ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110.
CAREER: Affiliated with National Portrait Gallery, London, England; freelance journalist; writer.
A Circle of Sisters: Alice Kipling, Georgina Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter, and Louisa Baldwin, Viking (London, England), 2001.
The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth toDeathbed, HarperCollins (London, England), 2003, published as Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: A student of the Victorian era, Judith Flanders has a particular interest in the lives of Victorian women. In A Circle of Sisters: Alice Kipling, Georgina Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter, and Louisa Baldwin she describes the lives and impact of a particularly remarkable family. Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England chronicles the lives and concerns of the average middle-class woman of the nineteenth century. In both studies, Flanders cuts through both traditionalist sentimentalism and feminist jargon to reveal an era that held out both tantalizing possibilities and grueling drudgery for middle-class women.
A Circle of Sisters focuses on the remarkable MacDonald family. Daughters of a poor Methodist preacher, Georgina married famed painter Edward Burne-Jones and Agnes married Edward Poynter, a pillar of England's art establishment at a time when Great Britain stood at the apex of the world. Alice became the mother of Rudyard Kipling, the world-renowned poet of the Empire, and Louisa gave birth to future Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. The MacDonald sisters have captured the imagination of historians since their own era, and "Flanders has made reading about the sisters and their circle utterly intriguing through the use of family letters and apt quotations," according to Spectator reviewer Sarah Bradford. "Where the author excels is in her descriptions of home life and of the relationships that extended Victorian families produced," noted a Contemporary Review contributor.
Home life is the primary focus of Inside the Victorian Home. "Flanders throws open the chintz and muslin draperies as she discusses rules of courtship, family structures, etiquette, laws, medicine and fashion for the newly urbanized people of the 1800s," as Gretchen Gurujal explained in the Chicago Tribune. Drawing on letters and diaries as well as numerous secondary sources, the author describes the many ways women adjusted to the new challenges of city life, taking the reader on a tour of the cluttered bedrooms, newly designed bathrooms, busy kitchen, and other areas that kept women on a domestic treadmill. According to Guardian contributor Kathryn Hughes, Flanders "shows herself adept at controlling the flow of information and [keeps] her story moving briskly forward (there is no dawdling in this house, no glancing backwards or racing on ahead)." The book's pace mirrors the lives of the women who stood at the heart of the Victorian household, constantly battling the coal dust and grime and insect infestations that threatened any fine home. "Simply protecting the bed from omnivorous vermin and omnipresent soot required constant, backbreaking vigilance," explained Winfred Gallagher in the Wilson Quarterly. In addition, the author discusses the treatment of servants, the use of medications, and many other aspects of life that occupied the Victorian housewife. Flanders "is endlessly curious about ordinary things. She has a wonderful eye for detail and a nicely ironic voice, but she is never condescending towards her subjects. . . . No one has ever written so interestingly and wittily about housework," concluded Spectator contributor Jane Ridley.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic Monthly, June, 2004, review of Inside theVictorian Home, p. 111.
Booklist, April 15, 2004, Barbara Jacobs, review of Inside the Victorian Home, p. 1409.
Chicago Tribune, August 9, 2004, Gretchen Garujal, "'Inside' Victorian Society," p. 4.
Contemporary Review, October, 2001, review of ACircle of Sisters, p. 253.
Guardian (Manchester, England), May 4, 2002, John Dugdale, review of A Circle of Sisters, p. 11; September 13, 2003, Kathryn Hughes, "World of Interiors," p. 14.
Library Journal, April 1, 2004, Gail Benjafield, review of Inside the Victorian Home, p. 106; November 1, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of A Circle of Sisters, p. 56.
New Statesman, August 25, 2003, Margaret Drabble, "Upstairs, Downstairs," p. 36.
New York Times Book Review, June 6, 2004, Alida Becker, "Upstairs, Downstairs," p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, March 8, 2004, review of Inside the Victorian Home, p. 62.
Spectator, September 1, 2001, Sarah Bradford, review of A Circle of Sisters, p. 37; August 23, 2003, Jane Ridley, "The Daily Round, the Common Task," p. 31.
Washington Post Book World, May 2, 2004, Jonathan Yardley, "The Daily Room-to-Room Battles to Make an English House a Home in the 1800s," p. T2.
Wilson Quarterly, summer, 2004, Winifred Gallagher, review of Inside the Victorian Home, p. 117.*