after a prolonged and stormy courtship. Now, with a...

    • chapter two The Ideal of Domesticity
      (pp. 27-50)

      When the Victorians sang ‘Home Sweet Home’, when they sagely repeated ‘Home is where the heart is’, and when they warmly commended the home life of their own dear Queen, it is clear that they were expressing more than their appreciation of food, shelter and rest; they were giving voice to their deep commitment to theideaof home. Comfort, privacy and time spent in the home, more sought after by the Victorians than by any previous generation, were regarded not as ends in themselves, but as means to realizing a domestic vision. To be without these benefits was to...

  8. Part Two: The Climax of Domesticity, c. 1830–1880

    • chapter three Husband and Wife
      (pp. 53-78)

      In May 1867, in the course of the House of Commons debate on the Second Reform Bill, John Stuart Mill tabled the first ever parliamentary motion for a gender-blind franchise, proposing that the word ‘person’ should be substituted for ‘man’ throughout the bill. It was the climax of a lifetime’s commitment to the cause of women’s emancipation. In his speech Mill not only appealed to arguments of political justice; he also placed the issue in the context of the changing character of marriage:

      Women and men are, for the first time in history, really each other’s companions. Our traditions respecting...

    • chapter four Father and Child
      (pp. 79-101)

      Of all the qualifications for full masculine status, fatherhood was the least talked about by the Victorians. The question of whether to marry – and even morewhento marry – regularly featured in public discourse. The importance of dignified, independent work was endlessly proclaimed. The moral qualities attributable to manliness were the stuff of sermons and homilies. By comparison, little attention was given to the duties and delights of fatherhood. Only in the late Victorian period did this reticence begin to be undermined, as fathers experienced overt challenges to their domestic preeminence (see Chapter 7). One reason why fatherhood...

    • chapter five Boys into Men
      (pp. 102-122)

      Edward Herford was 19 years of age and beginning the final stages of his training as an attorney when he wrote this entry in his diary in February 1835. The pent-up frustration of submitting to the indignities of parental discipline, and the excitement of living away from home for the first time, mark this out as the reflection of a youngster on the threshold of manhood. Edward’s father, John Herford, was a prosperous Unitarian liquor merchant, with firm views about how his sons should conduct themselves under his roof. They were expected to make do with a meagre allowance, to...

    • chapter six Convivial Pleasures and Public Duties
      (pp. 123-142)

      The Frenchman Hippolyte Taine remarked of England in the 1860s, ‘Here, there is nothing beyond work conscientiously done, useful production, and a secure and convenient comfort in one’s own home’. No doubt some allowance must be made for the fact that Paris under the Second Empire was a byword for publicly consumed masculine pleasures. But Taine was in fact accurately reflecting the self-image of middle-class England.¹ Domesticity for men implied a life spent, as far as working routines permitted, within the home or in the company of family. Once the requirements of material provision had been met and responsibilities towards...

  9. Part Three: Domesticity under Strain, c. 1870–1900

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Decline of Deference
      (pp. 145-169)

      Middle-class domesticity in Victorian England could hardly be described as an unqualified endorsement of patriarchal privilege. For a majority of families, domesticity was premised on the practical foundation of the absentee breadwinner, while its ideological foundation was widely taken to be women’s moral superiority. Both these elements – the material and the moral – served to enhance the status of wives. The prestige of motherhood was greatly increased; housewifery was redefined as the art (or even science) of household management; and the local standing of the family became more than ever dependent on the social skills of the wife. But,...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Flight from Domesticity
      (pp. 170-194)

      In 1890 Cornelius Stovin delivered a speech at the golden wedding celebrations of his parents-in-law, in which he struggled to find a metaphor which adequately expressed his faith in marriage. In a thinly veiled tribute to his own wife Elizabeth, he described woman as ‘the finishing stroke of God’s work in creation’ and ‘the summing up of all excellencies’. As for the married state, his first thought was to liken it to ‘two or more railway carriages coupled together’, but he settled on a more organic metaphor: man and wife were like ‘the fingers of one hand’.¹ Cornelius would have...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 195-197)

    In contemporary British culture the label ‘Victorian’ continues to serve as a necessary shorthand to denote the past from which we are anxious to escape. Not even the vigorous defence of ‘Victorian values’ mounted by the Conservatives in the 1980s succeeded in dislodging the association of Victorianism with joyless and hypocritical repression. It seems we still cannot do without a negative and simplified image of Victorian sexuality.¹ The same applies to the Victorian family. We seize on stories of stifling ritual, Sunday boredom and rigid discipline to substantiate a picture of empty marriage, sexual hypocrisy and regimented childhood. Against this...

  11. A Note on Method
    (pp. 198-199)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 200-228)
  13. Sources
    (pp. 229-243)
  14. Index
    (pp. 244-252)