Flanders, Judith 1959–
Flanders, Judith 1959–
Born 1959, in London, England. Education: Skidmore College, B.A., 1980.
Home—London, England. E-mail—[email protected]
Affiliated with National Portrait Gallery, London, England; freelance journalist; writer; Evening Standard, London, England, dance critic, 2003-04; previously worked for several publishing houses as an editor, including Thames and Hudson, Penguin Books, and Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
A Circle of Sisters: Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter, and Louisa Baldwin, Viking (London, England), 2001, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2005.
The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed, 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.
Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain, HarperPress (London, England), 2006.
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, Georgiana 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 traditionalist sentimentalism and feminist jargon alike 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. Carol Haggas, writing for Booklist, found that the book offers "perceptive commentary on the prescribed role of women in Victorian society to be mere helpmeets."
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," 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 kitchens, and other areas that kept women on a domestic treadmill. According to Manchester 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 Winifred 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 homemaker. 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.
Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain, which was released in Great Britain in 2006, takes a look at the ways in which consumerism grew and flourished during this period in Britain. Flanders provides a thorough background of the history of consumerism and the state of the marketplace, delving back into the eighteenth century in order to provide readers with a strong foundation and understanding of the situation leading into Victorian times. According to Flanders, the Victorian era saw a steady democratization of consumerism in general. The author notes the availability of various goods for purchase to a wide range of individuals from multiple social classes, the variety of diversions and entertainments that were being made available to the population, and the fact that these activities, while not attainable by the truly poor, were also not limited to the upper crust of society. One such example that Flanders includes is the Great Exhibition, which Prince Albert himself officially opened to the public, and which drew a broad range of individuals who were anxious to see the marvels and the innovations that were on display. The items to be viewed included large and impressive wonders, such as the railway locomotives that were at that time considered a spectacular mechanical feat of engineering, and less grand displays, such as a knife for a sportsman that included a total of eighty-five blades and that also served as a souvenir of the exhibition, as the blades included etchings of the Crystal Palace on them—the building where the Prince opened the exhibition. Less technical items were also on display, such as a reversible coat that allowed for both morning and evening wear, depending on which side was worn out and visible. Jacqueline Banerjee, in a review for the Victorian Web, remarked that "such apparently trivial items were evidence of a major economic and sociological development: the shift towards mass-consumption."
As Flanders illustrates, the Great Exhibition was just one aspect of this national movement toward a more even distribution of luxuries and entertainment among the population. The advent of the railways made the shipment of goods around the country more economical and much faster, thereby allowing for greater availability to those who previously would have found the same items to be economically prohibitive. Fiction became available in the newspapers, through serials, allowing those individuals who could not afford to purchase novels to enjoy the stories in segments. Industrial areas began to provide more shopping opportunities that catered to a wider variety of customers. Banerjee noted that the book covers a number of subjects, but not of them thoroughly, adding that it has effectively "opened a Pandora's box of issues which could now, themselves, do with a fuller airing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic Monthly, June, 2004, review of Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England, p. 111.
Booklist, February 15, 2005, Carol Haggas, review of A Circle of Sisters: Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter, and Louisa Baldwin, p. 1055; 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 A Circle of Sisters, p. 253.
Guardian (London, 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.
Victorian Web,http://www.victorianweb.org/ (June 8, 2008), Jacqueline Banerjee, review of Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain.